Neighbors oppose Temple of Witchcraft near Canobie Lake
A lengthy public hearing Tuesday night drew many comments from concerned citizens, with many expressing worries about adding additional traffic on a road that's already quite busy in the summer months due to traffic from nearby Canobie Lake Park.
The board ultimately opted to hold off on making any final decisions this week and instead agreed to continue the hearing to a later date, which has yet to be determined.
Representatives of the religious group approached the town earlier this month in hopes of relocating the temple from its current home at 2 Main St. to a larger facility at 49 N. Policy St., but many living nearby hope that day never comes.
Gene Bryant said he disagreed the group should consider themselves a "church" and worried the site would ultimately become a commercial endeavor. "I believe it will attract a lot of attention," he added. "It's attention we don't need in a residential neighborhood."
John Franzen said his major concern is traffic, noting the temple's website hints at plans to eventually restore a barn that's on the premises and add some public nature trails. "A lot of people confuse Salem, N.H., for Salem, Mass.," he added. "It's going to drive tourists and traffic to a road that's already got enough of both."
Christine Davis, a mother of four, said she opposes the project and fears the end result will be potential vandalism to nearby properties, traffic, disturbances and declining property values. "It's going to be a really hard selling point," she said. "We're family-oriented here: I'm part of the community and don't want to see this happen."
Project engineer David Jordan tried to address citizen questions. "Most of you, like me when I first heard about this, might have raised an eyebrow," Jordan admitted. "It's not a church group we're normally accustomed to talking about."
Established in 1998, the group is recognized as a nonprofit organization by the state of New Hampshire, Jordan noted, adding that churches are a permitted use within residential districts like the one in question. Minister Steve Kenson, who plans to live on the premises, said there's nothing scary about the practice of modern witchcraft, which is actually quite similar to Native American-based religions.
Practitioners are encouraged to work in harmony with natural forces, he said, and he intends to work toward a similar harmony when it comes to approaching his new neighbors.
"We'd very much like to blend harmoniously in the neighborhood. To us, nature is sacred and this is the perfect opportunity to preserve a beautiful property on a beautiful piece of land," Kenson added. "We're not out to harm anyone. We revere nature as a form of divinity. Modern witches come from all walks of life. We are your neighbors and your friends," Kenson said.