LACONIA — A plan to convert the former Evangelical Baptist Church at Veterans Square into a pub and restaurant took a step forward Tuesday night when the Planning Board granted conditional approval of a request from David and Maureen Kennedy of Hampton for a change of use of the building from a place of worship to an eating and drinking establishment.
Kennedy, who is close to finalizing the purchase of the building, is working on plans which will see a dining room established on the upper level of the building and a cafe which will serve as a hub for small ''faux shops'' selling baked goods and Irish-themed articles on the lower level.
The restaurant will be the Kennedy's second, both housed in churches. The Holy Grail Restaurant and Pub in what what was St. Joseph's Church on Main Street in Epping has twice been chosen as the state's finest Irish pub by New Hampshire Magazine.
He plans to add a second story to a triangular addition at the rear of the church building for the kitchen, offices, utilities and storage.
Because the building occupies the entire lot, he is faced with reaching agreement with abutting property owners on access issues such as a walkway from the city parking lot at the rear of the property and perhaps a shared dumpster.
Members of the Planning Board were sympathetic to the problems faced by Kennedy, who told the board that he has not yet reached any formalized agreement with his neighbors and that the site plan he is developing will be influenced by the agreements he reaches.
At least two abutters, the Laconia Congregational Church and Kevin Campbell, said they were willing to work with him.
Linda Tunnicliffe and John Walker of the church said that the church is constructing a brick walkway as part of its Community Way Project which will link the church and its parish house with a second floor covered elevator and bridge. The parish house is located next to the former Evangelical Baptist Church and extending the walkway in that direction is seen as a way of helping provide access to the new restaurant from the municipal parking lot used by the Downtown Farmers Market on Thursday nights.
''It would be the right solution for everyone,'' said Tunicliffe as she showed drawings of what the completed project will look like and said that the new restaurant would be ''a beautiful addition to downtown.''
Kennedy said that he was trying to work out an agreement with other restaurants in the area which might involve a shared dumpster.
He has also agreed to pay half of the cost, $35,000, of bringing a new 10-inch water line to the lot which will allow him to install a sprinkler system in the building and the City Council recently agreed to pay half of the cost, up to $35,000 using funds from the Downtown TIFF District account, for the water line.
The planning board has also agreed to waive the development impact fee of $6,900 for the restaurant due to the capital outlay it is making for the water line project.
Keith Hall of Kramer and Hall Goldsmiths, which is located across the square at the Laconia Railroad Station, said that he is concerned that the private parking spaces next to his business will end up being used by customers of the new restaurant and hoped that signs will be put up to indicate that they are not public parking spaces. He also said that he believes a rear entryway into the new restaurant would be desirable.
Planning Board Chairman Warren Hutchins said that the completed site plan will have a number of conditions to deal with, including parking and walking improvements, as well as lighting and compatibility of the architecture of the second floor addition with existing architecture in the downtown area and a possible entryway at the rear of the building.
John Moriarty of the Main Street Initiative reminded Planning Board members that the 34-lot municipal parking lot which will be used for parking and the dumpsters was created by a special assessment on downtown businesses in 1985 and that it should be borne in mind that it was intended to serve all of the surrounding businesses.
With that said, Moriarty said to Kennedy ''we really welcome you to the city and want this project to be successful.''
City Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that "the project has been fast tracked by the city and that Kennedy hopes to have the business up and running by next summer.