Gilford selectman questions ‘responsibility’ of Laconia for Fire Dept. training facility fire

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Demolition of the Fire Department Training facility off Lily Pond Road, near the transfer station, should occur shortly, Gilford officials said. The facility sustained damage in an October fire. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)



GILFORD — The town has received the go-ahead to demolish charred remnants of the Fire Department Training facility off Lily Pond Road, but for one selectman, the question of how the facility was damaged by fire remains a cloud over the community.
The training facility, located near the transfer station, caught on fire on Oct. 4, 2016, sustaining damage that made it unusable for training.
On Wednesday, during a selectmen's meeting, Chairman Richard Grenier asked if the city of Laconia would acknowledge the incident, noting unresolved questions.
"The Laconia Fire Department was out there training, and after they left, it basically burned to the ground," Grenier said.
"I guess my concern is responsibility," Grenier said. "I'm certain there was no maliciousness to it, but we're out a lot of money."
According to reports at the time, firefighters responded shortly before 8 p.m. that night, and by then the roof had nearly collapsed. At the time, Gilford Fire Chief Steve Carrier said his department was called just before 8 p.m. for an outside fire somewhere near the airport and found the roof of the training center burning.
Built with donations, grant money and volunteer labor, the training facility was approved in 2009, constructed in 2010 and used by area departments as a training site for extinguishing fires. Constructed out of metal trailers, it featured three floors of "burn rooms" with wooden studs and drywall nailed to the studs. Firefighters could practice using ladders at the facility, which was equipped with stairways and a roof.
On Wednesday, Gilford Deputy Fire Chief Bradley Ober said the town's insurer, Primex, gave approval in mid-January for the town to conduct demolition at the site. The recycling department found a salvage company to aid in removal of the debris, he said.
"We've cleaned up the parts that we wanted to keep separate. We should have that cleaned up probably within a month," Ober said.
Ober said the town's first priority was to clean up the site and then consider ways to replace the facility.
Cause of the fire was deemed unknown/accidental, Ober told selectmen, although he acknowledged that there was speculation about an arsonist in the area at the time.
"Are we going to see any acknowledgement from the city of Laconia?" Grenier asked.
Ober said, "I wouldn't be able to speak to that."
Grenier said, "To me, if there was an arson, why isn't it being investigated?"
Ober said, "We didn't find anything that indicated it was an arson fire."
Grenier said, "I'm just upset by it. It was an excellent training facility used by a lot of departments, SWAT teams."
"I'm not above going to Laconia's city council," he said.
After the meeting, Grenier said he was reminded of the destruction when he paid a recent visit to the transfer station, prompting his questions.
Laconia Fire Chief Kenneth Erickson, when contacted on Thursday, said, "We were in the building that day training, and that night it burned. When we left the building, we were pretty confident that all the fires were out."
Firefighters left around 3 p.m. By 8 p.m. that night, "it was a roaring inferno," Erickson, who was among the responders, recalled.
"I have reached out to Chief Carrier in the hope that we can help do something," Erickson said. "I haven't heard anything pertaining to the building since the week of the fire."
Erickson said he was not sure what "acknowledgement" means.
The training facility was built using about $25,000 of town money plus a number of donations, including one for $5,000 from Meredith Village Savings Bank, according to press reports.


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Gilford selectmen decide not to appeal Timber Hill Farm agritourism ruling


GILFORD — Selectmen have decided not to appeal a Superior Court ruling regarding the legality of weddings at Timber Hill Farm.
Under the heading of "consideration of litigation," the board discussed their legal options in the case during a closed nonpublic session Wednesday, according to Town Administrator Scott Dunn.
On Thursday, Selectman Richard Grenier said, "I think there may be even more agritourism legislation coming down the road, so it's fluid. So right now we're not going to take any official position. We'll just see where it goes with the litigants."
In a Feb. 14 ruling, Belknap County Superior Court Judge James O'Neill overturned a Gilford Zoning Board decision that concluded that, under the town's zoning ordinance, weddings were permitted agricultural uses at Timber Hill Farm. A neighbor sued to prevent weddings at the Gilford farm, located at 263 Gunstock Hill Road, overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee.
Abutter Monique Twomey took the case to court after the Gilford Zoning Board of Adjustment reviewed an appeal of an administrative decision, a cease-and-desist order dated Aug. 26, 2015, relating to a section of the Gilford Zoning Ordinance governing agriculture. The order barred weddings at Timber Hill Farm.
The Zoning Board of Adjustments voted against the cease and desist order, finding that weddings and other farm-to-table events at Timber Hill Farm were permissible under "other commercial agricultural activity." Judge O'Neill vacated the zoning board's decision, finding that the board improperly interpreted "agriculture" as defined by the town's zoning ordinance.
At Town Meeting last year, voters broadened local ordinances. An article on last year's warrant created a new definition for agritourism.
Last year, Article 7 passed 1,145-228, amending the zoning ordinance to make agritourism uses subject to nuisance regulations; and Article 8 passed 900-408, creating definitions for agritourism and making it a permitted use in all zones except island residential.
The definitions found that the term "agritourism" means "attracting visitors to a working farm for the purpose of eating a meal, enjoyment of the farm environment, education on farm operations, or active involvement in the activity of the farm which is ancillary to the farm operation."

Barring a legal victory, Timber Hill Farm will need to come before the Planning Board with a new application and comply with the newly amended zoning ordinance, Dunn said.

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Vault Motor Storage wins variance for Belmont boat storage facility


BELMONT — Vault Motor Storage LLC of Merrimack plans to use a model of state-of-the-art construction and technology when building a nearly 200,000-square-foot storage facility on Higgins Drive, the applicant said.
Charlie Morgan of Vault Motor Storage LLC said the footprint for the Belmont climate-controlled storage facility is 89,000 square feet with two floors.
"We store RVs and automobiles, high-end automobiles, boats. It's a first-class storage facility," Morgan said.
Morgan Storage provided vehicle storage at Manchester and Salem locations but found demand from customers for more space for auto storage, according to the company website ( In 2013, the company built its 110,000-square-foot Vault Motor Storage facility in Merrimack.
Seeking to build storage units in the Lakes Region, Morgan was refused twice in Laconia, but Morgan said, "Belmont is going to work with me."
In December, the Laconia Zoning Board of Adjustment voted down a proposal to build a heated indoor storage facility on Watson Road near its intersection with U.S. Route 3 at The Weirs; this request was the second such — both from Vault Storage — to fail to gain relief from a prohibition against indoor motor vehicle storage in the city's Commercial-Resort District. Earlier in 2015, Vault Storage had sought to build on the old Surfcoaster property at the corner of Endicott Street East (Route 11B) and White Oaks Road.
In Belmont, the Higgins Drive site is vacant property created in the 1980s when a business park was built, Belmont Town Planner Candace Daigle said. The lot previously was approved for Hangtime Sports, which pursued site plan approval and a special exception for an indoor skate park. The park was never built.
Boat storage is not allowed in the industrial zone, so Morgan approached the Zoning Board for a variance, which was granted at the board's Feb. 22 meeting. Daigle said Vault Motor Storage withdrew a request for outdoor covered storage and applied only for the indoor facility.
The company now will come to the Application Review Committee and then make site plan application at the Planning Board, she said.
Vault Motor Storage could be at the Application Review Committee as early as March 23 and the Planning Board as early as April 24.

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