LACONIA — A state representative who stands accused of “illegally occupying” his property at 216 Farrarville Road in Belmont told a judge on Wednesday a mailing address does not necessitate residency.
Michael Sylvia, a Republican who represents the town of Belmont, appeared in Belknap County Superior Court asking for an apology and a dismissal of the injunction filed against him that charged he was using his property in violation of the local zoning ordinance, the N.H. building code, and state environmental laws and regulations.
“As to occupancy, I am the owner of the property and the definition of occupancy is to hold. Therefore, I must admit to occupying the property, legally, as a simple fact of ownership,” he told Judge James D. O’Neill III.
The town alleges that Sylvia has a recreational vehicle on the property which he was occupying in the summer, and a garage in which he was residing in the winter, in violation of state and town regulations.
The town filed an enforcement action charging that there were no permits for the RV, nor any permits for the conversion of the garage to a dwelling unit. Additionally, the town has no record of a properly installed and functioning septic system.
Last October, a judge issued a temporary injunction, ordering Sylvia not to live at the property until he obtained the needed approvals. Shortly after that, Sylvia notified the court that he had rented an apartment and was asking for the case to be dismissed.
During the latest hearing, Sylvia denied “illegally occupying” his Farrarville Road property and said he lives at 312 Daniel Webster Highway, No. 14, in Belmont.
The town’s assertion that he continues to occupy the property because he receives his mail at the Farrarville Road address “borders on absurd, as we know hundreds of people who receive mail at Post Office boxes,” he said.
In a prior court filing, Sylvia said the town owed him an apology for questioning his honesty by asserting that he was still living on the property because he was receiving his mail there.
The fact that his mail is delivered there, Sylvia said, supports that 216 Farrarville Road is his domicile, the place he designates as his principal place of physical presence, despite his “temporary absence from it.”
“As it is my domicile, it is then under RSA 21:6-a, my residence,” he argued.
Attorney Laura Spector-Morgan of the Mitchell Municipal Group, which is representing the town, said, “I have no objection to this matter coming to a conclusion,” but said she was asking the court to issue a permanent order barring Sylvia from reoccupying the property unless he gets the needed permits.
She told the judge that she believes that Sylvia is using the property as a base from where he takes his recreational runs and that he showers afterward even though there is no septic system.
Sylvia, who has twice competed in the 7.6-mile Mount Washington Road Race and is scheduled to participate again in June, told the judge he showers at his apartment.
Spector-Morgan asserted that because the town had to file an injunction to stop the violations, that Sylvia should be ordered to pay $2,151.75 in legal fees and costs and submitted invoices to the judge in support of the request. She has additionally asked for civil penalties of $275 a day to be imposed for every day since Aug. 16, 2017, that the violations continued to exist, totaling more than $125,000.
Sylvia cited the administration, enforcement and penalty section of the town’s zoning ordinance that says selectmen shall take immediate steps to enforce its provisions, upon any “well-founded information” that it was being violated. He argued that the suit was not necessary, as the “well-founded information” was lacking.
If the case continues to trial, Sylvia said, he would show that the town misconstrues the law as it relates to public buildings. He said his garage is not a public building subject to the ordinance cited. He further asserted that the town has erred in its claims that his property is a campground.
Judge O’Neill took the matter under advisement and said he would issue a ruling at a later date.