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Zoning squabble targets Alton American Legion hall

Union Leader Correspondent

May 20. 2018 10:29PM
Commander Marty Chabot of American Legion Post No. 72 of Alton stands with one of the post's many relics the wooden sign dedicating their original home in Monument Square. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

ALTON — The local American Legion is at odds with the town over the request that the nonprofit veterans organization submit a site plan review application because it rents its hall for functions.

“I really think that we’re getting a raw deal,” said Marty Chabot, commander of American Legion No. 72 Claude R. Batchelder Post.

The post has been renting its hall without issue since it bought the property in March of 2001, according to Chabot, who says the town is of the impression that the usage has increased.

Code Enforcement Officer John Dever III initially told them last September that their 150-seat hall is classified as a commercial function facility and as such needs to undergo site plan review with the planning board.

“They’ve told us that we’ve increased what we do. We are having lots of celebrations of life because our vets are dying. And sometimes a lot of people show up,” said Chabot.

He believes the property is grandfathered and that the American Legion shouldn’t be forced to spend money it doesn’t have for doing the same things that it has always done.

Dever, himself a Navy veteran, said there is a lot of misunderstanding about what is being requested.

When the Legion bought their 164 Wolfeboro Highway property, the former Edgewood restaurant, 17 years ago a site plan review application was never filed, according to Dever, despite the change in use.

Complying with the site plan review process, Chabot said, will prove costly for an organization which donates all the money it raises right back into the community.

A contingent of post members joined Chabot in attending a meeting of the planning board last week, during which the commander recounted the local Legion’s long history of charitable services to the community.

The Alton American Legion Post No. 72 that has been operating out of the former Edgewood restaurant for the past 17 years is being asked by the town to submit a site plan review application to the planning board and get a special exception from the zoning board of adjustment to run a commercial function facility. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

The American Legion was incorporated and chartered by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veteran’s organization “devoted to mutual helpfulness.” The Legion played a leading role in drafting and passing the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the “GI Bill.”

As the site plan review request was not on the agenda, the planning board said they couldn’t respond to questions about the issue, according to Chabot, but allowed him to speak during the public input segment of the meeting.

“They took a lot of notes,” Chabot observed of the reaction board members had to his comments.

In Dever’s eyes, the Legion’s use of the property has intensified, necessitating the need for more parking that has been informally shared with the neighboring property that has been redeveloped in recent history and is now also being more heavily used.

“We need to get everything on record,” he said of the need for a site plan application to the planning board. As the property is in the residential commercial zone, Dever said, the Legion will also need to apply to the zoning board of adjustment as a commercial function facility is only allowed by special exception under the town’s zoning ordinance.

“We really want to work with them,” Dever said.

The post that was chartered in Alton in 1920, outgrew its former quarters in Monument Square so it bought the former restaurant. While the property enjoys a charitable tax exemption, the town assesses the 6,128-square-feet one story building at $204,600 and the 3.78 acres of land at $166,500.

Since it was chartered, the local post’s prime mission has been fundraising. The money is donated to benefit veterans, their families and the community.

Most recently, the post presented an $1,800 check to the town of Barnstead to help fund End 68-Hours of Hunger, a program that provides food for needy children to eat on weekends during the school year.

Chabot serves on the scholarship committee and recounted that they the just selected several Alton High School students that will each receive $1,000 in tuition assistance.

“Last Thanksgiving, we served 400 free turkey dinners and work with Meals on Wheels to bring them to shut-ins,” he continued.

Last week, the Legion planned to provide hundreds of American flags and work with local Scouts to place them on the graves of veterans in honor of their service. The post also organizes local Memorial Day observances and serves up a free luncheon afterwards.

Post members plan to don their uniforms of a white shirt, blue pants, a flag printed necktie and their Legion hats to attend tonight’s meeting of the board of selectmen at 6 p.m.

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