Plan to build kids' camp on Paugus Bay island draws protest

LACONIA — A scheduled hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) on a proposal to develop a summer camp for underprivileged children on Big Island in Paugus Bay was postponed at the request of the applicant in the face of stiff opposition from mainland residents.

Since the 2.3 acre island, located about a quarter-mile due east of the South Down Shores gated community's marina, is in the single-family residential zone, where a camp is not a permitted use, Scott Everett, who purchased the island in 2012 and seeks to develop the camp, has requested a variance from the ZBA.

Soon after abutters were notified of the project, the Planning Department received nearly a dozen letters and a number of e-mails, mostly from residents of Paugus Park Road, expressing misgivings about the project. Some of the protesters were at City Hall on Monday night.

Local attorney Rod Dyer, representing Everett, said that on reading the correspondence from abutters he concluded that a formal hearing would not offer an appropriate forum to address their concerns. Instead, he told Steve Bogert, chairman of the ZBA, that he preferred to withdraw the application for the moment and meet with the abutters informally. He emphasized that Everett has no intention of abandoning the project, but has only chosen to proceed after seeking to resolve the issues raised by abutters.

Everett, the founder and president of Supreme Lending, a mortgage lender headquartered in Dallas, Texas, who was raised and still summers in the Lakes Region, acquired the island for $725,000. This year he conveyed the property to N.H. Big Island Co., with the intention of developing a camp,owned and operated by a charitable corporation, which he would endow.

Of the three islands in Paugus Bay — Plummer, Big and Little — Big Island is the second largest. It sits about 400 yards east of the marina at South Down Shores and 1,500 feet north of Paugus Park Road. The only structures on the island are a three-bedroom seasonal camp of approximately 1,250-square-feet, which was built in 1950, an outhouse and dock. The camp is served by a dug well that likely draws water from the lake. The electric service to the island has not operated for some time.

Everett proposes to convert the camp to a lodge with cooking and dining facilities as well as quarters for counselors. Campers would be housed in five cabins, each about 12 feet by 20 feet divided two 12-foot-square rooms housing four campers for a total capacity of 20. Dyer said the camp is intended for young girls aged between 12 and 12. Water, sewer, electricity and cable would be routed to the island through a sleeve beneath Paugus Bay.

Dyer said an oral agreement has been reached with the South Down Beach Club to provide utilities to the island and applications have been made to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to run utilities under the railroad tracks and to the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission to bring electricity to the island. Likewise, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services has been approached about rehabilitating the existing docking facility.

In their letters, abutters raised a number of issues. Some feared that the sewer line would represent an environmental risk. Others said that the heavy boat traffic in the bay would endanger the safety of young campers. One woman said the bay was a popular venue for water skiers, wake boarders and jet skis and the presence of campers could lead to imposition of a no wake zone that would curtail these activities. Several abutters said that the camp would diminish the value of mainland properties while a camp operated by a charitable corporation would be exempt from property taxation.

Dyer said that he understood abutters have legitimate questions and concerns, but was confident their questions could be answered and their concern addressed.