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Heritage Commission wants ordinance with bigger teeth

LACONIA — In hopes of protecting and preserving historic buildings in the city, the Heritage Commission will propose amending the demolition ordinance to apply to a wider range of properties as well as to allow more time to mount preservation efforts.

When the commission met this week Planning Director Shanna Saunders presented a draft prepared in conjunction with Pam Clark, who has chaired the panel since its inception in 2004. Saunders said that she drew on similar ordinances enacted by other cities and towns, both in and beyond New Hampshire.

The commission will make its recommendation to the Planning Board, which in turn must seek the approval of the City Council to any change in the ordinance.

Although the Heritage Commission was established in 2003, it was not assigned a role in the demolition process until 2008. The current ordinance provides for the commission to review the application to demolish any building of more than 700-square-feet or structure of any size that is not a building, which is more than 75 years old and visible from a public street. If the commission finds the structure is not significant, the demolition may proceed.

However, if the Heritage Commission deems the it structure significant, it shall schedule a public hearing, to which the owner of the property is invited, to explore alternatives to demolition. If no alternative is found, the commission and owner shall meet within 10 days in a last attempt to reach agreement. Without an agreement to preserve the building, the owner may proceed to raze it while the Heritage Commission, with the consent of the owner, can photograph and document the building as well as encourage the owner to salvage any of its important architectural features.

The commission is considering four major changes to the existing ordinance. The first would add a preamble, or statement of purpose, affirming that "historic preservation" is an objective of the Master Plan and that demolition of significant structures "should be avoided when possible and practical" and be "an action of last resort."

"Significant" buildings and structures would be defined by five criteria. They would include buildings meeting national or state standards for historical, cultural or architectural landmarks as well as those of "such unusual or uncommon design, texture or materials" that they could only be reproduced with great difficulty or at great expense. Buildings, which if razed, would adversely affect the public interest and those that contribute to preservation of a place of historic interest would also qualify as "significant."

In addition, instead of applying to buildings and structures more than 75 years old, the commission proposes to reduce the minimum age to 50 years and strike the requirement that they be visible from a public right-of-way.

Finally. the amendment would authorize the Heritage Commission, after failing reach agreement with the property owner, to petition the City Council to defer the issuance of a demolition permit for up to 180 days. Drawing on its recent experience with the Hathaway House, the commission believes the additional time would provide an opportunity to find and fund a way to preserve the building or structure.

Last Updated on Friday, 11 April 2014 12:44

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House committee to amend RV bill

CONCORD — The House Municipal and County Government Committee is expected to amend a bill intended to clarify the taxation of recreational vehicles in order to spare Laconia from losing $2-million of assessed valuation, foregoing $220,000 in property tax revenue and adding a dime to its tax rate.

The amendment will be be proposed today when the committee meets to make its recommendation on the bill to the full House.

Senate Bill 333, as introduced by Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), would exempt from property taxation recreational vehicles remaining in any one city, town or unincorporated place for fewer than 45 days as well as recreational vehicles stored or placed on a rented campsite at a recreational campground or camping park no matter for how long.

The bill carried the Senate by a unanimous vote of 24-0 in January, but soon met with opposition from city officials. Last week, Laconia City Manager Scott Myers and Mayor Ed Engler told the House Municipal and County Government Committee that there are 423 recreational vehicles parked at a dozen campgrounds year around that the city has taxed for years, but would become exempt from property tax if the bill were enacted as written.

Meanwhile, lobbyist Henry Veilleux, representing the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association told the committee that recreational vehicles at the 117 campgrounds in the state were treated differently by different cities and towns. Some are taxed as real estate while others are not. Some municipalities bill the owners of the recreational vehicles while others, unable to identify the owners, bill the owners of the campgrounds. "It's a mess," he said.

