Medical marijuana zoning proposal takes next step with little interest

LACONIA — With little discussion the Planning Board last night unanimously recommended a zoning ordinance that would restrict facilities dispensing, growing and processing marijuana for medicinal purposes — "Alternative Treatment Centers" or ATCs — to three industrial districts, as recommended by the Zoning Task Force.

The initiative now goes to City Council for final approval.
The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will select, license and regulate the nonprofit corporations owning and operating the ATCs. DHHS has received 14 applications to operate ATCs in four geographic zones, one of which consists of Belknap, Strafford and Rockingham counties. At least one application has been received for each of the four geographic areas, but DHHS has declined to specify either how many applications were submitted for each area or where within each area applicants propose to operate. However, where such facilities operate are questions for municipalities to address through their zoning ordinances.
The Zoning Task Force has recommended that rather than propose different zoning regulations for dispensing, cultivating and processing, the same regulation should apply to all three.
 The ordinance would confine ATCs to the Industrial Park, Industrial and Airport Industrial Districts and prohibited elsewhere. The Industrial Park District refers to the O'Shea Industrial Park on Lexington Drive. There are three Industrial Districts in downtown, two beyond the south end and another near the north end of Union Avenue. The Airport Industrial District lies east of White Oaks Road and borders the Gilford town line.
ATCs would be prohibited in residential districts and within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers and places of worship. The dispensaries would be allowed to operate between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. All facilities must be fitted with security alarms and cameras, operating around the clock and connected to the Police Department and an alarm monitoring company.
Corporations seeking to operate in the city would require a conditional use permit as well as an approved site plan. A conditional use permit requires an applicant to demonstrate that the use will not endanger the health or safety of the public, substantially diminish the value of nearby properties, adversely impact vehicular or pedestrian safety, not impair natural resources or necessitate excessive public expenditures. The use must also be compatible with the neighborhood and the uses of adjacent properties. In addition, any signage must comply with the relevant regulations.

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Mill Society membership continues to buck its board on sale of historic building

LACONIA — For the second time in as many months, the membership of the Belknap Mill Society resoundingly spurned the recommendation of the Board of Directors to negotiate the sale of the historic building to the city of Laconia when the organization held its annual meeting yesterday.

Some 40 of the approximately 170 members attended the annual meeting where what attorney Rod Dyer, who moderated the proceedings, called "an advisory vote" was taken on the board's recommendation. Only a handful members voted in favor of the society divesting itself of the property. At the same time, a number of members advocated mounting a fundraising campaign to address the immediate needs of the building, including the repair or replacement of the roof and installation of a new boiler, as well as a membership drive to place the operations of the society on a sound footing.

The vote mirrored the outcome between the directors and members in January when a clear majority of the 40 or 50 members in attendance expressed opposition to selling the building in a straw poll.

Attorney Paul Fitzgerald, representing the directors, said yesterday that the directors will weigh a number of options in light of the views expressed by a majority of the membership. He noted the board, by bylaw, is not bound by the vote of the members and is vested with sole authority to negotiate the sale of the mill, but added that the directors have no intention of ignoring the wishes of the membership.

Last October, Christine Santaniello, president of the society, and the directors concluded that the society lacked the financial means to continue to own and maintain the historic building. She said that because the society was operating at a deficit and depleting its reserves it could not sustain proper ownership. The trustees announced that they were searching for a partner who would assume ownership of the property while ensuring public access to the first and third floors of the building where the society would continue to offer its educational and cultural programs. They approached the City Council, offering to sell the building to the city at an undisclosed price, but a majority of the councilors urged them to explore alternative arrangements.

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Selectman Kahn walks out

MEREDITH — The Board of Selectmen shrank from five to at most four and perhaps three yesterday when Hillary Seeger tendered her resignation before the board convened and Lou Kahn, who chaired the 3/25 Traffic Advisory Committee, stalked out of a workshop after a discussion of the panel's recommended traffic plan, which the board scuttled two weeks ago.

Kahn departed after Brian Allen, a harsh critic of the plan who was the last to speak, began by saying "I have one thing to say, Lou, you are the problem."

When Allen concluded his remarks and Carla Horne, who chairs the Selectboard, asked her colleagues how they wished to proceed, Kahn asked. "Am I the problem?" Met with silence, he repeated, "Does the board think I'm the problem? I'm looking for some support here."

When his colleagues remained silent he rose from his seat, put on his jacket, remarked "I don't need this (expletive)" and left the room.

Earlier the board considered what steps to take after rejecting the advisory committee's recommendation to construct three roundabouts along the 3/25 highway corridor in the face of overwhelming opposition from the townspeople. Warren Clark, a member of the advisory committee, said that the impractical and unacceptable alternatives have been eliminated and suggested if the selectmen convene another committee to consider improving the flow of traffic, they limit its scope to a narrow range of options.

Kahn quickly and firmly expressed opposition to another committee. "The town is not ready for a significant change," he said. "We should tell the DOT (New Hampshire Department of Transportation) 'it's your problem.' If the DOT has a plan, he said, "let them make the proposal. Let's not spin our wheels any more on this subject."

