LACONIA — "I'm the elephant in the room," Greg Nolan of Cafua Management Company, LLC, the Dunkin' Donuts franchisee that owns the Hathaway House, told more than three dozen residents at a public hearing convened by the Heritage Commission last night in an effort to spare the Victorian landmark from demolition. "I'm here to listen," he added.
He got an earful, beginning with Dorothy Duffy of the commission who recounted the company's failure to fulfill its repeated assurances to maintain, improve and preserve the building charged that "the owners of Dunkin' Donuts and the Hathaway House have lied to the citizens of Laconia for the last five years."
Charlie St. Clair, whose parents owned and operated a clothing store in the building, described developers like Cafua as "a plague of locusts," noting "in five years they'll be gone, but we'll still be here. They just don't care."
In November, Cafua formally applied for a demolition permit to raze the historic building. 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 was presented to the Heritage Commission for review. The commission refused to endorse the application and scheduled the public hearing in an effort to preserve the building.
St. Clair claimed that although Cafua has offered the building for sale or lease the company has not responded to prospective buyers. Susan Hodgkins, a real estate agent representing an interested party, said that she began inquiring in October, but had not spoken to Nolan until last week and still has received no information about the property.
After a handful of speakers lamented the loss of many commercial and residential building of historic and architectural value in the city, Daylon Brock challenged the commission and the community to preserve the building by making viable use of it. "What are you going to do with the Hathaway House after you save it?" he asked. Noting that "the Lakeport Association paid $80,000 for a rusted boxcar," he said that the money would have served as a down payment on the Hathaway House. "Come up with a plan for it," he said.
"It's very nice to talk about the good old days," Brock continued, "but nobody wants to talk about the future. This is 2014." He said that he had heard "a lot of naive nostalgia for a lifestyle that has passed," conceding that perhaps those were better times, but reminding his listeners of "the relic to Jim Crow that stood in front of the Goss Reading Room."
Echoing an earlier speaker who cautioned the commission against charging Nolan with dishonesty, Maggie Stier of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance said that "confrontation will probably not move this process forward." Instead, she urged the commission to work with the owner to either put the historic building to some viable use or, failing that, transfer ownership to some organization or individual who would. "Give Dunkin' Donuts a graceful way to hand off the building," she said. "Try to come to a win-win situation."
The ordinance provides for the Heritage Commission to meet with the owner within 10 days to seek agreement on an alternative to razing the building. Without an agreement to preserve the building, the owner may proceed with demolition while the Heritage Commission, with the consent of the owner, can photograph and document the building as well as encourage the owner to salvage any of its important architectural features.
Following the hearing Pam Clark, who chairs the commission, and Nolan, who was accompanied by his attorney, were discussing how to proceed.