Merrimack officials report no complaints about Jehovah’s Witnesses since completion of Kingdom Hall
A steady stream of concerns in Merrimack over the construction of a Kingdom Hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses has dwindled into disinterest as not a single complaint has been logged with town officials since the building’s completion in July.
A series of legal battles surrounded the Kingdom Hall project along Wire Road since 2010, when a special exemption to build the church in a residential neighborhood was denied by Merrimack’s Zoning Board of Adjustment due to neighbors’ concerns about traffic.
That decision sent the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Vermont and New Hampshire to state and federal courts, accusing the town of religious discrimination and violating the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by denying them permission to build.
The Town of Merrimack settled with the Jehovah’s Witnesses early last year, prompting a nearby family to appeal and, once again, sending the case to court.
Neighbors on Wire Road said at ZBA meetings in 2010 and 2011 that they feared the Jehovah’s Witnesses would create a public nuisance in the neighborhood.
The controversy over Merrimack’s new Kingdom Hall finally came to a close when a final settlement, made between the congregation and several abutters last summer, was penned. In the settlement, the Jehovah’s Witnesses agreed to create a “do-not-call list” for local residents and pledged not to use driveways on Wire Road as turnarounds.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses of Vermont and New Hampshire voluntarily entered into the settlement, which is binding.
“People weren’t very used to us,” said Geri DeVane, a 70-year-old Jehovah’s Witness who plans on attending the Kingdom Hall in Merrimack. “Maybe they thought we’d mess up the neighborhood.
“We love it here and it’s nice to be able to meet locally, and we don’t tie up traffic.”
Before the Kingdom Hall in Merrimack was built,
DeVane and her husband Bill, 71, would travel nearly an hour, from their home in Bedford, to worship with a congregation in Wilton.
“Since being here all we’ve heard has been positive,” said Cassi Gifford, a 23-year old parishioner from Manchester.
Dave Brigham, a 64-year old elder at Merrimack’s Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses said some in his church were concerned about growing tensions surrounding the church’s location as the Kingdom Hall was under construction.
“After the first ZBA meeting we were a little apprehensive,” Brigham said. “But all the concerns have been addressed. We have a very low impact.”
Neighbors of the Kingdom Hall seem to agree.
“I bought my house knowing that the church was going right next door,” said Ross Jubert, a Nashua fireman who directly abuts the Kingdom Hall property. “They’re the best type of people to live next to.”
Jubert said he’s had no issues with his Jehovah’s Witness neighbors and says he much prefers the Kingdom Hall to the alternative: a subdivision.
“They were going to put five houses in next door,” Jubert said. “I’ll take the church any day.”
Timothy Thompson, Merrimack’s Community Development Director, said the only complaint he’s received regarding Kingdom Hall since the latest settlement was about ground vibrations from construction.
“During the time I’ve been here we’ve had a very cooperative relationship with the Kingdom Hall Building Committee,” Thompson said. “They did a really nice job on the site aesthetically. A nice job overall.”
Thompson said the settlement between Kingdom Hall and abutters also required the parishioners to shift the placement of a driveway, to avoid impacting homes with headlight glare, and to construct a sidewalk.
“We built the sidewalk,” Brigham said. “But it’s a sidewalk to nowhere. It doesn’t connect to anything.”
On Tuesday, Oct. 15, Merrimack Town Manager Eileen Cabanel bristled at the suggestion that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were given a raw deal. “We only have so much control,” Cabanel said. “There are guidelines our boards must follow.”
Merrimack’s Planning Board finally approved the special exemption for Kingdom Hall in February 2012, more than two years after the Jehovah’s Witnesses of Vermont and New Hampshire first proposed the church.
“The legal fees were substantial,” said Brigham. “I feel bad for the neighbors though. We just want them to be happy.”
Merrimack’s Kingdom Hall is set to become fully operational this autumn and will host an open house at the end of this month.
“It’s open to everybody,” Brigham said, expressing optimism that locals would take the chance to learn more about his congregation and his religion.
“It’s for everyone in the town to come see us.”