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Portsmouth neighbors' lawsuit seeks to put Strawbery Banke rink on ice

Union Leader Correspondent

September 24. 2013 9:42PM

BRENTWOOD — A group of neighbors is asking a judge to overturn Portsmouth’s decision to allow Strawbery Banke Museum to operate an outdoor skating rink on its 8-acre property this winter, claiming it will add “noise, music, lights” and traffic to their otherwise quiet South End neighborhood.

Jonathan Springer, a lawyer who represents 16 neighbors, filed a petition in Rockingham County Superior Court, claiming that the non-profit museum is carrying out a commercial operation that will inevitably disrupt his clients day and night.

The residents want a judge to deem illegal a June 18 decision by the Portsmouth Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Over the objections of residents at a public hearing, the ZBA granted variances for the skating rink to operate during the winter months, court papers say.

The rink was proposed as an 85-by-120-foot oval with a 60-foot diameter circular skating area.

Supporting machinery includes a “rink chiller,” a transformer, skate-sharpening machine and a concessions pavilion, according to court papers.

The museum plans to charge a fee for public skating, skating lessons, “pond hockey” and selling food and alcohol at a cafe, Springer said in court papers.

Strawbery Banke describes itself as a “living history museum” that recreates everyday life in Portsmouth from the 1600s to the 1950s.

Springer claims that property values will decrease because of the noise and traffic caused by those who use the rink.

The zoning board first took up Stawbery Banke’s application on May 1.

“The application was silent regarding factors such as noise from the transformer, the ‘rink chiller,’ the PA system or outdoor music system and the Zamboni and lighting,” Springer said in the petition.

The neighbors contend that Strawbery Banke is generally closed during the winter months, but the skating rink will transform the area “from a seasonal museum to a year-round recreation and activity center,” that will be allowed to operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Springer told a judge that Strawbery Banke is forbidden by the city’s ordinance to engage in “business or commercial uses,” and is only allowed to host events.

“The proposed skating rink is not an ‘event’ but rather a business or commercial use,” Springer said in the petition.

The city has until Dec. 5 to respond to the petition in court. A hearing on the merits of the case will be heard by a judge on Jan. 10.

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