PORTSMOUTH — A group of six people filed an ethics complaint against Nick Cracknell, the city’s principal planner, in connection with his plans to renovate a historic home and build a 2½-story barn-like structure in the South End.

Cracknell on Thursday said none of the issues raised in the complaint are new.

“I’ve already addressed every one of them in the meetings,” Cracknell said. “… I’m perfectly comfortable letting the Code of Ethics process play out with the mayor and the city attorney.”

The group, led by former City Council candidates Paige Trace and Peter Whelan, contend Cracknell had a conflict of interest when he presented his project to the Zoning Board of Adjustment and Historic District Commission. Cracknell is an ex-offico HDC member. They said he at least should have had someone else present the project on his behalf.

They maintain Cracknell violated a city ordinance that states no officer or employee shall “engage in any business or transaction or shall have a financial or other private interest, direct or indirect, which conflicts with the proper discharge of his or her duties.” The group states the project “has a direct financial impact on Mr. Cracknell as he is acting as his own developer.”

They also noted in the complaint a resident raised concerns about Cracknell before a recent HDC meeting, where his project received a certificate of approval. The resident, the group stated, asked “about how the HDC could be neutral when reviewing” Cracknell’s application for the 11 Meeting House Hill Road property.

Cracknell is the staff representative to the HDC and works with applicants who appear before the commission, and has the power to grant administrative approvals.

They also state Cracknell’s application includes a lot size 332 square feet bigger than what is recorded on a city tax card. That’s important, Whelan said Thursday, because the bigger the lot size the less relief he needed in terms of the variances he sought and received from the ZBA. Because of the discrepancy, they believe his application is incomplete and should not have been acted on by the HDC.

“Clearly … Nick Cracknell acting on his own behalf, appears to have been given special treatment in comparison to other Portsmouth residents who appear before these two boards,” the residents stated. The residents said more than 40 direct and indirect abutters to the project in the city’s historic South End “were not in favor of this project as presented to the (ZBA) and HDC.”

The HDC voted this month to grant a certificate of approval to Cracknell and his wife, Lisa Koppelman, for their plan to renovate the historic Drisco House and build the new barn-like structure that will include a three-car garage and 1½-story apartment above it.

The ZBA in February granted variances needed for the project. They include one to allow 48 percent building coverage where 30 percent is the maximum permitted and a second to allow for a 5.5-foot rear yard setback where 25 feet is required.

Cracknell said he and his wife have not yet determined “which unit we’re going to live in or whether we’re going to rent the other unit out or sell it.”

“I don’t understand how anyone (working for the city) can buy a multi-family property and not be accused of having a conflict of interest,” Cracknell said. “I think unfortunately as you witnessed there’s a high degree of acrimony and contentiousness about this project.”

“We certainly never expected or intended for things to unfold this way,” he added.

He stressed that despite the land-use board approvals, the couple is open to changing the project under the right conditions. “If there’s a way to put something better together and bring it forward with a much deeper well of support, that’s certainly something we would prefer. Who wants to move into a neighborhood where you’ve got so many people upset.”

Cracknell made a “conscious decision to represent myself and my wife” when he presented to city boards. “What’s the point of sitting behind someone else presenting on your behalf when everyone knows it’s our project,” he said. He believes it was more transparent for him to present the project and be able to address any questions.

Cracknell acknowledged there’s a discrepancy on the lot size and said he got his numbers from deeds at the Rockingham County Registry of Deeds. He added the tax maps are not always correct. Before he can get a foundation permit from the building department, he will have to present it with a survey of the property “that will be looked at against my approvals and my construction drawings.”

If it turns out he made an error, “then I would have a problem where I would have to go back to the (ZBA) and have to file for an amendment or a new public hearing.”

Deputy City Attorney Suzanne Woodland said the legal department received the complaint Wednesday and City Attorney Robert Sullivan and Mayor Jack Blalock have 30 days to review it. “If they believe the complaint has substance, the mayor and city attorney will refer it to the Board of Ethics,” she said.

If they decide “the complaint is without substance,” they will notify the people who made the complaint and the subject of the complaint “in writing” about their decision.

If the complaint is referred to the Board of Ethics, it has 30 days to make a ruling, Woodland said.