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Planners adopt state's first building design scoring system

LACONIA — The Planning Board this week voted unanimously to add a schedule of architectural design standards, accompanied by a numerical scoring system, to its site plan regulations, becoming the first municipality in the state to take this step.

Since the design standards are an amendment to the site plan regulations, not to the zoning ordinance, they do not require approval by the City Council. The regulation will apply to the construction of all buildings and additions of more than 2,500-square-feet, excepting only one and two family residences.

The vote followed a public hearing at which only one person, Robert Sawyer of Sawyer's Jewelry, spoke. He voiced concern that the standards would prove "overly expensive and overly restrictive."

Planning Director Shanna Saunders stressed that the regulation is intended to supplement the current ordinances without vesting the Planning Board with more authority than it already possesses. She explained that the board already applies architectural criteria to its review of proposed projects, but noted "none of this is detailed, visible to the applicant, up front." The standards, she said, would make the planning process more transparent and predictable by informing builders and developers of what is expected before they invest time and money in designing a project.

The proposal consists of written and illustrated guidelines describing specific architectural goals such as entryways, landscaping, roofing, materials, lighting, windows and decoration. A score sheet, which awards, withholds and detracts points for an array of optional components, would be applied to the site plan, with a minimum of 50 points required for approval.

For example, a plan to place parking space at the rear of the building would gain four points while putting parking spaces at the front of a building would lose four points.

The standards would vary from one district to another in the city. Likewise, buildings within five feet of the average height in the neighborhood would earn between two and four points, while those more than five feet higher or lower would lose five points for each story they deviate from the norm. A design review sub-committee of the Planning Board will shepherd developers through the process.

The numeric score, although a strong predictor of the outcome of the planning process, would not bind the Planning Board, which may "use its judgment to either allow projects that do not strictly meet the numeric guideline due to extenuating circumstances." At the same time, the board "may also require further improvements to a proposal that meets the number requirement but does not meet the spirit of the regulation."

The standards were prepared by Hawk Planning Resources, LLC, Ironwood Design Group, LLC and SMP Architecture, Inc. Roger Hawk described the regulation as "an educational tool" that will "force developers to think more creatively about their sites." Eric Palson of SMP Architecture likened the regulation to a "pre-flight checklist."

"I don't know what the cost is," Sawyer told the board. "I haven't seen any information about the cost." He noted that as a founder member of the Main Street Program "this is not new to me" and recalled that he dressed the facade of his store, confessing that he used vinyl, which under the scoring system would have cost him five points.

Warren Hutchins, the chairman of the board, replied that currently major projects undergo a "conceptual design review" and said that the explicit standards will "save money on the front end." He assured Sawyer that "our objective is to lower costs."

Unconvinced, Sawyer countered that "it looks like a learning process on someone else's dollar."

Saunders repeated that the regulation "is not a new power. The Planning Board can require any of this right now."

Still skeptical Sawyer remarked that he feared "you'll have to be one of three drug store chains or else you can't afford to build here."

City Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) expressed concern about administering the point system. "A lot of what we're doing with the point scoring is subjective," he said. "Even though the intent is to make the process easier, to reduce the cost," he continued, "I want to hear that it is working in the Planning Department.

The process of preparing the standards began in 2010, when the plan to rebuild the McDonald's restaurant on Union Avenue highlighted the shortcomings of the existing regulations. The Planning Board balked at the "boxy" profile, blank walls and flat roof proposed only to be reminded that the ordinance prescribes that buildings be "compatible" with others in the neighborhood. "That was a wake up call," Saunders remarked at the time.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 June 2014 02:15

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3-car fire lights up Laconia night

LACONIA — Fire destroyed one car, damaged two others and an apartment house, at Cleveland Place in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Firefighters dispatched at 3:21 a.m. arrived to find the engine compartments of two cars — a 2011 Chevrolet Malibu and 2004 GMC Envoy, facing one another, on fire, with flames licking at a 1997 Ford Ranger pick-up truck parked nearby. The intensity of the fire and proximity of the building prompted Lieutenant Lisa Baldini to report a structure fire, which drew crews from the Weirs Beach Station as well as Gilford and Belmont.

An attack line was stretched to the vehicles and a firefighter entered the building to determine if the fire had spread.

Residents of the closely knit neighborhood stood clustered around a young woman who wept as she said that she had just bought the car from a local dealer. She said the car was not insured since she spent all of her money to buy it. "I don't know what I'm going to do," she said, wiping tears from her cheeks.

Witnesses said they heard a loud pop which was attributed by police to the right front tire exploding. Others said they were awoken by the sounds of police and fire responding to the blaze and many were standing outside wrapped in blankets to protect themselves from the cool morning air.

One woman mentioned that at around 10 p.m. a young person had been going around the neighborhood seeing if he or she could set off car alarms. She said she had no idea if the earlier incidents and the fire were related.

