LACONIA — In an unexpected turn of events, a divided City Council on Monday night decided to sell the city property on Elm Street leased to Lakeport Landing marina for the past 30 years to Irwin Marine, its neighbor and competitor, for $528,000.
Taken aback by the decision, Erica Blizzard, the owner of Lakeport Landing, said that "the City Council has shown tonight that in this city you can buy whatever you want is you have enough money."
Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), David Bownes (Ward 2), Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) voted to sell to Irwin Marine while Councilors Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Arman Bolduc (Ward 6) dissented.
"I'm truly disappointed," said Baer after the vote. "I've been beaten many times on many subjects, but this time I'm truly disappointed." She was echoed by Bolduc who expressed his disappointment and remarked "we have to live with it".
The property, a 0.81 acre strip between the roadway and railway was leased to Lakeport Landing in 1985 for 10 years with two 10-year renewal periods. The lease will expire on October 31, 2015 and the tenant has no renewal rights. In 1987 Lakeport Landing constructed a 9,840-square-foot building on the lot. Under the terms of the lease, ownership of building will go to the city at the expiration date.
The City Council has wrestled with the issue since last October when Blizzard first asked about the future of the property. Councilors searched for a means of ensuring the firm retained control or gained ownership of the lot and building. At the same time, Irwin Marine, which abuts Lakeport Landing, expressed its interest and insisted the land and building should be sold by an open, competitive bidding process.
An independent appraiser pegged the value of the property at $480,000, well above the $331,400 initially offered by Lakeport Landing and $335,000 offered by Irwin Marine. After receiving the two offers the council asked City Manager Scott Myers to hold "informal conversations" with both parties to gauge their reactions to four conditions the council expected to attach to the sale of the property and report to the council when on Monday, June 8.
First, the city required the sale price to match or exceed the appraised value of the property.
The city sought an assurance that the owner of the property will not alter or demolish the existing building unless the change sustains or increases the existing taxable value of the property. If the current tenant is displaced by the sale, the city the date of possession by the new owner would be deferred for up to two years from the date of the closing to provide time for Lakeport Landing to secure new quarters. Should this provision be invoked, from when the lease expires, Lakeport Landing would pay a monthly rent consistent with the appraised value of the property. Finally, the property must be conveyed with easements enabling the city to maintain water and sewer lines as well as the retaining paralleling Union Avenue.
Myers wrote to both parties on June 1 and, in addition to outlining the conditions specified by council, asked each to submit their "highest and best offers" for the property to his office by 4 p.m. on Monday, June 8, the day of the regularly scheduled City Council meeting.
On June 4, Attorney Rod Dyer, representing Lakeport Landing, advised Myers that Blizzard questioned the independent appraisal of the property and said she would ask the council for an opportunity to commission a second appraisal, which would be presented to the council by the end of the month. He repeated the request when the council met on Monday and asked that any decision be deferred until the second appraisal was presented.
Instead, the council spent some 40 minutes in a non-public session, under the exception to the Right-to-Know permitting private discussion of the purchase, lease or sale of real property. When the public meeting reconvened, Mayor Ed Engler reviewed the process and said that the responses of both parties to the conditions set by the council were "accommodating". Then he announced that the highest and best offer submitted by Lakeport Landing matched its original bid of $331,400, without referring to its request for a second appraisal, while Irwin Marine had offered $528,000.
"Councilors, the floor is yours," the mayor then remarked and Lipman moved to accept the offer of Irwin Marine and authorize the city manger to enter a purchase and sales agreement. Bownes seconded the motion and the vote was taken.
"I'm shocked at the outcome," Dyer said, "and disappointed that the council did not allow us the opportunity to come forward with a more realistic appraisal."