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Council directs pointed questions at zoning board members

LACONIA —Two members of Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) found themselves under close questioning this week when they appeared before the City Council seeking reappointment.

Steve Bogert, chairman of the ZBA since 2007, and Suzanne Perley, who has served one term on the board, were asked about decisions to deny the requests of John Ganong and Charles Gulbicki to sell used cars on their properties in the Commercial Resort district, where the use requires a special exception. Earlier the board granted a similar request by Benson Auto, Inc. to operate a used car lot on property near the intersection of Route 3 and Rollercoaster Road, which is also in the Commercial Resort district. When Ganong brought his concerns to the council last month, Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) said he was "flabbergasted" by the ZBA's decision.

Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) asked Perley why, after allowing used car sales at one location in the district the board chose not to approve the same use at two other locations. Without naming either Gulbicki or Ganong, Perley said that in both cases "we were dealing with a scenic drive," a reference to the location of the two properties on Weirs Boulevard. Gulbicki operates a repair shop and towing service on a 0.22-acre lot near the roundabout at The Weirs and Ganong has a home and office on .52 acres further south on Paugus Bay.

Perley stressed that both properties overlooked the water and that after denying Ganong's request could not grant Gulbicki's without treating the two inconsistently. She said although the lot where Benson Auto was permitted to operate is in the same district, it does not overlook water and is adjacent to other commercial uses. Returning to the properties on Weirs Boulevard, she noted that "used car sales are not in the Master Plan's vision of that scenic road."

Mayor Ed Engler pressed Perley to show where the zoning ordinance distinguishes between the property at Route 3 and Rollercoaster Road and those on Weirs Boulevard or where it requires that properties with views of water must be treated differently from others in the same zoning district.

"We're volunteers doing the best we can with the information we have," she replied, repeating that the ZBA agreed that used car sales are not an appropriate use on a street bordering Paugus Bay.

"Zoning is a unique little monster," remarked Bogert, who voted to grant Ganong a special exception but to deny Gulbicki's request. "Each property requesting a special exception or variance must stand on its own," he said, adding that the ZBA made three decisions based on whether the three different properties could meet the five criteria required for a special exception.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) questioned Perley about the response to the sign ordinance drafted by the Zoning Task Force, which she chairs. Although the council approved the ordinance in May, Lipman expressed concern that by requiring a special exception for electronic signs it was unnecessarily restrictive. He asked how many applications had been submitted. "Not one," Perley answered.

Council is expected to vote on the requests for appointment at its August 25 meeting.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 12:39

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County government feud personalized in Burchell v. Thomas contest

BARNSTEAD — When the two GOP candidates for the Belknap County Commission in District 2— incumbent John Thomas of Belmont and challenger Richard Burchell — addressed the Barnstead-Alton-Gilmanton Republican Committee this week, Burchell asked "why didn't the Democrats put up a candidate?"

Answering his question, he said "they didn't need to, because they've got John Thomas."

The tenor of this primary campaign not only echoes the bitter disputes that have roiled county government for the past two years, but also reflects the rift between veteran lawmakers and insurgent newcomers within the GOP. Thomas, served seven terms in the New Hampshire of Representatives, where he was among the leaders of the Republican majority and a member of the Belknap County Convention. Burchell, who has retired from a successful business career, is completing his first term in the House and a member of the convention.

The tension between the two was evident from the toss of the coin to determine who would speak first. Thomas won the toss, but deferred to Burchell, who declined to choose, remarking "I'm not going to speak for you."

Thomas recalled that the commission restructured the county administration and reduced the county payroll as well as introduced the "county conversations" to open a dialogue with the municipalities. With federal funds distributed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act , he said that the county courthouse and nursing home were improved. Thomas said that despite falling revenues, increases in both county expenditures and property taxes have been limited.