Fire Chief Ken Erickson said that the fire originated in the engine compartment of the Malibu and spread to the other vehicles. He described the Malibu as a total loss and said that the SUV and the truck were also damaged. In addition the heat from the fire damaged the vinyl siding of the building at 14 Cleveland Place.

Erickson said that the cause of the fire is "undetermined," but noted that the Malibu had not been driven since 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The Laconia Police Department has asked anyone with information about the fire to contact the police at 524-5252.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 June 2014 12:16

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Legislation that clarifies property taxation of recreatiional vehicles awaits Hassan's signature

CONCORD — Legislation that clarifies the taxation of recreational vehicles kept on campgrounds throughout the year is on its way to the Governor Maggie Hassan's desk after the Senate and House reached agreement last week.

Senate Bill 333, sponsored by Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), which originally would have exempted all recreational vehicles sited on campgrounds from property taxation, carried the Senate 24 to 0. However, officials from Laconia were quick to inform lawmakers that the city would lose about $10 million in assessed property valuation and more than $200,000 in property tax revenue.

The bill was amended by the House Municipal and County Government Committee to safeguard the city's tax base. As amended by the committee and passed by the House the bill exempts only those recreational vehicles with a maximum width of eight-feet, six-inches, registered as motor vehicles, bearing a current number plate and located at a campground from property taxation. In other words, so-called "park models," wider than eight-feet, six-inches that cannot be transported without a special permit, and unregistered recreational vehicles less than eight-feet, six inches in width, would be taxed as real estate.

Before April 1 each year campground owners would be required to provide municipal assessors with the name and address of the owners of recreational vehicles at their campgrounds and to identify those exempt from property taxation. Campground owners would not be responsible for the payment of any taxes imposed on recreational vehicles at their facilities.

City Manager Scott Myers said that the amendment mirrors the practice the city has followed since 1999 when the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that trailers meeting certain criteria should be taxed as real estate. He said that the amendment addresses the major issues of concern to both the city and campground owners.

Forrester recommended that the Senate concur with the House version of the bill, which it did.

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 June 2014 01:26

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In Laconia, Frank Guinta says N.H.'s middle-of-the-pack business climate must improve

LACONIA — Frank Guinta, the Manchester Republican seeking to regain the seat in the First Congressional District he lost to Democrat Carol Shea-Porter in 2012, visited with Scott Kalicki, president of Lakes Region Community College, and the staff of the advanced manufacturing program yesterday.

Guinta said that in attractiveness to operate a business, New Hampshire ranked 27th among the 50 states, noting that "if you're not in the top 10, you might as well be last." He said that the aging population, business taxation, energy costs, regulatory climate and diminishing workforce were all factors in the relatively low ranking. "We've got to turn that around," he said.

Keith Fletcher of LRCC said that the advanced manufacturing program has grown quickly, thanks in large measure to the 22 firms represented on the advisory board. Many of these firms have enrolled employees in the program. Moreover, Tom Goulette, vice-president of Academic and Community Affairs, pointed to the rising enrollment in the manufacturing program at the Huot Technical Center at Laconia High School, which with the college provides a pathway to a career in the manufacturing sector.

At the federal level, Guinta said that nine agencies spend some $18 billion on 47 different job training programs. "It's very convoluted and bureaucratic," he said, "and that's the problem." If elected, he said he would proposed consolidating all the programs and funding in one agency, most likely the Department of Labor, which he said would reduce the administrative overheads and stretch the dollars for the programs. "Efficiency creates more dollars for the intended purpose" he said. "it's something I plan on working on."

"Our economic needs are critical," Guinta said, "especially in this part of the state."

Guinta, a former mayor of Manchester, was elected to Congress in 2010, which he said branded him as a member of the Tea Party. "I wasn't a Tea Partier when I was mayor," he said. "I wasn't a Tea Partier when I sat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. And I was not a member of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress." Instead, he said "I'm a conservative Republican."

Guinta said that as a mayor he sought to identify problems and find solutions. "This time one of the things I will do more strongly is to focus on what I can accomplish," he said, stressing that he remains a conservative with a firm commitment to limited government and fiscal responsibility. "It's very important to know what you can achieve and what you can't," he remarked.

Guinta is locked in a primary contest with Dan Innis of Portsmouth, former dean of the Peter T. Paul School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire turned hotel owner, for the GOP nomination.


CAPTION: Frank Guinta, one of two Republicans seeking the nomination in the First Congressional District, visited Lakes Region Community College yesterday, where he discussed the importance of developing a skilled workforce with Keith Fletcher (black) and Dan Brough (orange) of the advanced manufacturing program and Scott Kalicki, president of the college. (Laconias Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch).

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 June 2014 01:13

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