GILFORD — For the second time a standing room only crowd of people joined the selectmen for a discussion about the future of Kimball Castle and the 20 acres of property upon which it sits.
The Wednesday night gathering learned two new things: that an individual appraisal of the 115-year-old castle is $375,000 and that the selectmen have been working in non-public sessions with their lawyers and the Kimball Castle LLC. owner and his lawyers to come up with a way to save some artifacts and secure the property so that it doesn't pose a danger to the general public.
"As stewards we believe it is not in the town's best interests to own the property," said Selectman's Chair John O'Brien. He added that of the 80 or so letters the town has received from residents, very few have expressed a desire to use tax money on the building.
Kimball Wildlife Forest Committee Chair Sandra McGonagle said her committee's recommendation is to comply with the building inspector and either fence in the castle or tear it down, to try a purchase the land using local fund-raising and any available state and federal grants, and to preserve an easement that would allow access to the trails from the west side of the property.
"We've heard your concern about safety and vandalizing," she said to the board. "We conclude with the recommendations of the building inspector."
Selectmen said it is the owner's desire to sell the 20 acre-property as a single family residence but some in the audience, including Robert Heinrich, had objections.
He said the current owner was part of a consortium of people who worked out a "sweetheart" deal with the town in 1991 and that he was approached about joining in the early 1990s.
When the plan to build a restaurant collapsed for lack of financing, he said the owner originally was trying to sell the castle for $2.895 million but has allowed the castle to fall into such disrepair that the building itself is virtually worthless.
Many murmured in agreement when Heinrich said the owner has a responsibility to the town to maintain it. He also said the provisions of Charlotte Kimball's will specifically said she didn't want the property used for a residence but for a wildlife preserve.
Others said they didn't support using state LCHIP (Land and Community Heritage Investment Program) money for the castle because it is so hard to get and there are better uses for it even in Gilford.
Jim Sherman said the castle isn't historic. "It's 100 years old and my neighbor calls his home a castle," he said.
Conservation Commission alternate member John Goodhue said he knows there is someone working with the owner to purchase it but the owner needs the town's help to "put the deal together."
While Goodhue didn't say how he knows this, O'Brien had said earlier there have been some behind the scenes negotiations with selectmen to facilitate some kind of solution.
Just about the only thing everyone agreed on was the castle itself was beyond repair and posed a potential liability to the town.
One man pointed out that the liability to the town grows daily because the selectmen keep extending their order to the owner to either tear it down or build a fence.
As it stands right now, the owner has until April 30 to either tear it down or build a fence around the castle.