"There are quite a few problems in the county," Burchell began. Referring to the dispute between the convention and the commission over their respective budget authority, he said "the commissioners are not following the law." Last month Burchell, as clerk of the county convention, filed suit asking the Belknap County Superior Court to affirm the authority of the convention over each of the individual line items within the budget and prohibit the commission from spending more from any line item than it appropriated. He charged that the commissioners have failed to protect the interests of taxpayers in negotiating contracts with the unions representing county employees and warned against the runaway cost of health insurance benefits. Likewise, he suggested the growth of county spending has been excessive and claimed that federal stimulus funds were used to hire additional personnel. After saying that the issue of the county jail "is beyond the scope of this meeting," he said that "we should scrap and start over" the process of planning a facility in "the $10 million or $11 million range."

When the floor was opened to questions Barbara Howard of Alton immediately returned to the question of the jail. Thomas said that "we're not just building a jail. We're building a criminal justice system, which includes a community corrections component with a mental health and drug court. He said that the planning is based on two studies, one by David Bennett Consulting and another by RicciGreene Associates.

"We have no intention of building a $42 million jail," Thomas insisted. "We can't afford that."

Instead, he anticipated a project costing between $30 million and $35 million." He said that the jail population has already reached Bennett's 10-year projection. "We can have a county facility or a federal facility paid for by residents of Belknap County," he warned, alluding to the risk of litigation arising from conditions at the existing facility.

"I disagree with everything John Thomas has said," Burchell countered.

While acknowledged he learned a great deal from Bennett's report, he rejected its economic and demographic projections, which led him to exaggerate the growth of the inmate population. Likewise, he said that RicciGreene significantly exaggerated the size and cost of the facility the county required. "We should scrap these studies and start over," Burchell concluded.

Elaine Swinford, a former representative and candidate for the House seat in Alton, Barnstead and Gilmanton, remarked "every year we don't do anything, the cost goes up because the cost goes up."

District 2 consists of the towns of Barnstead, Belmont, Gilmanton and Tilton. Primary election day is Tuesday, Sept. 9.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 August 2014 11:47

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Judge finds state detective offered 'reckless' misrepresentations to get search warrant that led to Governor's Island pot farm bust

GILFORD — A Belknap County Superior Court judge has thrown out all of the evidence seized during a drug raid on a rented Governor's Island home last October because there were "reckless" misrepresentations made by the narcotics detective who filed the affidavits supporting the search.

It took Judge James O'Neill less than two weeks after presiding over a suppression hearing to exclude the evidence after he heard Jennifer Truman, the owner of 15 Blueberry Hill Lane, testify about what she said she told Detective Kirk Hart of the N.H. Drug Task Force (N.H. Department of Justice) as opposed to what he wrote in his affidavits.

Hart's representations in his affidavits led to a raid on the home and the arrest of renters Corey LaPlante, 28, and Janelle Noftle, 25. They are both charged with manufacturing marijuana and hashish with the intent to distribute both controlled substances.
When police raided the home in October, they found 12 pounds of marijuana, hashish, and $34,000 in cash.

Specifically, the ruling says that Truman testified she told Hart she never saw any marijuana in the home the only time she actually entered it during the time frame in question. She said she told him only odors she could smell was "a sharp, chemical smell" on the second floor that lingered into the attic.

In Hart's affidavits, he wrote that she told him there was "the smell of fresh marijuana was pungent throughout the residence."

Truman said the first time she went to the property in the fall of last year was to assess the outside for repairs. She said she never entered the home but smelled a "skunky" odor coming from the garage area. She contacted the management company and asked them to schedule a walk through and brought someone she knew with her.

After the walk through the home on October 13, she said she contacted Hart, who she knew, and then met with him in person on October 16 at the Gilford Police Department.

Truman also testified that she told Hart she saw PVC piping in the basement through a window in the basement on her first visit, however Hart wrote that there was a "unusual water filtration system set up in the basement"

Truman testified that there were some fluorescent lights in the attic while Hart wrote that she told him the "attic was equipped with fluorescent lights and the smell of fresh marijuana was again strong in that area."

She testified that she told Hart what her electrical usage was in the home during the time she lived there and that she lacked the authority to get LaPlante's and Noftle's usage information.

Hart wrote in his affidavit that the lowest bill for the home was in November of 2012 and was $744.02 while the highest was May of 2013 at $1,117.62 and that Truman provided him with this information.

