An emotional graduation as two move forward from drug recovery program

Jeffrey Cote, left and Kaitlyn Millette, right, graduated on Wednesday from the Drug Recovery Program. With them are Jacqui Abikoff director of the Horizons Counseling Center, who helped Cote and Millette through the program, and Laconia District Court Judge James Carroll. (Ginger Kozlowski photo/Laconia Daily Sun)

Jeffrey Cote, left and Kaitlyn Millette, right, graduated on Wednesday from the Drug Recovery Program. With them are Jacqui Abikoff director of the Horizons Counseling Center, who helped Cote and Millette through the program, and Laconia District Court Judge James Carroll. (Ginger Kozlowski photo/Laconia Daily Sun)

 

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — It was a milestone moment yesterday for the two graduates of Recovery Court as they stood before their family and friends in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, both clean and sober for what might be the longest time in their adult lives.
Jeffrey Cote and Kaitlyn Millette fought back tears as they chronicled their struggles with drug and alcohol addiction and how grateful they both were to the Judge James Carroll and all of the rest of the team lead by Horizons Counseling Services Director Jacqui Abikoff.
Cote and Millette both set records during their recovery – Cote for being the one who graduated the fastest from the year-long program and Millette for taking the longest.
Abikoff said Cote came to the program in March of 2015. Addicted to heroin, she said he got into some legal trouble and came to the recovery program determined to get clean.
"You are an example to all of your peers," she told him.
Abikoff said Millette is a "testament to perseverance." Noting that Millette had been allowed to come to the program once before but lapsed in November of 2014, the recovery team had given her another chance.
"You got that second chance and you wanted to make it happen," she said to her.
Recovery Court is an all-volunteer effort with Judge Carroll, Belknap County Prosecutor Melissa Guldbrandsen, Abikoff of Horizons, the Laconia Division of Parole and Probation, Laconia City Prosecutor Jim Sawyer, the Public Defender's Office lead by attorney Jesse Friedman, the Restorative Justice Program, the Belknap County Jail, Genesis Behavior Health and Laconia Drug Prevention, Education and Treatment Officer Eric Adams all working together to pull together a "drug court" using their lunch hours weekly for meetings and sessions.
The program has a number of components, including payment, which is allowed over time; counseling sessions, which can be as many as five a week; AA or NA meetings, a minimum of 250 community service hours; random and regular drug testing; and no unlawful interactions with the police. Participants can be eliminated from the program for lying and deception in their groups and/or bad attitudes. The program is in lieu of incarceration, so if a person fails to meet the expectations set by the team, he or she is returned to jail to complete an otherwise suspended sentence. Acceptance into the program requires a guilty plea to the offense that brought the individual to the program in the first place.
Cote, or "JJ," said for most of his life he had a hard time fitting in. He said as he got older and his addictions grew, he built more walls and became more remote. By the time he came to recovery, he said he was jobless, homeless, carless and was stealing things to support his habit.
"I was of no use to my community," he said.
For him, he said it's a day-by-day thing, just like he learned through the 12-step process. Cote is working, has performed hundreds of hours in community service which he continues to do today, is the parent of an honor student and said Recovery Court helped him become the "son and parent he should be."
Millette said she believes in second chances.
"I'm a soldier at war fighting for my life," she said.
The new mother of a little boy, she chose to stay in the program beyond her graduation date to make sure that she stayed clean and sober and was surrounded by people who cared so much as her son was born. She has been clean for two years now.
She thanked Judge Carroll for being such an amazing person. "I can stand before you with dignity and respect," she said.
Carroll told her she looked like the reverse of one of those sequential pictures that show how people age when they are doing drugs.
"Kaitlyn is so healthy and beautiful," Carroll said, referring to both her and Cote as "two of my children."
District 7 Sen. Andrew Hosmer spoke to the full courtroom and thanked both Cote and Millette for their strength.
"You're part of a revolution in this country," Hosmer said, thanking them for putting "a face on recovery."
He said both of them serve as a powerful example of human potential. "Thank you for helping me understand addiction so I can better serve you," Hosmer said.

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Howes get site plan approval, but still face two lawsuits

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — After a marathon session of the Planning Board Monday night, members narrowly voted 4 to 3 to give Timber Hill Farm site plan approval to host farm-to-table events such as weddings on their Gunstock Hill farm, but there are still two lawsuits that could end that quest.

It took the board until midnight to outline all of the limiting restrictions that were put in place ostensibly to protect the neighbors from loud music, light, traffic, drunks, human waste and other ancillary things that could occur at a large gathering for a celebration like a wedding.

It fell to Chairman John Morgenstern to make the final decision, who called it a "dilemma" because of his concern for abutter Monique Twomey and some of the other neighbors who spoke against the proposal.

"I didn't agree with the [Zoning Board of Adjustment] decision, but that will be decided by the court," Morgenstern said. "I want to say 'no' but I will say "yes."

The ZBA decision to which Morgenstern refers is the controlling factor in the Planning Board decision. Twice the ZBA has determined that, in Gilford, agritourism and agriculture are the same thing and that the Howe's proposed use for farm-to-table events such as hosting weddings should be considered as "other commercial agricultural uses."

Detractors, of which there are many, including at least three members of the Planning Board, disagree and say that the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that agritourism in New Hampshire was, by design and deliberate intent of the New Hampshire State Legislature, different than agriculture.

For the first time, Twomey addressed the Planning Board herself and implored them not to grant site plan approval. She told them she grew up in Gilford, moved away and set a goal of returning.

After careful deliberation, she said she bought a house next to conservation land and in a residential neighborhood she thought was perfect to raise her two daughters. During the 2015 weddings, she said she would see people urinating along the property line while facing her home and hear music and drunken laughter at night that carried through the meadow.

