Little enthusiasm on council for Vet Square redo plan

LACONIA — A proposal to reconfigure the west end of Veteran's Square met with a cool reception when Planning Director Shanna Saunders presented it to the City Council on Monday night.

As proposed the plan would convert the intersection of Pleasant with Veteran's Square and Beacon Street West into a simple four-way junction by eliminating the circle that enables west bound traffic through Veteran's Square to reverse direction by rounding. In place of the circle, the curb in front of the Congregational Church of Laconia, UCC would relocated between 60 feet and 40 feet forward into Veteran's Square but there would still be three lanes — two west bound and one east bound.
The five angled parking spaces in front of the church would be relocated at the new curb. The driveway between the Congregational Church and its adjacent Parish Hall would be expanded to a handicap-access turnaround and four angled parking spaces in front of the Evangelical Baptist Church would be retained. Likewise, the six parking spaces on the north side of Veteran's Square, alongside the railroad station, would remain.
The pavement and sidewalk would be removed from the area between the new and existing curb and sidewalk, which would become a landscaped sublawn, bordered by the relocated curb on Veteran's Square and an extended curb on Pleasant Street. The memorial and flagpole would be relocated from the circle to the sublawn, to which benches would be added.
Other than the change to the flow of traffic through Veteran's Square the traffic pattern would remain the same. Traffic entering Veteran's Square from Pleasant Street could turn right on to Beacon Street West, which would remain one-way, left into Veteran's Square or proceed down Pleasant Street, which would also remain one-way. The plan does not include traffic signals at the reconfigured intersection.
Saunders said that the plan enhances the safety of pedestrians, who must cross several lanes of traffic and a considerable expanse of pavement, to cross the square as well as simplifies the flow of traffic. In addition, she said that the plan would prevent motorists leaving the Bank of New Hampshire parking lot turning into the one-way traffic on Pleasant Street then eastbound into Veteran's Square, which is a concern to the police.
Saunders estimated the project would cost approximately $280,000.
Saunders explained that the plan grew from concerns to improve the flow of traffic through and around downtown expressed in the Master Plan in 2007 and repeated in 2012 when the council rejected a plan to open Beacon Street East and Beacon Street West to two-way traffic and improve the intersections around the loop. She said that with the Congregational Church planning to improve access to the church and David and Maureen Kennedy converting the Evangelical Church to a restaurant Holy Grail an opportunity arose to revisit the the intersection where Veteran's Square joins Pleasant Street.
Saunders said she had canvassed opinion among the abutters, including the owners and tenants at the railroad station as well the WOW Trail and New Hampshire Department of Transportation, and the the next step would be for the Planning Board to hold a public hearing on the plan.
Both Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) said that since the plan was outlined in the newspaper they had heard from residents, all of whom were opposed to it.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3), chairman of the Finance Committee, raised concern at the cost while Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) suggested the project belonged on the "backburner."
Mayor Ed Engler asked if anything would be done to improve the movement of traffic through the intersection of Pleasant Street and New Salem Street, particularly since the next phase of the WOW Trail would increase the number of pedestrians passing through the intersection. Saunders said that because its proximity to the railroad crossing nothing could be done to alter the intersection.
Engler asked for a straw poll of the councilors to determine if they considered the project a low, medium or high priority. With Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) confessing he knew too little to offer an opinion, the remaining five councilors agreed the plan was a low priority. However, at the same time, the council encouraged Saunders to sound the general public.