From Skate Escape to Sports Complex

MEREDITH — After losing their venue on Court Street in Laconia , the owners of Skate Escape, Erica Duncan and Janine Page, are seeking to develop an indoor sports complex on a 5.24 acre lot on Reservoir Road. The fate of the project may hinge on whether voters in March agree to amend the zoning ordinance to expand the permitted uses in the Business/Industry District.

The property is in the Business/Industry District, approximately 241 acres along Rte. 104 between Rte. 3 to the east and Pease Road and Winona Road to the west, which was established to reserve space for industrial growth by prohibiting most commercial uses while providing land for large office buildings. Nevetheless, the district has become home to the a chiropractic office, martial arts studio, fitness center, visiting nurse association, child care facility and kindergarten day nursery as well as the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, all far from the industrial uses originally envisioned.
The sports complex would include a roller-skating rink and full-size turf field, both under one roof.
In November the Zoning Board of Adjustment found that a commercial recreational facility was not a permitted use in the his district and refused to grant a variance for the project. Instead, Jack Dever, chairman of the ZBA, told Duncan and Page that the Planning Board was contemplating changes to the ordinance and advised them to offer their suggestions.
The amendment, which is Article 5 on the warrant, would tailor the general purpose of the district to capture the diversity of uses it has come to house over the past 30 years while distinguishing it from residential and retail zones. The district is described as "ideal for small to medium size businesses" that do not "depend on high visibility from the roadway." The permitted uses include light manufacturing, commercial printing, warehousing, laboratories, storage, building materials, clinics, offices and firewood processing. Building trades, equipment rental and repair, vehicle service, child care, recreational and cultural facilities, schools and restaurants would be permitted by special exception. The uses are clearly defined by the proposed ordinance.
When the issue came before the ZBA, Justin Van Etten, the owner of Stewart's Ambulance Service, told the board that he was among the potential investors working with Duncan and Page to pursue the project. He stressed that the sports complex, by supporting other local businesses, would significantly contribute to the economic development of the town. The minutes record that Van Etten noted that most tourists visit Meredith between Memorial Day and Columbus Day, but that the sports complex would be "counter-cyclical. It puts heads on beds and heads in restaurants," he continued, starting about the end of October and going to about the beginning of May."
Neither Duncan nor Page could be reached for comment.