PETERBOROUGH — The drawn-out fight over the future of Peterborough’s zoning took another turn with town officials bringing a lawsuit against a married couple who are part of the effort to reverse course.
Loretta Laurenitis and her husband, David Bonacci, are among more than a dozen people who are suing the town over a zoning amendment that was approved at the May ballot box, but disqualified over a protest petition the group says is illegal.
The town recently started a new lawsuit against just Laurenitis and Bonacci, rather than making a motion as part of the case involving all 16 plaintiffs.
“If you’re going to start a new petition, why didn’t you name all of the people in the first petition?” said Mark Fernald, the attorney for Laurenitis and Bonacci. “It’s puzzling.”
Fernald said Laurenitis called all three members of the select board after she was served with the lawsuit, and they all told her that they did not know about the lawsuit. Fernald said the lawsuit appears to be a punitive measure taken by the town’s administration.
“It forces them to defend themselves,” Fernald said.
Select board Chair Tyler Ward said it is not true that the board members were unaware of the lawsuit before it was filed. He said the issue at hand is whether or not the zoning amendment in question is legal to begin with.
“When the Court takes up the Declaratory Judgment suit against the Town filed by the Mr. Bonacci, Ms. Laurenitis and others regarding the Protest Petitions filed against Zoning Amendment 15, the Town would also like the Court to address the question of whether or not Zoning Amendment 15 violated the single purpose rule,” Ward wrote in an emailed respose.
He did not respond to follow-up questions about Fernando’s statement that the board members told his client they were uninformed about the lawsuit.
Zoning Amendment 15 would push back on Peterborough’s new dense zoning rules, Fernald said. For example, Peterborough’s downtown zoning was changed in the past couple of years to now allow for 16 housing units per acre, a greater density than Nashua, Keene, and downtown Milford, and equal to the density found in downtown Manchester.
“Why does a country town like Peterborough need to be zoned like a city?” Fernald said.
Zoning amendment 15 was put on the town's May ballot by petition. As it gained steam in town, town officials accepted a protest petition at the last minute ahead of the May ballot vote. The little-used legal maneuver forced zoning amendment 15 to require a two-thirds majority vote for passage instead of a simple majority. When zoning amendment 15 passed at the May voting, it failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority.
Bonacci, Laurenitis and the 14 others next sued the town, challenging the legality of the protest petition.
The lawsuits are pending in the Hillsborough Superior Court - North in Manchester.