Veilleux proposed exempting only those recreational vehicles less than eight-feet, six inches in width, leaving the so-called "park models," which can only be transported with a special permit, liable to property tax. He estimated that the amendment would enable Laconia to recapture 66 percent of its foregone valuation and revenue.
However Myers and Engler expressed reservations, explaining that the issue was not confined to the "park models." They claimed that other units meeting the statutory definition of a recreational vehicle were effectively permanent, if seasonally occupied, structures, many with porches, decks and other extensions. Likewise, Engler cited one of the two court decisions that led to the taxation of recreational vehicles, in which the judge held that "these trailers are more akin to a summer camp dwelling than to a camper intended for travel. A summer camp dwelling is a building."
Following the hearing, Rep. Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough), who chairs the committee, appointed a sub-committee to draft an amendment acceptable to city officials, municipal assessors and campground owners.
The amendment would exempt recreational vehicles registered as motor vehicles or trailers less than eight feet, six inches wide, which neither remain in any one municipality for more than 45 days and are not located on a rented campsite, from property taxation. But, so-called "park models," wider that eight feet, six inches, would remain liable to property tax. Recreational vehicles, registered or not, that are stored on a campground throughout the year would also be exempt from property taxation as long as they are not kept on a particular campsite or occupied.
The exemption from property tax shall not apply to any deck, porch, outbuilding or other accessory structure attached to recreational vehicle.
Campground owners would be required to provide notice to the owners of recreational vehicles liable to property tax, who would be billed directly by the city or town. Campground owners would not be liable for the collection or payment of taxes.
The amendment effectively treats those recreational vehicles liable to taxation as a species of manufactured housing, which apparently is a source of concern to the campground owners. However, by doing so the amendment relieves the campground owners of any responsibility for unpaid taxes due on units left on their property.
The Municipal and County Government Committee is scheduled to vote on the amendment and the bill on Tuesday, April 15 then report with the recommendation of the majority to the full House. Since the bill bears on taxation, if it passes the House it will likely be referred to the Ways and Means Committee, which will report back to the House for a second vote.
If the amended bill clears these hurdles, the Senate, which adopted the bill in its original form, will be asked to concur with the bill as amended by the House or to request a committee of conference to resolve the differences between the two chambers.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 01:12

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Gilmanton selectman will serve on Year-Round Library Committee

GILMANTON — Recently elected Selectman Steve McCormack will be serving on the Gilmanton Year-Round Library Committee as a representative from the town.

Committee Chair Anne Kirby said yesterday that having the town willing to officially have a representative to the library it a big step toward their ultimate goal of have the library owned and operated by the town.

"Now we're working on a strategic plan for our long-term goals," Kirby said.

Funding the Year-Round Public Library is one of the most divisive topics in Gilmanton in recent years. Those who have grown used to having the library and support its programming have long advocated for the taxpayer support while and equal number of residents remember agreeing to the library so long as it was never funded by the taxpayers.

In the past four years, the electorate has twice voted to fund some of its operations costs and twice voted not to. Each time the outcome has been vary close. This past March, about 1,100 voters went to the polls and those who supported town funding prevailed by 17 votes.

Kirby said for the short term, the library will continue its fund-raising efforts that include soliciting private donations and hosting events like the upcoming Spring Fling.

She said other fundraisers will include a evening at the Gilmanton Winery and a walk-a-thon.

"The goal is to raise the bulk of the money before Christmas so we don't have to worry about raising money during the budget season," Kirby said.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 April 2014 12:41

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Gilford hiring supervisor to clarify police station project's relationship to Gunstock Brook flood plain

GILFORD — Town officials have had to hire a surveyor in order to submit evidence that will show federal officials that the renovation and addition project for the town police station lies outside the 500-year flood plain established for Gunstock Brook.
The $1.213 million project would be funded in part by a $169,000 grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security and officials from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) have questioned whether or not the project falls within the 500-year flood plain.
Town Administrator Scott Dunn in his administrator's report at Wednesday night's selectmen's meeting said that the issue was discussed last week in a conference call which involved about five Gilford officials as well as a nearly equal number of officials from both FEMA and the State of New Hampshire.
''It's like trying to prove a situation which seems illogical,'' said Dunn, who said that he was hoping that the situation, which he referred to as a ''snag'', can soon be resolved.
Dunn said that the surveyor's report would be submitted within two weeks to federal officials.
He said that the project can not go out to bid until the FEMA grant has been approved by the Governor and Executive Council.
The proposed addition will include an emergency operations center which will be funded with a Department of Homeland Security grant. The addition will include a separate entryway into the police station. Currently the Police Department shares an entryway with other Gilford town offices into the Gilford Town Hall.

Last Updated on Friday, 11 April 2014 01:35

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