Donald Smith, who presented an alternative plan to the 3/25 Committee, offered it to the selectmen yesterday. He explained that his plan included a bypass from Rte. 25 near Inter-Lakes High School to Rte. 3 at Prescott Park and widening Rte. 3 to four lanes from Dover Street to Rte. 104, as well as a number of signaled crosswalks for pedestrians.

Kahn told the board that the same gentleman once proposed rerouting southbound traffic from Rte. 3 to Main Street and that the bypass would simply carry traffic to the 3/25 intersection, the major bottleneck along the corridor. "Cut this off now!" he urged, "His proposal should go back to the DOT. We should not be discussing traffic plans at this board."

Then Brian Allen stepped to the podium.

No reason was given when Seeger's resignation was announced. She was elected to the board in March 2014 and has a little over two years remaining on her term.

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City council refuses request for zoning change

LACONIA — The City Council, by a vote of 2-to-4 Monday, rejected a request that the Planning Board hold a hearing on a request to amend the city's Zoning Ordinance to allow boat and watercraft storage in the Shore Front Residential Zone.

The request came from Atty. Paul Fitzgerald who is representing Kevin and Peter Morrissette who recently purchased the former St. Helena's Church, which sits on about a 3-acre lot, at the corner of Route 11B and Pendleton Road.

Fitzgerald said he was not speaking for the Morrissettes in particular, but was addressing a zoning change with the council that would provide an amenity for the people who lived in the shorefront residential area as a place to store their boats.

"All we are requesting is a right to be considered (by the Planning Board)," Fitzgerald said.

There are two ways zoning changes, not generated by the council itself or the Planning Task Force, can be effected in the city of Laconia. The first is to appear before the City Council, ask for permission to go before the Planning Board and, if permission is granted, the Planning Board shall hold a public hearing within a specified amount of time and made a recommendation back to the City Council. The City Council is the only entity that can make zoning changes and is not obligated to accept the recommendations of the Planning Board.

By its action Monday, City Council closed off that avenue.

The second way is for a citizen's petition to be submitted to the council, in which case it shall request the Planning Board to hold a public hearing and make a recommendation. The final authority again lies with the City Council regardless of the Planning Board's recommendations.

It is not known if the Morrissettes will mount a petition drive.

During the public comment period of the meeting, that occurred before Fitzgerald's presentation, Planning Board Chair Warren Hutchins and his wife both spoke against boat and watercraft storage in the shore front residential area, which is actually two areas in the Weirs section of the city — one near Pendleton Road and one by the former Brickyard Mountain Resort.
Should the Morrissettes choose to go forward with their plan to put boat storage on the lot, they can always apply to the Zoning Board of Adjustments for a variance.

Warren Hutchins called the Morrissettes attempt to change the uses allowed in the shore front residential zone as "spot zoning" which he said "is not looked upon favorably by case law."

Mary Hutchins said that she didn't think storage of any kind was going to benefit the Weirs community. She noted that, in her opinion, there are plenty of boat and watercraft storage facilities in the area.

"I don't think boats are any less attractive than Cheapo Depot," she said referring to an past incident when the Cheapo Depot wanted to park its lettered trucks on Court Street. Planning officials objected because it was the first thing people saw as the entered the city.

Fitzgerald said during his presentation to the council that his request was not "spot zoning" but was a request to change the use for the entire district for the benefit of the residents who lived there.

He said boat storage in the zone is consistent with city efforts to clean up the city by enforcing the rules against boat storage in front or on the sides of people's homes. "It fills a community need," he said.

Ward 2 City Councilor David Bownes strongly objected to having the City Council allow the matter to go before the Planning Board.

"There is a process," he said, saying that it is "imprudent" to amend a zoning ordinance when the city is in the middle of a Master Plan that is considering a complete zoning review. He said Fitzgerald's request was tantamount to taking a piecemeal approach to zoning and he was against it for that reason.

Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman disagreed with Bownes by saying that Fitzgerald's request was reflective of a long-standing approach the council has with requests.

"It's an established route (to a zoning use change)," he said.

Ward 1 Councilor Ava Doyle was against having the City Council even consider sending Fitzgerald's request to the Planning Board.

She said a number of her constituents had contacted her about the Morrissette's plan and were against it. She said she understands that some people will be signing petitions against boat and watercraft storage for the zone.

"The Weirs doesn't need that," she said. "I can't support sending it to the Planning Board."

Ward 4 Councilor Brenda Baer agreed with both Doyle and Bownes. "The Weirs is a tourist mecca not a place for boat storage," she said.

Ward 5 Councilor Bob Hamel said allowing boat storage in the shore front residential zone would completely change the zone. "That's just not the Weirs," he said.

In the end, Ward 6 Councilor Armand Bolduc, who brought the matter to the council in the first place, made a motion to allow the request to go to the Planning Board and Lipman seconded it.

The vote failed by a vote of 2 to 4, with Bolduc and Lipman voting for it.

Note: Gail Ober is an alternate member of the Zoning Board of Adjustments.

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