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Laconia planners see merit in Veterans Square reconfiguration plan

LACONIA — A proposal to reconfigure the west end of Veteran's Square by converting the intersection of Pleasant Street with Veteran's Square and Beacon Street West into a four-way junction created some interesting discussion at Tuesday night's Planing Board meeting.
The conceptual plan calls for eliminating the flagpole circle that enables west bound traffic through Veteran's Square to reverse direction before reaching Pleasant Street and relocating the curb in front of the Congregational Church between 60 feet and 40 feet forward into Veteran's Square. There would still be three traffic lanes, two west bound and one east bound, but they would be more tightly configured with an eye to slowing traffic down.
The plan was recently presented to the City Council, which rated it a low priority, which irked Planning Board member Charlie Smith, who said that he was disappointed that it was being put on the back burner.
''There's no way for a pedestrian to cross there. It's amazing how the cars don't stop. It's dangerous. I've almost been taken out a couple of times. I run when I have to cross there,'' said Smith, who says that he uses that crosswalk every day.
He also said that one of the factors in making the crossing so dangerous in the winter is that the line of sight for pedestrians is blocked by a snowbank at the end of private parking spaces in front of the railroad station which he thinks should be removed.
Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that a consultant had recommended removal of those parking spaces but the owner had no interest in giving them up.
Board member Jerry Mailloux said he often walks his dog in that area said that making the change is ''a no-brainer'' as it would make the crossing safer for pedestrians by shortening the distance the many elderly and handicapped who live in the downtown area will need to cross and slowing down vehicular traffic.
Saunders said the plan evolved from a plan to open Beacon Street East and Beacon Street West to two-way traffic and improve the intersections around the loop prepared by TEC, Inc. of Lawrence, Massachusetts, which the council soundly rejected. She said that when the Congregational Church embarked on a capital improvement project the opportunity arose to revisit the reconfiguration of the intersection.
The proposal calls for the five angled parking spaces in front of the church to relocated at the new curb. The driveway between the Congregational Church and its adjacent Parish Hall would be expanded to a handicap-access turnaround and four angled parking spaces in front of the Evangelical Baptist Church, which is being converted into a restaurant, would be retained. Likewise, the six parking spaces on the north side of Veteran's Square, alongside the railroad station, would remain.
The pavement and sidewalk would be removed from the area between the new and existing curb and sidewalk, which would become a landscaped sublawn, bordered by the relocated curb on Veteran's Square and an extended curb on Pleasant Street. The memorial and flagpole would be relocated from the circle to the sublawn, to which benches would be added.
Other than the change to the flow of traffic through Veteran's Square, the traffic pattern would remain the same. Traffic entering Veteran's Square from Pleasant Street could turn right on to Beacon Street West, which would remain one-way, left into Veteran's Square or proceed down Pleasant Street, which would also remain one-way. The plan does not include traffic signals at the reconfigured intersection.

Planning Board Chairman Warren Hutchins said ''the city of Laconia is the most inconvenient place to get around for people who work here'' and questioned whether some of the proposed changes would make it more difficult to at some time in the future implement a plan for two-way traffic in downtown.
Hutchins, mindful of the council's rejection of the two-way traffic plan and its directive that no further study of that option take place, stepped down from his chairman's role and spoke as a citizen about his belief that the only way to restore prosperity to the downtown area is to bring back two-way traffic.
The board also took note of a suggestion by former Laconia Public Works Director Frank Tilton that the intersection is a natural roundabout and that a roundabout could be installed there. Saunders said that she will have the consulting firm which designed the plan now under consideration come up with a roundabout concept which will be presented to the board at its April meeting.
Saunders said that even if the work isn't done until 2018 it is still worth more study and should remain on the city's radar screen.

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 March 2014 01:46

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Pair of 'yes' votes will lead to construction of first phas of Belmont's recreation trail; proponents note no new taxes will need to be levied

BELMONT — By the end of the year the first phase of the Lake Winnisquam Scenic Trail, a 1.7 mile stretch from near Mosquito Bridge to the Laconia city line, could be completed without raising property taxes by so much as a penny if voters approve two ballot questions on Tuesday.

