Heritage Com. will try to strengthen teeth of tear-down ordinance

LACONIA — The Heritage Commission will hold a public hearing on the application of Cafua Management Company, LLC, owner of the Hathaway House at 1106 Union Avenue, to demolish the building on Wednesday, January 22 at City Hall beginning at 6:30.

The commission has anticipated scheduling a hearing since October when a work crew shattered the glass and boarded the windows at the historic building. When Greg Nolan, director of development at Cafua, who oversaw the permitting and construction of the adjacent Dunkin' Donuts store and undertook to preserve and maintain the Hathaway House, failed to respond to inquiries, members of the commission began picketing on weekends.

When the commission met last evening, Pam Clark, who chairs the panel, recounted the fraught relationship with Cafua dating from 2008. Then Cafua, which acquired the 1.61-acre lot and 5,030-square-foot building in 2000, proposed demolishing the Hathaway House and constructing a Dunkin' Donuts store and strip mall on the site. However, after a series of meetings with city officials and concerned citizens, Cafua agreed to preserve the Hathaway House and build the Dunkin' Donuts outlet on the lot next door.

When the project was approved, Nolan assured the Planning Board that the Hathaway House would be repainted as well as fitted with a fire alarm and fire suppression system. He said the company had no plans for the building other than to preserve it. Two years later the building, which had not been painted or improved, was offered for sale or lease. At the time Nolan assured the Planning Department "there will be a condition that the house cannot be scrapped." Despite repeated assurances the building was never painted, but instead was neglected and allowed to deteriorate, Nolan said.

Dorothy Duffy, a member of the commission, reported that she reached William Bode, a regional vice-president of Dunkin' Donuts working from corporate headquarters in Canton, Massachusetts. She said that while he was "sympathetic," he explained that because the property is owned by a franchisee — Cafua — the parent corporation is "out of the picture" and "can't do anything about it." Nevertheless, Duffy said that Bode told her that corporate officials have been following the controversy over the Hathaway House closely.

Last week Cafua, formally applied to demolish it. Since the Hathaway House is more than 700-square-feet in area and 75 or more years old, as well as visible from a public right-of-way, the application, within five days of being submitted was presented to the Heritage Commission for review. Clark told the commission that she had refused to endorse the application for a demolition permit and intended to schedule a public hearing. She said she has been informed that Nolan or another representative of Cafua will attend the hearing.

Once the commission schedules a public hearing, the owner is required by ordinance to post a sign to that effect, along with the date, time and place of the hearing, on the building in plain sight within 10 business days.

Should the public hearing close without agreement on an alternative to demolition, the Heritage Commission shall meet with the owner within 10 days to seek agreement on an alternative. Without an agreement to preserve the building, the owner may proceed with demolition while the Heritage Commission, with the consent of the owner, shall photograph and document the building as well as encourage the owner to salvage any of its important architectural features.

Clark conceded that the ordinance lent little authority to the Heritage Commission and said that an effort to strengthen the ordinance is underway.