By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — In the teeth of opposition from residents of Paugus Park Road, the City Council flatly refused to refer a request by the owner of Big Island in Paugus Bay, which is in the residential single family district, to rezone the property by adding it to the commercial resort district.
Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) abstained from what otherwise was a unanimous vote.
Of the three islands in Paugus Bay — Plummer, Big and Little — Big is the second largest at 2.9 acres. It sits about 400 yards east of the marina at South Down Shores and some 1,500 feet north of Paugus Park Road.
Scott Everett, the founder and president of Supreme Lending, a mortgage lender headquartered in Dallas, Texas, who owns a seasonal home on Paugus Park Road, purchased the island in 2012 for $725,000. In 2014 he conveyed the island to NH-Big Island Co. with the intention of developing a seasonal camp, owned and operated by a charitable corporation, which he would endow. Since a camp is not a permitted use in the single-family district, Everett applied to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a variance, but withdrew the request when it met with stiff opposition from mainland residents, particularly property owners on Paugus Park Road.
The Zoning Ordinance provides that property owners may petition the City Council to change the boundaries of zoning districts if they represent "50 percent or more of the land area affected by a petition." Since Everett, as the sole owner of the island, represents 100 percent of the owners of the property that would be affected, he is entitled to present a petition. In turn, the ordinance prescribes that the City Council must refer the petition to the Planning Board, which must make a recommendation to the council within 90 days of receiving it.
Attorney Pat Wood, representing Everett, told the council that he seeks to develop a seasonal camp for girls aged between 8 and 14. A camp is not permitted in the residential single-family district, but would be permitted in the commercial resort district. He said that Everett has invested in bringing municipal water and sewer along with electricity, telephone and cable television to the island.
"Is there some reason this should not be referred to the Planning Board?" Wood asked.
He explained that the Planning Board would consider the use as well as the site plan for a camp and all aspects of the project. On the other hand, he said if application was made to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a variance, the opportunity to throughly review the proposed use of the proposed would be restricted.
Almost at once Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) suggested Wood ask his client to withdraw his request in light of the opposition voiced by neighboring residents. When repeated that his client was seeking an opportunity to make a presentation to the Planning Board, Lipman replied "I don't know that I want to be a part of that."
Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) said that however the current owner used the property, if it were rezoned the next owner would be able to pick from all the permitted uses in the commercial resort district. Wood countered that a covenant, limiting the use of the island to a seasonal camp, could be incorporated in the deed to the property.
Earlier, a half dozen property owners from Paugus Park Road urged the council to scuttle the petition. Ben Gamache said the only person to benefit from rezoning the island would be the owner while "the harm would be to the whole city." Given the range of permitted uses in the commercial resort district, he said, "we have no idea of what would become of the property and residents would have no control."
Fouad Youssef called the request "ridiculous" and "unfeasible" and said "if you approve it for his island, you might as well as approve it for me." His son Josh described the island as "the heart and nucleus of Paugus Bay, a quaint representation of island life in Laconia" and warned that putting it to commercial use would only cause problems. His brother Travis said developing the island would devalue neighboring properties.
Big Island in Paugus Bay near South Down Shores was considered for rezoning to allow a girls summer camp. On Monday night, the Laconia City Council voted against rezoning after protests from those living in the area. (Graphic courtesy Google Maps)
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