The estimated cost of designing and constructing the trail is $940,737, of which the lion's share be be paid by a federal grant.

To cover the town's share, Question 15 asks voters to raise and appropriate $142,050, consisting of one grant of $64,050 from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and another of $25,00 from the New Hampshire Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant Program. That leaves a balance of $53,000 to be raised by taxes.

However, Question 16 would enable the $62,573 already raised and appropriated to the capital reserve fund earmarked for the second phase of the trail to be applied to the first phase, eliminating the need to raise property taxes to fund the project. That is, Question 16 would not raise any additional money but instead enable existing funds to be allocated to construction this year.

In other words, by voting "yes" on both Question 15 and Question 16, the trail can be constructed without any increase in property taxes. If Question 15 passes and Question 16, which requires a two-thirds majority, fails, the trail will still be built, but $53,000 of the cost will be raised by property taxes.

The Budget Committee and the Board of Selectmen recommend voting "yes" on both questions.

CAPTION: Ron Mitchell (left), chairman of the Belmont Recreational Alternative Transportation Team (BRATT), who has devoted the past 14 years to turning the vision of the Lake Winnisquam Scenic Trail into a reality, and Alan Beetle (right), president of the Winnipesaukee-Opechee-Winnisquam (WOW) Trail, meet where the two trails will join. On Tuesday, the voters of Belmont will be asked to fund construction of the Lake Winnisquam Scenic Trail in 2014.

Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 12:42

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Judge not buying self defense line of questioning, finds probable cause for holding Drouin for alleged stabbing

LACONIA — Belmont Police testified yesterday that after searching the apartment and car of stabbing victim Corey Cromwell, they didn't found any illegal drugs.

Lead Det. Raechel Moulton said he police found a box containing realistic-looking Air-soft guns that shoot plastic pellets in Cromwell's apartment but didn't take them into evidence.

The statements came during a probable cause hearing for accused assailant John J. Drouin and was made as Drouin's defense team, asking Moulton whether or not she asked Cromwell about illegal drugs during her interview with him.

Drouin is charged with two counts of first-degree assault.

Fourth Circuit Court, Laconia Division Judge Jim Carroll had initially disallowed the line of questioning saying he didn't see how it was relevant.

Drouin's lawyer, John Bresaw, said he was potentially looking at self-defense arguments.
The case centers around Drouin, who is accused of stabbing Cromwell and his friend John Hynes on February 24 at 1:05 a.m. in a stairway leading up to Cromwell's apartment at 252 Daniel Webster Highway (Rte. 3).

Carroll said he hadn't herd any testimony that had anything to do with self-defense or drugs that was relevant to Drouin's defense.

Moulton's testimony about not finding drug or weapons came when Bresaw was given the chance to provide a reason for the line of questioning. After hearing her testimony, Carroll said that he wouldn't allow any further questions about drug use.

A probable cause hearing is not a trial but is a way used by the court to determine if there is enough evidence to sustain the charge. It is often used by defense teams as a way to force the state to show them some preliminary information before the actual indictment process begins.

Yesterday was the second time Moulton has taken the stand at a probable cause hearing regarding the stabbing. The first was earlier this week when she testified at the probable cause trial for Robert Rama — a former Concord man who is alleged to have been with Drouin when the stabbing occurred. Rama is charged with one count of criminal facilitation and one count of simple assault for allegedly choking Cromwell's girlfriend when she tried to break up the fight.

Moulton also testified that a surveillance camera that was installed in the upstairs hallway outside of Cromwell's door had been ripped out of the wall and tossed into one of two vacant apartments in the building. She said police recovered it when the landlord gave them permission to go into the apartment that she said appeared to be under construction.

She said she noticed the wires missing and Cromwell told her there should have been a camera there.

Cromwell and the other two victims have said the Drouin and Rama ambushed them from a common bathroom as they were walking up the stairs to go into Cromwell's apartment after driving around in their car for about an hour.

Moulton also said he told her he installed the video surveillance in the apartment after his landlord mentioned that some thefts had been reported in the building and then he noticed some of his stuff was gone.

