Judge tosses part of suit over 2011 Gilford drug raid

CONCORD — A federal judge has dismissed a civil suit filed by the owner of a Gilford strip club against the New Hampshire Drug Task Force for actions they took during a drug raid in October of 2011.

The court found that the NHDTF and its now-retired Commander James Norris are are an "arm of the state" and entitled to 11th Amendment protections.

Williard Drew filed suit against the NHDTF and its agents for allowing the members of the the Town of Gilford (also named) including selectmen – Gus Benevides, Kevin Hayes (ret), and John O'Brien (ret) – Code Enforcement Officer Dave Andrade and Town Administrator Scott Dunn into the building during the drug raid claiming their presence at the police action went beyond the scope of the warrant.

At the time, Drew owned the property but the night club, Mardi Gras North LLC, was being operated by a different company that was in his building and over which he had no direct management role.

Drew was cited by the Liquor Commission for a number of violations but was found responsible for three minor infractions and was fined a total of $350.

In the portion of the suit with claims against the Town of Gilford and Dunn and the members of the Board of Selectmen, individually and collectively, Drew said in the wake of the drug raid, Dunn, in conjunction with the board of selectmen, interfered with his ability to reopen a club under his own management by presenting a list of 12 questions regarding his exotic dancing application with questions related to matters that were dismissed by the N.H. Liquor Commission.

The suit also claims that the Board of Selectmen defamed Drew by publishing false statements saying the premises were being used for illegal activity, specifically the manufacture, possession, use and sale of illegal drugs and that these were "widely available" there when it knew it wasn't true.

The defamation suit argues that the board also published statements saying it was concerned because of the "'discovery of a variety of components that are commonly used in the illegal manufacturing of methamphetamine, along with residues thereof.'"

The case against the Town of Gilford and its employees and Selectboard continues.

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Expert advises city on Union Ave. oak tree

LACONIA — The pending request of Gregg Nolan of Cafua Management Company , the owner of the Dunking Donuts an developer of the commercial building on Union Avenue, to remove the oak tree shading the northeast corner of the property quickly stirred interest in preserving the tree.

Nolan has yet to explain the reason for his request. However, the proximity of the tree to the curb cut entering and exiting the commercial lot has raised questions about the adequacy of the sight line for motorists turning on to Union Avenue. At the same time, because an asphalt sidewalk has been laid over the roots of the tree, there is concern about the heath of the tree itself.

This week Arthur Costonis of the Environmental Defense Fund, who has spent half-a-century saving large venerable trees around the country and the world, read about the threat to the oak, took time to asses it and shared his findings with Planning Director Shanna Saunders.

Cotonis estimated the tree, the trunk of which measures 14 feet around, at between 45 and 60 years old. On a scale of one, dead or dying, to five, excellent, he rated its "vigor" as three, or fair. He said that the vigor of the tree can be improved by taking several steps before winter. The central leader, or extension of the trunk, and some dead branches should be pruned and other limbs thinned.

The asphalt covering the root sytem, Costonis said, must be "immediately and carefully removed" and replaced with rich loam. Porous cement pavers should be atop the soil to permit the aeration required for root growth. Finally, in October the tree should be fertilized by injecting nutrients into the soil around its roots.

"This is a wonderful old specimen that in my opinion deserves to be preserved for posterity," Costonis wrote to Saunders, adding that he offered his recommendations "as a professional courtesy and civic duty."

Meanwhile, Paul Moynihan, director of public works, accompanied by City Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), the council's liaison to the Planning Board, toured the site yesterday. Moynihan noted that if the curb cut were moved to spare the tree and improve the site line, parking spaces would be foregone.

When the Planning Board approved the site plan for the commercial building stipulated that "the large oak tree near the northeast corner of the property is a monumental shade tree, and as such shall be protected and maintain(ed) during and after construction." Saunders said that Nolan spoke to her about removing the tree, but has yet to submit a written request to do so. She said that any request remove the tree would be be submitted to the Planning Board, which could grant or deny it.

As Moynihan and Bownes eyed the situation yesterday, several passing motorists urged them not to cut down the oak.

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Penguin gas station receives approvals from Belmont planning and zoning boards

BELMONT — The Zoning Board of Adjustments granted Belmont Penguin Real Estate Holdings, LLC a variance to to build a gas pump canopy closer to the front property line on Route 106 than the 50-feet allowed by existing zoning ordinances.

Penguin engineer Matthew Moore told a 4-member ZBA that the company wants to move the canopy closer to the road to improve the turning radius and to provide fire trucks better access and maneuverability to reduce the risk they will collide with the canopy.

He said the entrance will remain one-way as will the exit to the south of the former D & D County Market and Deli.

In a meeting held earlier in August, the Planning Board approved a site plan that would relocate the diesel fuel pumps, pave and reconfigure the parking area, add fuel pumps, remove the propane filling tank, add a retaining wall, add a drive-through canopy and enlarge a walk-in cooler.

The reconfiguration of the parking lot and the addition of a 4-foot chain-link fence is necessary because Penguin was unable to come to financial terms with abutter George Condodemetraky about renting land previously used by D & D Market for parking and snow removal.

Minutes of the August 24 Planning Board meeting reflect the Condodemetrakys had numerous concerns with the latest site plan including storm-water runoff, the number of parking spaces and doubling the number of gas pumps.

Town Planner Candace Daigle said engineers designed the storm-water runoff and it has always worked in the past. She said there were no new gas tanks being added so the pumping capacity has not changed and the Planning Board can adjust the number of parking spaces, which actually increased from 20 to 21 without using the six spaces along the berm that separates Route 106 from the property. Daigle added that parking spaces are within the purview of the Planning Board and can be adjusted by them during the site plan review.

Site plan conditions include obtaining all DOT permits, swapping the location of the dumpster, adding one parking space, adding a 4-foot chain link fence along the property line, filling the opening of the of the existing guardrail on the southern border, striping the "no parking loading zone" south of the new fuel island, eliminating the six spaces along the Route 106 berm, and adding gas pumps that take credit and debit cards to reduce foot traffic to the store.

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