What to do with The Weirs? City to revisit the question

LACONIA — By encouraging the Planning Board to reconsider the zoning at The Weirs, the City Council has revived a suggestion first offered by a team of consultants sponsored and funded by the United States Environmental Protection, which issued its report in 2007.

"Currently," the report noted, "Weirs Beach is at risk of having its character change very quickly in ways that are at odds with the community vision." In particular, the team found that "Weirs Beach is not capitalizing on its full range of destination opportunities" and that "one major challenge will be developing new types of businesses and lodgings to attract a new group of visitors, while maintaining the energy and economic success of existing events."

The team recommended addressing the zoning at The Weirs. "Weirs Beach is not well suited for a single regulatory strategy," they concluded. "Instead, the area needs a variety of zoning designations," the report continued, that "need to be of a finer grain and distinguish between commercial and residential properties."

Apart from residential zones along Scenic Road to the west and Pendleton Beach Road and Wentworth Cove Road to the east, the remainder of The Weirs lies entirely within the Commercial Resort (CR) District. The CR district begins on Lake Street, just south of its junction with White Oaks Road, extends northward along Weirs Boulevard, includes the center of The Weirs and runs either side of Route 3 to the Meredith town line. It also includes property along both sides of Route 11B, including the former Surf Coaster property.

The zoning ordinance describes the district as intended to accommodate dining, lodging and recreation entities for both occasional tourists and seasonal residents as well as apartments and condominiums. All residential and recreational uses are permitted throughout the district, along with most commercial uses, other than those of an industrial character.

With its proximity to Lake Winnipesaukee and relative abundance of undeveloped and underdeveloped land served by municipal utilities, The Weirs represents a significant opportunity for the city to increase its commercial tax base. In Laconia, residential property represents 82.6 percent of the total assessed valuation, the largest share among the 13 cities in the state. Conversely, the value of commercial property and buildings, including utilities, accounts for 17.4 percent, the smallest share of any city.

Land suited for commercial development is limited. Laconia, with 20.1 square miles of land, is one of the smallest cities in the state. Only Somersworth with 9.8 square miles, and Portsmouth, with 15.7 square miles, are smaller. Moreover, there are six state forests — Hamel, Huston-Morgan, Opechee Bay, Paugus, Prescott, Swain — covering 749 acres in the northern reaches of the city as well as Ahern State Park of 128.8 acres and the former Laconia State School of 202 acres on North Main Street. Altogether these properties account for nearly ten percent of the land area of the city. Moreover, much of the remaining land in the northern part of the city on either side of Meredith Center Road and Parade Road is environmentally sensitive and without municipal utilities.

Meanwhile, there are a number of properties at The Weirs, ripe for development or redvelopment. Of these the largest is the 13.6 acres at the corner of White Oaks Road and Endicott Street East (Route 11B) that formerly housed Surf Coaster USA, which has been on the market since 2007. The Weirs Beach Drive-In Theater, 12.6 acres, was listed for sale earlier this year. Robert Csendes, who acquired the 2.46 acre lot where the waterslide operated at the corner of Endicott Street North and Lakeside Avenue, is seeking to redevelop the property and Al Mitchell recently acquired two vacant lots, the 0.6 acre parcel next to the drive-in theater and a 6.8 acre tract next to Cumberland Farms on Endicott Street North.

Under the current zoning in the CR district these and other properties at The Weirs could become either residential subdivisions or commercial developments. In fact, the current discussion arose after the City Council rejected the Planning Board's proposal to restrict commercial development along Weirs Boulevard by rezoning it from commercial resort to shorefront residential. A number of business owners from The Weirs objected to the change, which they feared would unnecessarily limit commercial opportunities in a resort area.

When the question of zoning at The Weirs last arose at the City Council Mayor Ed Engler noted that the Planning Board may want to consider reserving some land in the CR district solely for commercial or mixed use development. In particular, he suggested that the frontage along Endicott Street North could be restricted to commercial uses or alternatively to commercial uses on the ground floor and residential uses.

