EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 4, 2013

Salem won't reimburse Belanger's fees

By Doug Ireland
direland@eagletribune.com

---- — SALEM, N.H. — The Zoning of Board Adjustment rejected a longtime local official’s bid for reimbursement of impact fees for what the town claimed was an illegal apartment.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday against the request by Rep. Ronald Belanger, R-Salem, to refund approximately $4,100 he said he never should have been forced to pay.

Town officials contend the apartment at Belanger’s North Main Street home was built without a permit. The 24-year state representative and Salem Planning Board member told the zoning board that town inspectors gave him the approvals he needed.

“Everybody signed off on them,” Belanger said. “I didn’t hide anything.”

But town officials said they knew nothing about the 10-year-old apartment until earlier this year. Belanger obtained a building permit in April after questions arose while he was refinancing his property.

Belanger said in an interview before the vote he would consider taking legal action if his request were denied, including subpoenaing town officials.

But the state representative and Salem Planning Board member wasn’t sure what his next move would be when questioned yesterday.

“I have to talk to my attorney,” he said. “I am not going to comment right now.”

Belanger insisted he was granted a building permit more than a decade ago. But when Belanger went to Town Hall to check his file for the permit several months ago, he said he was shocked.

“My folder was empty,” he told the board.

Belanger approached selectmen this spring to seek reimbursement of the impact fees, saying he should be exempt because the project was built two years before they were mandated by the town. Impact fees are charged for projects that would have a potential effect on town services.

Belanger accused the town’s planning staff of losing or removing documents from his folder, leading to a heated debate with Community Development Director William Scott.

Belanger called Scott “arrogant.”

“None of that is true,” Scott said. “You cannot insult me and my staff like that.”

Selectmen told Belanger that only the zoning board had jurisdiction in this matter. The zoning board decided Tuesday there was no evidence to support Belanger’s claims.

He was granted approval for a two-story garage in 2001, but never an apartment, zoning board Chairman Gary Azarian said.

Azarian peppered Belanger and his attorney, William Mason, with questions about the apartment, which has been vacant since it was built.

Mason said he didn’t want to debate the issue.

“I don’t want to get into an argument or discussion about who said what or where documents may or may not have been within the town,” he said.

Azarian said he just wanted answers.

“Nothing in the facts I have, said an accessory apartment was being built,” Azarian said. “I’m trying to find out why there was never a permit at Town Hall saying they were building an accessory apartment.”

Belanger said town inspectors and former Chief Building Official Sam Zannini allowed the apartment to be built. Zannini, who retired in December, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mason said there was no way town inspectors could not have known an apartment was being built.

“I don’t want to use the term ‘brain dead,’ but it is what it is,” he said.