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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jehovah’s Witnesses church to move forward in Merrimack after zoning board ruling

MERRIMACK – Plans for a Jehovah’s Witnesses church will move forward after a Merrimack board voted this week to uphold its support of the controversial project.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment restated its support for Kingdom Hall, proposed to be built at 63 Wire Road, with a unanimous vote Wednesday to deny a rehearing of the project.

After initially denying approval in 2010, the board reversed its stance last fall in the face of a lawsuit waged by congregation elders. Bob and Donna Walles, who live across the street from the site of the proposed church, asked the board to reconsider the matter, charging that members based their decision more on the lawsuit than on the merits of the project.

“Since ‘cost to the Town’ is not one of the specified criteria (for zoning board approval), it therefor should not be sufficient reason to overturn the previous decision,” the Walleses wrote in a December letter to the zoning board.

At Wednesday’s meeting, board members denied the couple’s request without discussion in a 5-0 vote.

“Obviously, the board didn’t feel like we’d made a mistake or that the decision was unreasonable,” Phil Straight, the board’s vice chairman, said Thursday. “We didn’t think their request met the standards of (state law).”

The Walleses could appeal the board’s decision to Superior Court.

“The last thing I want to do is sue my town, but the thing is, I didn’t start this,” Bob Walles said Thursday. “We’ll have to see what our options are.”

Meanwhile, congregation elders will move forward with their planning. They recently completed the purchase of the property, north of Mallard Point Road, and are scheduled to appear Feb. 7 before the town Planning Board to continue the site plan review process.

Once they gain Planning Board approval, construction work could begin within months and the church could open within a year, said Ralph Randall, the congregation’s project development director.

The congregation, which consists of 100 members, has met for years without a stable place of worship, hosting meetings instead at homes and neighboring churches.

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.