The City Council will invite property owners and other stakeholders to join the discussion of zoning at The Weirs at a future council meeting.

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Sanbornton man dies after light aircraft crash

LACONIA — A Sanbornton man died after crashing his light aircraft into the back yard of a home at 86 Lucerne Avenue at 3:40 p.m. Saturday.

Witnesses, including commercial airline pilot Robert Krahulic, said they saw William Panuski, 69, of Sanbornton fly very low over the Weirs Channel bank to the left and crash into a rock wall. They said the plane flipped on to the grass of the homeowners back yard.

"Most planes of that type we see are ultralights and they fly higher over the channel, usually at 1,000 feet," said Judy Krahulic. "I just couldn't believe he was flying so low."

According to a FAA registry, Panuski was the sole owner of the Evolution Aircraft model REVO and had owned it since November 1, 2011. The machine has a hang glider-like wing, a small enclosed cockpit hanging from it and an engine and propellor affixed to the back of the cockpit. Panuski's REVO was black.

After the crash, Laconia firefighters extricated Panuski from the REVO and took him by ambulance to the former St. Helena's Church where he was airlifted to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon where he succumbed to his injuries. Laconia police announced his death on Sunday.

The FAA removed the place Sunday and they are investigating. Typically, there is a preliminary report issued by them within 10 days however it can take up to a year to receive a final report.

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'Nipple' demonstrators ignored in Laconia but cited in Gilford

LACONIA — Small groups of women spent two days of topless sunbathing and swimming without incident at Weirs Beach over Labor Day Weekend but met with some resistance at Gilford Beach when other beach-goers called the police.

Co-organizer Heidi Lilley of the Free the Nipple NH campaign said about five of them left Weirs Beach on Sunday when the beach portion was closed around 5 p.m. to allow for the fireworks display to be set up.

A Gilford resident, Lilley and a few of her friends went to Gilford Beach to finish out their day.

When they arrived, she said, some kids yelled at them and said the beach wasn't a nudist camp but she said they ignored them. Shortly there after, she said two women approached them and asked if they realized Gilford Beach was a private beach.

Lilley said she told them she was a Gilford resident, that she paid taxes and had every right to be there. She said one of the women "got into our faces" and was "extremely verbally abusive."

Gilford Police responded and Lilley said they were "very polite and professional." She said they initially told them they could be cited for criminal trespass, however Lilley told them she lived in Gilford and produced identification to prove it.

She said the officers explained there was a Gilford Beach ordinance ( Article G number 7) that prohibits topless sunbathing and then asked them to put on their shirts.

Lilley said all of them complied with the police who then asked if any of them wanted to be cited. She said three of them said "yes" but the police only wrote two summons – one for her and one for another woman. She said the officers explained to them that they violated a beach ordinance not a town ordinance. She said she has a court date of October 13 at the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division and the fine is $25.

As to their two days in Laconia, she said in her opinion the police couldn't be bothered. On the Saturday morning that the Laconia Daily Sun covered the story, Lilley was the only woman in the group who had arrived and the only police officer seen was a motorcycle officer who rode down Lakeside Avenue apparently on a routine patrol.

During the Daily Sun's time at the beach, there wasn't any hubbub about Lilley nor did anyone appear to be offended or upset.

When asked why she thought they were ignored by the police, she said her interpretation is that it's the police department – or at least those who were on patrol – who are "saying the laws are wrong."

The Union Leader quoted the day supervisor for the Laconia Police saying on Saturday the department hadn't gotten any complaints.

The Laconia Police logs indicate there was one call for a disturbance Saturday at the Weirs Beach sign and a local woman said she saw about three women take pictures of each other topless but said when they heard sirens the women left and the sirens ended up being for fire personnel.

A second "complaint other" was reported from Endicott Beach on Sunday but it may have been related to a boating incident that happened around that time.

The Free the Nipple NH campaign is to call attention to inequalities between men and women. Lilley said the only thing her organization wants is for women to be able to go to the beach without tops, like men can.

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