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Belmont state rep alleged to be living illegally in RV and garage asks judge to toss lawsuit against him

Union Leader Correspondent

September 26. 2018 10:36PM
The town of Belmont alleges Michael Sylvia has been living illegally in an RV and garage at this 216 Farrarville Road property. (John Koziol/Correspondent)

Michael Sylvia appears in Belknap County District Court on Wednesday. (John Koziol/Correspondent)

LACONIA — A state representative being sued by the town of Belmont for allegedly residing illegally in an RV and garage on his property asked a judge on Wednesday to dismiss the action, calling it a politically driven, selective prosecution.

Michael Sylvia, a three-term Republican, filed the motion to dismiss just before appearing in front of Justice James D. O’Neill III in Belknap County Superior Court for a hearing on the town’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

At one point in the proceedings, Sylvia objected to the request by attorney Laura Spector, on behalf of the town, to testify under oath that he did not, contrary to what the town believes, live in the RV during the summer and in the garage during the winter.

In his objection, Sylvia — accused of violating the town’s zoning ordinance, state building codes and state environmental laws and regulations because he does not have a permit for the RV or to convert the garage to a dwelling, nor is there known to be a functioning septic system on the site — told O’Neill he would invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Rather than the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, however, Sylvia said he would invoke Article 15, Rights of the Accused, of the New Hampshire Constitution. O’Neill rendered the discussion moot when he rejected Spector’s petition, saying it had to be clear that Sylvia would not be prosecuted for what he might say.

Earlier, Spector laid out the town’s case, saying the property at 216 Farrarville Road, which according to town assessing records has been owned by Sylvia since June 2011, suffered a fire in 2009 that destroyed the residence and damaged the septic system.

In 2014, when town assessor met Sylvia on the property, Sylvia allegedly acknowledged that he knew the septic system had to be replaced, Spector said. Separately, the town also began to notice that Sylvia was living in the garage and RV but did not have a certificate of occupancy for either.

She noted that Sylvia has represented both to voters and to the court that he lives on his Farrarville Road property.

Sylvia questioned whether the town, in the form of what Spector said were three, signed-for certified letters, properly notified him of both what he allegedly was doing or had done wrong and how he could remedy it.

Spector told O’Neill that the letters “spoke for themselves” in containing the specificity Sylvia claimed wasn’t there.

When Sylvia pointed out that one communication from the town might be suspect because it contained the wrong word, Spector objected and said the error was hers and clearly a typo, like the several typos Sylvia, who is representing himself, had in his motions.

The town wants O’Neill to order Sylvia to vacate the property or obtain the proper permits, to fine him up to $275 per day for every day since Aug. 16, 2017, that the violations continue, and for legal fees.

In his opening remarks, Sylvia maintained that he had not been properly told by the town of what he might have done wrong and wondered why he was being prosecuted for violating a state law whose language dealt only with “public buildings.”

Sylvia, who previously claimed that he is protected by the U.S. Constitution, said he was also protected by Article II (Natural Rights) of the New Hampshire Constitution, adding that “I stand behind the constitution.”

Upon questioning Steve Paquin, Belmont’s code enforcement officer, Sylvia got Paquin to acknowledge that the town assessor observing him coming out of his RV four years ago wasn’t overwhelming evidence that he lived inside.

But, Paquin added, there was cumulatively enough evidence, including instances where lights were observed on in the RV at night and a path was shoveled in the snow from a car in Sylvia’s driveway to the garage, which had smoke from a potential heating source coming out of it, “that it can be assumed there’s residency going on” in both the RV and garage.

At one point, Sylvia asked Paquin whether Paquin had discussions “of a political nature” with the Belmont Board of Selectmen prior to the town taking action against him, saying, in an apparent reference to allegations that he was not a legal resident of Belmont when he first ran for the House, that “I have been accused of felonies.”

There was “a political nature to the pursuit of zoning violations,” said Sylvia, who, before Paquin answered, was directed by O’Neill to go to a new line of inquiry.

Following the nearly hourlong hearing, O’Neill took the competing motions under advisement.

In an email Wednesday evening, Sylvia said it was “unfortunate that the town feels it is necessary to spend tax dollars in an attempt to micro-manage the lives of the people of Belmont. It is chilling to the people’s rights to the enjoyment of their hard-earned properties, to face the prospect of the code enforcement officer investigating them without so much as a single complaint against them. They should never be concerned that the code enforcement officer is keeping tabs on how frequently they might use an RV on their property.”

Courts General News Laconia

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