Council directs pointed questions at zoning board members

LACONIA —Two members of Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) found themselves under close questioning this week when they appeared before the City Council seeking reappointment.

Steve Bogert, chairman of the ZBA since 2007, and Suzanne Perley, who has served one term on the board, were asked about decisions to deny the requests of John Ganong and Charles Gulbicki to sell used cars on their properties in the Commercial Resort district, where the use requires a special exception. Earlier the board granted a similar request by Benson Auto, Inc. to operate a used car lot on property near the intersection of Route 3 and Rollercoaster Road, which is also in the Commercial Resort district. When Ganong brought his concerns to the council last month, Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) said he was "flabbergasted" by the ZBA's decision.

Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) asked Perley why, after allowing used car sales at one location in the district the board chose not to approve the same use at two other locations. Without naming either Gulbicki or Ganong, Perley said that in both cases "we were dealing with a scenic drive," a reference to the location of the two properties on Weirs Boulevard. Gulbicki operates a repair shop and towing service on a 0.22-acre lot near the roundabout at The Weirs and Ganong has a home and office on .52 acres further south on Paugus Bay.

Perley stressed that both properties overlooked the water and that after denying Ganong's request could not grant Gulbicki's without treating the two inconsistently. She said although the lot where Benson Auto was permitted to operate is in the same district, it does not overlook water and is adjacent to other commercial uses. Returning to the properties on Weirs Boulevard, she noted that "used car sales are not in the Master Plan's vision of that scenic road."

Mayor Ed Engler pressed Perley to show where the zoning ordinance distinguishes between the property at Route 3 and Rollercoaster Road and those on Weirs Boulevard or where it requires that properties with views of water must be treated differently from others in the same zoning district.

"We're volunteers doing the best we can with the information we have," she replied, repeating that the ZBA agreed that used car sales are not an appropriate use on a street bordering Paugus Bay.

"Zoning is a unique little monster," remarked Bogert, who voted to grant Ganong a special exception but to deny Gulbicki's request. "Each property requesting a special exception or variance must stand on its own," he said, adding that the ZBA made three decisions based on whether the three different properties could meet the five criteria required for a special exception.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) questioned Perley about the response to the sign ordinance drafted by the Zoning Task Force, which she chairs. Although the council approved the ordinance in May, Lipman expressed concern that by requiring a special exception for electronic signs it was unnecessarily restrictive. He asked how many applications had been submitted. "Not one," Perley answered.

Council is expected to vote on the requests for appointment at its August 25 meeting.