She testified that one of those cameras, which was pointed toward the front door, recorded all five of those involved in the assault standing in the parking lot. She said the camera showed Drouin standing in the parking lot with his arms apart with a knife in one hand.

Moulton also provider a clearer description of the interior of the building saying the common bathroom was at the top of the stairs and it was a very narrow stairway. She said it looked like there are four small apartments, all sharing a common bathroom. Other than Cromwell's, only one was occupied and that person told police he heard a commotion but chose not to get involved.

She said Cromwell's girlfriend told her that Cromwell had gone up the stairs first, followed by Hynes and her. The lower floor is occupied by Lakes Region Dock, which is closed for the winter.

She also said there was blood on the stairs and in the parking lot for the building as well as in Cromwell's car where the three allegedly took shelter while they were waiting for police.

Police also recovered four cell phones during the initial part of the investigation, including Cromwell's, Rama's, and two phones found in Cromwell's car that belong to two people seemingly unconnected to the case.

She said there were several calls made between Drouin and one of the people not connected to the stabbing.

After hearing the 90 minutes of testimony, Carroll determined there was probable cause for the two charges against to be bound over to Superior Court for possible indictment by a grand jury.

Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 12:34

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Warm reception for proposed sign ordinance changes

LACONIA — A public hearing on proposed changes in the city's zoning ordinance governing signs which was held Tuesday night showed broad support from members of the Planning Board and the city's business community for the changes developed by the city's Zoning Task Force.
Most of the discussion at the hearing centered on electronic signs and where they could be placed, particularly with regard to the professional zone on a short stretch of Union Avenue from the area between Sunrise Towers and Normandin Square.
Suzanne Perley, a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment who chairs the task force, said that signs became a priority of the task force after a complaint from a business owner in that area. One of the major changes in the proposal would allow electronic, changeable-copy signs, previously barred from the professional district, in all zoning districts except riverfront and residential.
Jeff Flanders, owner of Byse Insurance Agency on Union Avenue, said that he had spent three years working on improving his sign and supported a change which would allow electronic changeable copy signs in the professional district as they are permitted a short distance from his business in commercial districts on Court Street and on Union Avenue north of its intersection with Church Street.
Also welcoming the proposed changes were Randy Brough of the Laconia Public Library, who said that the library has long wanted to have a sign that would enable it to highlight events that were taking place at the library. He said that the library would like to install an electronic changeable copy sign comparable to the one at the Taylor Home.

The library is located in an area that is also zoned professional.
John Moriarty, a member of the library's board of trustees, who also owns a building in downtown Laconia and is president of the Laconia Main Street Initiative, said he supported the proposed changes although he questioned the one minute time limit before sign language changes, noting that it is only eight seconds in many sign ordinances in other communities.
Steve Weeks, a commercial property realtor, said that the stretch of Union Avenue zoned as professional is in reality a part of a commercial corridor and should have the same sign regulations as a commercial zone.
Perley said the task force focused on signs alone and did not look at possible zoning district changes. She said the proposal distinguishes between "electronic message centers," or EMCs, "animated signs" and electronic changeable copy signs. EMCs, as defined by the task force, are those signs "capable of displaying words, symbols, figures, pictures or images that can be electronically or mechanically changed by remote or automatic means. The task force recommends that all EMCs be fitted with a sensor that automatically dims the sign to match the ambient light at all times of day and night. EMCs display static messages and images, without either actual or apparent movement or variation in intensity, though the face of the sign could change every minute.
"Animated signs" are those with imagery or text in perpetual motion and varying intensity and include signs with scrolling text. Electronic changeable copy signs display text for not less than five minutes, but do not include time and temperature signs.
Brian Gilbert of Gilbert Block said that he would like to see a change which would allow him to have a scrolling message at his business which is located in an industrial zone on Province Road (Rte. 107), where they are currently prohibited.
Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that the ordinance changes will not apply to existing signs but only those proposed after the ordinance is adopted.

A second public hearing will be held next month on the ordinance, which will incorporate a suggested change and a correction in the use table. If it wins board approval it will then be forwarded to the City Council, which can choose to hold a public hearing of its own or adopt the hearings held by the Planning Board, before taking action.

Last Updated on Friday, 07 March 2014 12:22

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