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Burglar trial goes to jury

Victim unable to verify identity of night-time intruders

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The defendant in a city burglary trial took the stand Tuesday in his own defense and told the jury he never went into the victim's house.

Michael Regan, 32, testified that he went to the home at 51 Emerald St. in Laconia on Aug. 23, 2015, around 1 a.m. with two other men, one of whom professed to him to be a nephew of the victim.

Regan is being tried for one count of burglary in the night time. The state, through Belknap County Prosecutor Adam Wood, alleges he entered an home occupied by a lone widow as she slept in an attempt to steal things from her house.

The victim woke to noise and said she saw two men in the office across the hall from her. She testified she told police one of them was dark-skinned but she didn't see any faces because one of them shined a flashlight in her face. She called the police and both men fled.

He said he was friends with one of them, Kevin Gobeil, and didn't know the second one, whose name he said was Marcus.

Regan said Marcus told him there would be air conditioning and television there, something Regan didn't have, so he agreed to go because he trusted Gobeil.

Gobeil pleaded guilty to burglary in the nighttime at the home and was sentenced to 2 to 4 years in prison.

Regan said Marcus is Dominican and black, which fits the description of one of the two men the victim said were in her house.

He told the jury that they were behind the house because Marcus had to get a key to his aunt's home. Regan said it was dark, so he was fishing through his backpack to get a cell phone for some light when he heard glass breaking.

He said he panicked and ran from the area, losing his shoe and falling into the woods, where he hit his head on a rock and lay unconscious in a muddy ravine. He said he only came to when police and a K-9 found him and helped him to the street.

On Monday, evidence was introduced that Regan had a cut on his head, but first responders from the Laconia Fire Department said the cut was superficial. Regan testified that he felt it was more serious than that.

On Tuesday morning, Sgt. Robert Cameron testified that the footprint found in the dirt under the victim's back deck near the window where the burglars got in matches the pattern on the sneaker found by police about 200 feet away. Regan was wearing an identical sneaker to the one that was found by police when he was located.

Cameron explained that the flash from the camera made the photograph of the sneaker print almost unreadable, but that based on his own observations of it with a flashlight, it was a match to the three zigzags on the bottom of Regan's shoe.

The jury also heard recordings made from the Belknap County House of Corrections in which Regan could be heard apologizing to his mother and saying "Do you think I wanted to do this?"

During a snippet of a second call with another person, Regan said he never went into the house – a statement dismissed by Wood as self-serving because he knew the line was tapped.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Ted Barnes pointed out discrepancies in the five Laconia officers' testimony, including how one officer kept calling Regan by the name of Gobeil during his testimony.

Barnes said the police didn't do a complete investigation. After learning two men were in the house and after they found two men they stopped looking, despite being told by the victim that one of the men was dark-skinned or black.

Barnes said that Regan is a "red-headed Irishman" and that "They don't get any whiter" than him. Gobeil is also white.

In his closing, Wood told the jury to consider all of the pieces of the puzzle and how they add up to one reasonable conclusion and that is that Regan was inside the home with Gobeil.

He told the jury the two men were found within 17 feet of each other and within 200 feet of the house.  He said two police officers testified that they were only minutes away and the two men weren't going to make it far considering the response time.

He said Regan "fled so fast he lost his shoe."

Wood told the jury that the first time he had heard of "Marcus" was during Regan's testimony.

The jury began deliberations at 3 p.m. Tuesday and will continue deliberating Wednesday morning.

City council endorses plan to rezone The Weirs

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The City Council this week agreed to refer a proposal to redraw the zoning map at The Weirs to the Planning Board with a request that it address the major elements of the plan by the middle of October.

Intended to encourage commercial development, the proposal would designate a corridor, 800 feet wide, along both sides of US Route 3 and NH Route 11-B between the Meredith town line and White Oaks Road, within which residential dwellings would be confined to the upper stories of buildings that house commercial space on the ground floor.

