CONWAY — The Conway Zoning Board of Adjustment has several public hearings on its agenda tonight — one for a variance for the mural at Leavitt’s Country Bakery and another hearing concerning Robert Barsamian’s proposal to build workforce rental housing behind T.J. Maxx.
The board is set to meet at the Conway Village Fire Station beginning at 7 p.m. The meeting was moved from town hall due to a broken elevator there, said planning assistant Holly Whitelaw.
First up will be the request for a variance to retain the mural above Leavitt’s, the bakery located at 564 White Mountain Highway in Conway.
The mural was created last spring as a class project by Kennett High art students in Olivia Benesh’s class. After it was erected and an article on it appeared in the Sun in June, the town cited it as a violation of the town’s sign ordinance since baked goods appeared on it and it was oversized. The bakery says it considers it to be an artwork and not a sign as no words appear on it.
The ZBA unanimously ruled at a hearing Aug. 17 to uphold the determination by Assistant Building Inspector Jeremy Gibbs that it falls under the definition of a sign under town zoning.
The board also agreed that it exceeds the sign ordinance size regulations.
Board members were John Colbath (chair), Andy Chalmers (vice chair), Luigi Bartolomeo, Richard Pierce and Jonathan Hebert.
Gibbs told the Sun prior to that meeting that he and Leavitt’s owner, Sean Young, measured the artwork, determining it to be about 4 by 26 feet or 95 square feet.
Under section §190-20.F.(3)(a) of the town’s zoning ordinance, a sign is defined as “any device, fixture, placard, structure or attachment thereto that uses color, form, graphic, illumination, symbol, or writing to advertise, announce the purpose of, or identify the purpose of a person or entity, or to communicate information of any kind to the public, whether commercial or non-commercial. Any portion of any awning, either freestanding or attached to a structure decorated with any sign element either attached or part thereof, shall be considered wall signs.”
Since posting news about the ZBA issue on Leavitt’s Facebook page, the bakery had received 1,200 hits as of Monday, most in support of the bakery.
That prompted Young to write, “Holy Donuts, Batman! Thank you all for the support so far! We can’t thank you enough for standing up for these kids and local business.”
Facebook follower Jeannie Cafarelli wrote that “This is no different than the murals at Settlers Green. I feel this is ART (not signage).”
Added Shelly Bridges, “No Way is this a SIGN! It’s a sign of talented kids who put their heart and soul into this ad are very proud of it, so you are planning to take their Art and Confidence away from them.”
About 32 people attended the ZBA’s Aug. 17 meeting, all speaking in favor of the students, including Kennett High Principal Kevin Carpenter.
Colbath and board members took that in, with Bartolomeo opining that the town’s sign ordinance needs work and quoting local attorney Randy Cooper of Cooper Cargill Chant as having issues with the way it is written.
Speaking about the potential educational aspect of the exchange, Colbath suggested that students’ could consider the exercise part of a civics project about how to go through town government channels before putting up a mural or sign.
At Hebert’s suggestion, rather than having the board review the request for a variance then, Young asked that the hearing be continued to the board’s Sept. 21 meeting, which the board unanimously granted.
The other major topic before the ZBA tonight is a request by Barsamian’s The Residences at Saco River, LLC for a variance to allow 243 rental units behind Northway Plaza at the old North Conway Drive-In.
“These will be workforce rental units of between 300 and 1,000 square feet,” Barsamian told the Sun on Monday.
He said the project at the 16-17-acre site once eyed for the Market Basket now being built on Barnes Road Extension is designed to meet the needs for housing for the local workforce.
“You pick up the paper and you see all the articles about the need; you hear about it from the planning board — we are not in the residential housing business per se, but this is our attempt to meet the need,” said Barsamian.
“It’s up to the ZBA and the community whether they want it — if not, if we do not get the variance, then that will be it, and we will go back to looking at using that property for a commercial project,” said Barsamian, one of the principals at OVP Management, which owns Settlers Green.
He said the project — to be known as Settlers Common — will be a “hybrid,” in that it meets the criteria for a special exception but needs a variance to have the density to have the number of units to make it viable.
According to plans the project includes 15 townhouses on the western edge of the property near the Saco River and eight multi-unit, three-story buildings housing 228 units.