Owner of 'Veterans Resort Chapel' in court over town's complaintsBy KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent
June 01. 2017 12:30AM
LEE — A retired Marine who has been fighting the town for years over alleged zoning and code violations faced a judge Wednesday, arguing he should be allowed to keep several structures on his property used to house combat veterans.
Peter Macdonald runs what he calls the Veterans Resort Chapel on 11 acres that he and his wife, Agnes, purchased with their retirement savings. They built a single-family home on the property at 101 Stepping Stones Road. The basement is used as a chapel, Macdonald said.
Also on the property are a trailer and four small structures measuring approximately 8 feet by 10 feet, which he has been offering to veterans.
Macdonald, who said he served for 31 months during the Vietnam war, has been locked in a legal battle with the town. He does not have the proper building, electrical and plumbing permits for some of the structures, according to Justin Pasay, an attorney for the town.
At least two former combat veterans currently stay on the property. Kaleigh Cox, 29, said she was lost after two tours in Iraq, and ended up on the streets in Manchester.
Cox said she served in the Air Force from July 2006 to April 2010, and when she came back she had nowhere to go.
“(Macdonald) welcomed me with everything all taken care of, and helped me ease back into the reality of getting back to a job, getting back to being with other people,” Cox said.
Macdonald said having a space to heal and pray is vital for some service veterans. He told Judge Mark Howard during a hearing at Strafford County Superior Court Wednesday that town officials are discriminating against homeless veterans by taking legal action against him.
“You can’t single out homeless veterans because the town of Lee doesn’t want them,” Macdonald argued.
Prior to the hearing, Macdonald said living on his property gives the veterans a street address, which they need to receive services. He said that since 2013, Veterans Resort has helped 21 veterans get back into society.
Pasay, the town’s attorney, told the judge that the land where the chapel is located is not zoned for multiple dwelling units. Pasay asked the judge to stop Macdonald’s activities, and have him pay fines and the town’s legal fees.
Neighbors Tom Seubert and Kevin Crawford also take exception to Macdonald’s activities, and prior to the hearing said Macdonald is playing on the sympathies of others to fund what Crawford called a “cash cow.”
Crawford said paperwork filed with the state for Macdonald’s non-profit shows he made a $60,000 salary last year.
Seubert and Crawford are also concerned about the safety of the veterans and the environmental impact on the land, which is considered wetlands. There is no septic system built to accommodate the structures. Macdonald told Judge Howard at least one mini-house doesn’t even have a composting toilet.
Crawford said he is trying to sell his house, where he runs a farm with donkeys and chickens, and his Realtor said the homes housing homeless vets will be a problem for potential buyers.
Crawford, who said he has family in the service, and Seubert, who said he served in the Navy, said they support organizations for veterans, but disagree with the approach Macdonald is taking.
“Just this weekend, he started building another shed. He is blatantly violating the ordinances,” Seubert said.
The judge is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks.