Congregational Society planning to sell 5 house lots on historic Smith Meeting House grounds

GILMANTON — A plan by the trustees of the First Congregational Society to subdivide the property and carve out five building lots has met a road block over whether or not the road should be paved.

During a public hearing held in December, the Society's George B. Roberts, Jr., accompanied by Laconia attorney Pat Wood, met with the Planning Board about the project.

Minutes said the goal of the subdivision was to sell the private building lots to create an endowment that will pay for maintenance and upkeep in the portion of the property around the historic Smith Meeting House, which was constructed in 1774. The total lot size is 20 acres.

"It is the First Congregational Society's intent to maintain the historic character and preserve the elements in compliance with the Historic District," read the minutes that captured Wood's statements to the Planning Board.

Any houses, said Wood, would be in keeping with the character of the property.

The project's scope includes upgrading 1,251-feet of Parsonage Hill Road and about 900-feet of Governors Road, to the end of the subdivision. Both would have hammerhead turnouts for emergency vehicles and plows.

Roberts said no one in the Society would have anything to do with the marketing or selling of the lots and he anticipated that the sales could take five to six years.

The Society wants to develop the roads to Class V standards but doesn't want to pave them. Roberts said that high costs of paving the roads coupled with the current real estate market would mean the Society wouldn't raise enough money through the sales of property to perpetually maintain the Meeting House and its environs.

Under current subdivision regulations in Gilmanton, building on Class VI roads is not allow and all new Class V roads must be paved.

In asking for a waiver, Wood reiterated the project would not be feasible in paving was a requirement; the spirit and the intent of the Historic District Committee would be maintained; the importance of preservation is recognized; the road agent and the fire chief were amenable to the design; the maintaining a gravel road and hammerheads are less costly than if they were paved; and that shared driveways were proposed along Parsonage Hill Road.

Woods said that in his opinion the waiver requirements have been met.

Selectman Don Guarino, who is the selectman's representative to the Planning Board recused himself and Ralph Lavin sat in his place.

From the floor, Guarino said he objected to waiving the pavement requirements because every other developer has to meet the requirements. He said Wood's contention that the Society is not a developer doesn't pass muster because in this case it is acting as a developer. He cited several recent developments in town including Sawgrass Road, a proposed Howard Road, subdivision, a subdivision on Burke Road and others required pavement.

Guarino said the town has not been adding any dirt roads and it would be a mistake not to pave the roads in this subdivision proposal.

Planning Board members adjourned the public hearing so they could consult with the town attorney.

Since that meeting, Roberts has filed a petition with the Board of Selectman to make Governor's Road a Class V road.

Selectmen have to decide the layout of new roads and can give consideration as to whether it should be paved or not. Roberts also asked the Planning Board to delay any consideration of the subdivision proposal until the Board of Selectmen have made a decision.

Town Administrator Arthur Capello asked Roberts to provide the town with a list of abutters so the selectmen could send them notices of a public hearing. The date for the public hearing has not been set.

Roberts could not be reached on Thursday for comment.