Mayor Ed Engler, the architect of the proposal, noted that commercial property represents a very small share of the city's tax base. In fact, commercial property accounts for only 15.8 percent of the total assessed valuation. Among the 13 cities in the state, only in Berlin at 12.1 percent and Franklin at 13.4 percent is commercial property a smaller portion of the tax base. At the same time, the mayor noted that the lion's share of vacant or underused lots suited to commercial development are in the Commercial Resort District, which encompasses The Weirs.

The Commercial Resort 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 Endicott Street North (US Route 3) to the Meredith town line. It also includes property along both sides of Endicott Street East (NH Route 11-B) east of the roundabout to just beyond the Weirs Community Center. Both specified commercial and residential uses are permitted throughout the district.

Engler suggests dividing the district into two parts by carving a Commercial Resort Corridor District, designated CR2, out from the existing Commercial Resort District, which would become CR1. The corridor would be defined as the area extending 400 feet from either side of the center line of Endicott Street North (US Route 3) and Endicott Street East (NH Route 11-B) between the Meredith town line to the west and the center of the intersection with White Oaks Road to the east.

The Commercial Resort Corridor District, he proposes, "is intended for the use primarily of commercial establishments catering to the dining, lodging and recreational needs of tourists and seasonal/retired residents. It is also seen as home to comparable commercial establishments serving the general population of the city and region." At the same time, he suggests redefining the Commercial Resort District as "primarily intended for use by commercial establishments catering to the dining, lodging and recreational needs of tourists and single-family, townhouse, condominium and apartment housing for seasonal/retired residents."

Within the corridor residential development, which is currently permitted throughout the Commercial Resort District, would be confined to spaces "not less than 20 feet above ground level, provided that at least a single, ground-level floor of the same building, with the same or larger footprint, is devoted to a permitted commercial use." In other words, along both sides of the corridor residential development would be restricted to the upper level of buildings and then only if the ground floor of the same building were put to commercial use.

In both the Commercial Resort Corridor and Commercial Resort districts, Engler recommends eliminating any requirement to set aside a portion of lots as green space when the property is put to commercial use. The minimum of 60 percent of green space would remain for residential uses in the Commercial Resort District (CR1). He called the green space requirement "arbitrary and unnecessary" and said it is "a significant barrier to commercial development."

Engler also proposed setting the maximum height of buildings in the Commercial Resort Corridor District at 100 feet while the maximum height of residential and commercial structures would remain 35 feet and 60 feet respectively in the Commercial Resort District.

Within the Commercial Resort Corridor District, restaurants, hotels, cinemas, arcades, nightclubs, stores, studios, galleries, banks, offices and marine sales and services stores would all be permitted. But, campgrounds, flea markets, shopping centers, some services, and commercial and industrial uses would be excluded.

Nearly two years ago, the City Council asked the Planning Board to reconsider the mix of uses within the Commercial Resort District. Last year, the board proposed changes that would have excluded commercial development in the southern reach of the district along Weirs Boulevard along with changes to the table of permitted uses.

The council rejected the board's proposal, but Engler addressed changes to the schedule of permitted uses in the Commercial Resort District the board proposed. Both accessory apartments and greenhouses would be permitted with a conditional use permit, as the Planning Board suggested. Storage of travel trailers trailers, campers and boats, which the Planning Board proposed permitting by special exception, Engler would permit by right, along with indoor storage, which the board recommended excluding. All three uses, considered residential accessory uses, he suggested, should not be permitted in the Commercial Resort Corridor District.

Engler agreed with the Planning Board that bed-and-breakfasts should be permitted by right in the Commercial Resort District, but not in the Commercial Resort Corridor District. Likewise, he agreed with the Planning Board to exclude automobile sales and service from the Commercial Resort District, but, contrary to the board, proposed permitting both storage of travel trailers, campers and boats and long-term vehicle storage.

Engler said that that in referring the proposal to the Planning Board "I hope they will handle it in a timely manner."

Councilors Henry Lipman (Ward 3) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) added a measure of urgency to the process. Lipman expressed concern that if the process were prolonged, projects at odds with the proposed change in the zoning ordinance could be undertaken under the existing ordinance before the changes are adopted. Hamel agreed, suggesting the plan be referred to Planning Board as soon as possible.