She told the Planning Board that she started her own petition against the Howes proposal and had already gotten 71 signatures with the caveat that in order to sign the petition, the signers had to come to her home and see where the tent events were taking place.

She said she remembered one of the farm-to-table events held before the weddings and said that at first she was annoyed, but that she shouldn't have been because it was respectful and pretty. She described the weddings as drunks and disrespectful.

"Would you want that every weekend day of your summer?" she asked them.

In Timber Hill's site plan approval, the Howes can host events in a tent in a meadow abutting Twomey's property only in 2016 and are limited to 10 annually.
Events will be confined to the tent, which shall be at least 650 feet away from Twomey's house, and to within 150 feet of it to the north and east. The tent had to come down withing 24 hours of an event and all music must end at 10 p.m. No activity can begin before 8 a.m.

Beginning in 2017, all events must be in a barn that is being constructed about 800 feet down the slope from Twomey's house. Should the barn not be ready for the summer of 2017, the Howes said they would use the barn site for the tent. They have agreed to plant some kind of tree buffer but said they need to remove a few existing trees to prepare the site. They are limited to 15 events per year.

All music must be directed away from dwellings on Gunstock Hill Road and the barn shall have no openings on the side facing the road. Adequate toilet and trash facilities must be provided for every event.

Alcohol will be allowed by only to sold on site by a licensed agent with licensed bartenders. The board said no to a bring-you-own-bottle policy.

Another stipulation is that 35 percent of the food served by the caterer must be grown by the Howes on either of their two farms, although detractors said this was unenforceable.

The Howes will be responsible for all safety, police details if determined necessary by the chief, and for transporting all of the guest from the parking area near their home, which is not in conservation, to the event site.

Parking was something the three opposing members of the Planning Board struggled with. Jerry Gagnon said that parking facilities, whether they are structures or not, are not allowed by town ordinances in any single-family residence.

"If we approve this, it has to be graded and graveled," he said.

Gagnon also said that allowing the Howes to build a barn for gatherings and not have it subjected to sprinkler requirements is wrong. He noted that the town would not allow any other commercial structure to be built, even in a commercial zone, that would hold 200 people without sprinklers.

"I agree with Jerry," said Carolyn Scattergood. "We have 200 people at risk in a barn with a generator. No. It needs to be hard wired," she said.

Supporting Planning Board members and staff said the site plan will require that the Howes comply with all local and state fire and safety regulations.

While the Howes have their site plan, they still have one major hurdle to cross before they can begin hosting events in 2016. Twomey has filed two lawsuits in Belknap County Superior Court against the ZBA ruling that agriculture and agritourism are the same thing.

Twomey has also asked for a restraining order to prevent the Howes from hosting events until the suits are settled. The court has set a hearing for the restraining order for March 7.

Davis Place deal in limbo as city considers two proposals

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Faced with two offers from two private parties to purchase parts of two lots owned by the city on Davis Place, the City Council this week declined to declare the properties surplus and directed City Manager Scott Myers to explore the offers with the prospective buyers.

At a public hearing, both the Planning Board and the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Board urged the council not to sell any or all of either lot, but instead to retain the properties to provide public access to the Winnipesaukee River.

Harry Bean seeks to purchase 9,810 square feet of untended woodland straddling Jewett Brook, which adjoins the house lot he owns at 32 Davis Place. Most of this land lies within a sprawling 1.67-acre lot owned by the city that fronts on Davis Place, stretches along the north bank of the Jewett Brook to the Winnipesaukee River and includes a sliver of land reaching from the south bank of the brook to Howard Street. Bean also seeks to acquire a strip of land, approximately 10 feet by 131 feet along the east side of a 0.15-acre lot, also owned by the city, that lies within the larger lot, which he would attach to the other parcel.

Bean told the council that he does not want to develop the lot, but merely to "clean up" what has become a "dumping ground" where people loiter. Because of its size and proximity to Jewett Brook, the parcel he seeks to acquire could not be built upon.

Meanwhile, Lloyd Wylie, who owns the lot at the far end of Davis Place that houses an apartment building, has made two offers to purchase portions of the 1.67-acre lot, which abuts his property to the east and south. One offer would include the portion of the lot abutting his lot to the south and fronting the Winnipesaukee River and Jewett Brook. Alternatively, he has offered to acquire the entire lot, except for the portion Bean has requested and the stretch on the south bank of Jewett Brook leading to Howard Street.

Like Bean, Wylie said that he wished only to maintain "a clean and safe environment for the community" by landscaping and policing the property as well as address a drainage problem without developing the lot.

In a letter to the council, the TIF Advisory Board said the property "offers an area for a potential trail and new public riverfront park, beach and car-top boat launch on the Winnipesaukee River." The board noted that the riverwalk "is an important part of the overall Downtown economic development and all the connected neighborhoods."

Likewise, the Planning Board described the lots as "a potential major extension of the river walk, park for residents of the area and city, and a parking lot that can be a satellite facility for those parking downtown and a possible park and ride." The board reminded the council that the process of updating the Master Plan is underway and the city has invested significantly in improving downtown, concluding that "it is premature to divest a major piece of real estate in the downtown area that could support these plans."

Myers said Monday that he considers the offers "two completely different scenarios." The land Bean seeks to purchase would not include either the strip leading from Howard Street to or the bridge crossing Jewett, which provide access to the larger of the two lots with frontage on the river. On the other hand, Wylie seeks to purchase all or part of the lot that fronts the river. Moreover, he said that Wylie indicated that if he owned the property, he would be unwilling to grant the city an easement to extend the riverwalk across it.