"The Court finds that all the misstatements were at least reckless," O'Neill said. "Ms. Truman testified that the statements made in her testimony at the hearing on this matter are the same statements she provided to Detective Hart."

O'Neill found that once he removed the inaccuracies from Hart's affidavit there was not enough evidence to support the probable cause needed to search the home so the evidence gathered there cannot be used at trial.

Attorney Mark Sisti represents LaPlante and said yesterday that he is "very pleased with the order and expects to resolve the matter in short order."

Last Updated on Friday, 15 August 2014 11:12

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Lawyer says Abby suffered 'unspeakable violence'

By Daymond Steer
CONWAY — The lawyer, representing Abby and Zenya Hernandez expects more charges to be filed in the case but stresses that his job is to help Abby with the legal and healing processes and that will require the media giving the teen some space.

Police say Nathaniel Kibby, 34, of Gorham, kidnapped Abby on Oct. 9 on North-South Road. Abby, 15, of Conway, returned home under mysterious circumstances on July 20. Kibby was arrested at the end of last month and is now being held on $1 million cash bail.

Abby suffered "unspeakable violence" while in captivity, according to a statement the Hernandez family released Tuesday night on the website Bring Abby Home. The statement also said Abby and Zenya are represented by Michael L. Coyne of Andover, Mass., and Steven Hyde and Briana Coakley of Coakley and Hyde in Portsmouth.
Coyne told ABC News he is handling the case free of charge.
Coyne spoke to The Conway Daily Sun on Wednesday morning. Coyne is Massachusetts School of Law's dean-elect, as well as a professor of law.
There were a couple reasons why the information was released on Tuesday evening, said Coyne.
"First of all, Abby really does want people to know how appreciative she is of their efforts to reunite her with her family and to rescue her from this situation," said Coyne. "The first half of the statement is really heart felt and she is enormously appreciative of law enforcement and the community's efforts. What she's asking for at this point is just give her some time and space to heal from what she suffered from."
When asked if more charges are coming, Coyne said that's up to the Attorney General's Office but he would expect more charges would be filed at the end of the investigation. Coyne said in terms of cases like this, additional charges tend to be added at the indictment stage. The entire process through trial could be about a year.
"My work here is to help educate Abby and assist her with the process so that when the trial is over and when the process is done that she will hopefully be able to feel some comfort that she obtained justice," said Coyne.
Coyne said Abby has faith that the justice system will work in her case.
When asked why this particular team was chosen to represent Abby and Zenya, Coyne said three "long-experienced" legal experts probably have the ability to help educate and assist "a 15-year-old kidnap victim." The trio of Coyne, Coakley and Hyde has worked together before, said Coyne.
"The fact is that this is a lot for anyone to deal with much less a child who has gone through what she has," said Coyne. "If we can assist her in any way with that, that's our job to do. That's what we intend to do. I hope that's what lawyers do at their best is to help people through their darkest times."
Coyne is familiar with the town of Conway and recalled seeing Abby's image everywhere he went when Abby was missing.
"I think that says a lot about the community of Conway that they cared that much about Abby," said Coyne.
Coyne said his phone started ringing off the hook since the statement was posted on the Bring Abby Home website at about 7 p.m. Tuesday.
"Frankly, it's not unexpected," said Coyne about all the phone calls. "I do legal analysis for New England Cable News and for WBZ as well. I understand these high-profile cases. I worked on (the Whitey Bulger case) with NECN. I've worked on a number of different cases."
Coyne understands the media needs information to report about the case.
"Everyone wants to know more and they want to know it immediately in this social media age," said Coyne. "The fact is that you've got to let the process unfold and allow law enforcement to do its work and the family be able to heal and get better and really allow the process to do what it's supposed to do. At it's best, it will do it effectively and will be able to get justice for Abby."
Coyne doesn't anticipate releasing more information in the foreseeable future.
"What she's really looking for is to be able to have some time to get physically and emotionally stronger," said Coyne.
When asked if he had any civil proceedings planned, Coyne said that issue hasn't been addressed.
"The fact is the focus here is to try and get justice for Abby, and what we hope is to assist law enforcement however we can to help get that accomplished," said Coyne. "I think at the end of the day we'll be able to get that done together."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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