City Manager Scott Myers explained that once the Planning Board prepares a specific amendment to the zoning ordinance and schedules a public hearing, the Planning Department would no longer be obliged to accept applications for projects conforming to the existing ordinance. He suggested that the City Council and the Planning Board could hold a joint workshop before the board meets in September. That, he said, would provide the board time to refer the issue to its Zoning Task Force, which could report to the full board in October.

Only Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), who serves as the council's liaison to the Planning Board, dissented when the council resolved "to endorse the concept of adding a Commercial resort Corridor (CR2) District to the Zoning Ordinance" and to refer the proposal to the Planning Board in the expectation that the board would address its major elements by the middle of October.

Stand Up Laconia working on funding substance misuse intervention programs

By ALANA PERSSON, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Within the city, there is an affliction that is striking the rich and the poor, youth and adults, people of all races, genders and religious affiliations. It is a disease that knows no boundaries and is rampant within the community. However, there are people within all sectors of the city who are working to fight the battle against substance use disorder, one being the grassroots organization Stand Up Laconia.

For the past five years, Stand Up Laconia has taken shape as a grassroots organization that is actively working to tackle the substance misuse epidemic that is present within the city of Laconia. The group began operating as Stand Up Laconia in 2011 under the mission of effectively and compassionately confronting the causes and consequences of substance misuse by advocating for prevention, intervention, treatment and recover. Working to put this mission statement into action the group appointed Clare Persson as chairman and began to meet regularly, now including dozens of community members and businesses within the city.

"Stand Up Laconia has so much diversity that is involved. People come from all types of backgrounds and committees, which helps it better represent the community," said Shaun Dutile, a local Christian counselor and minister. "Stand Up Laconia has the strongest collective voice that is able to speak out against the drug issue within the city from all angles involved."

All hoping to make the city a better place to life, community members, business owners, parents of addicts, and recovering addicts have actively been helping facilitate educational workshops, run tables at city events such as National Night Out, and speak at meetings to raise awareness. This past spring, the group was able to bring in nationally acclaimed speaker and recovering drug addict Richard Farrell, who was able to address the youth in the community of the realities that come with substance misuse. Additional speakers and seminars focused on youth are to be scheduled for the upcoming school year, which community members said they find very important in making a lasting impact.

"The group wants to make certain that our young students coming up are very aware of what they are facing going forward, as well as help adults who are struggling with the illness," said community member Dick Castrucci, commenting on the actions the group has been taking. "We can't tell people, 'Not in my backyard, please leave.' We just can't do that."

Brian Loanes, executive director of the Belknap County Restorative Justice/Court Diversion, agrees with Castrucci that we can't just ignore the issue in the city. Not only did Loanes appreciate the push for education and awareness the group was bringing to the city, but also the political influence Stand Up Laconia has on lawmakers and elected officials in the city. Stand Up Laconia members have spoken at the State House, which has helped contribute to the birth of Navigating Recovery of the Lakes Region, and also spoke on behalf of Community Corrections Center in Laconia, which is now currently under construction. This center will is planned to be opened in June of 2017 and will help provide treatment within the jail.

The collaboration of legislation, community members and businesses is looking to be continued in order to get more support and funding for bigger initiatives. Currently, a business model to raise money for the group is currently being created, and this week a Strategic Prevention Framework workshop is to be held discussing how to best apply for the Drug Free Community Grant, which would give the city $100,000 in federal funding to tackle substance misuse issues within the community for a period of five years. With this funding, the organization would be able to increase its prevention and intervention initiatives, as well as hire a full-time coordinator for the organization.

Presently, Stand Up Laconia has been planning seminars to help raise awareness within the community of the substance misuse issues the city faces, and is working collaboration with the local branch of The Boys and Girls Club to expand its reach. To find out more about Stand Up Laconia or how to get involved, visit www.standuplaconia.com or email Chairman Clare Persson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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