‘Not another penny’ to be spent on city parking garage - Committee to study parking needs


LACONIA — With the adoption of the 2016-2017 municipal budget, the City Council settled the immediate future of the downtown parking garage, by witholding further funding for its repair.
The garage has been a topic of concern and controversy since the discovery of structural deficiencies which required the closure of the facility last September.
After spending more than $102,000 to undertake the repairs required to reopen the garage, the council was faced with what to do next. The problem was compounded by shared ownership of the complex. Three dozen spaces in the garage and the seven commercial beneath it are privately owned. The city owns the remainder of the garage and bears the responsibility of maintaining the ramps to ensure access to the privately owned spaces.
In February, the council authorized the expenditure of $150,000 for engineering and designing repairs and improvements to the garage. A month later when City Manager Scott Meyers prepared his budget he included a recommendation to borrow $3 million to fund the project, which included adding an elevator and exterior staircase to the garage.
Meanwhile, Downtown Crossing, LLC , the owner of the private portion of the facility, refused to pay its share of the cost of repairs, estimated at some $300,000.
Ultimately the council took two steps. First, it entered a purchase and sales agreement to purchase the private portion of the garage for $1. The transaction has yet to close. Mayor Ed Engler said that the purchase not only simplified the ownership of garage but also absolved the city of responsibility for ensuring access to the privately owned spaces on the second deck. "We will be answerable only to ourselves," he said. This week the council took the second step by stripping the $3 million borrowing from the budget, and applied the $30,000 designated for servicing the debt to a study of downtown parking.
Consequently, the top deck of the parking garage will remain closed while approximately 100 spaces on the second deck will continue to be available.
"There are no plans on the City Council's part to put any more money into the downtown parking garage," Engler said. "No one is studying anything. No one is suggesting or contemplating further investment in the garage. It is what it is."
Likewise, Engler emphasized there are no plans to demolish the parking garage. "We don't own the building and we have no plan to purchase it," he said, noting it is listed for sale for $1 million.
Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), who floated a plan to build a new parking garage and ultimately redevelop the site of existing garage, said he welcomes the prospect of studying the need for downtown parking. "I don't want to spend a penny on a parking garage we don't need," he said. However, at the same time he remarked, "If I had my druthers, I would drop a bomb on the place," referring to the garage.
Robert Sawyer, who as the owner of downtown property is concerned about ensuring parking for his tenants, described the course taken by the council as "reasonably prudent." He said there is adequate parking on the second level of the garage while cautioning that "the garage should not deteriorate to the point where it disadvantages the businesses downtown."
"The council took the appropriate course," said John Moriarty, a property owner and leader of the Main Street Initiative. He said that convening a parking committee "is an opportunity to consider a long-term solution to parking downtown."
Matt Lahey said "My No. 1 priority was not to invest another penny in that garage." He added that he was not convinced of the need to build a new garage, but, like Bownes, looks forward to ultimately acquiring the existing garage, demolishing the entire complex and redeveloping the site.
"There is no immediate need for a parking study," Lahey said, noting that two-hour spaces are generally open in the lot adjacent to City Hall. "And don't spend money on a consultant," he remarked. "We can figure this out for ourselves."
In fact, in 2010, when there was discussion of limiting the all-day parking spaces behind the railroad station to two hours, a parking committee was formed, which included both Sawyer and Moriarty from downtown along with representatives of the Laconia Clinic and Lakes Region Community Services.
Engler said that the membership of the committee should be expanded and that the committee should quantify the short-, medium- and long-term parking needs, suggest how to meet these needs and consider "whether we should change to a paid parking model in whole or in part." Above all, the mayor said that downtown parking is "not an urgent issue," despite some concerns raised by the prospect of reopening the Colonial Theatre, which he expected to increase demand for parking but at off-peak times.

St. Helena lot may now be used for apartments rather than single-family homes


LACONIA — Plans for redeveloping the lot at The Weirs where St. Helena's Mission Church once stood will likely change following the refusal of the Planning Board this week to grant the developer a waiver from the requirement to construct sidewalk along one side of the property.

Peter Morrissette, the principal of PEM Real Estate LLC, acquired the property on Endicott Street East in 2014 and, in partnership with his brother Kevin proposed to divide the 2.9-acre parcel into seven house lots ranging in size from 14,536 square feet to 22,416 square feet, all served by municipal utilities. He anticipated that the single-family homes would be priced around $250,000.
When Kevin Morrissette presented the project to the Planning Board, he readily agreed to construct 450 linear feet of sidewalk along Pendleton Road, which borders the lot to the west. However, he asked to the board to waive the requirement to build 300 linear feet of sidewalk along the frontage on Endicott Street East (NH Route 11B), where he said the cost would be excessive because of the terrain and topography and the need for a sidewalk is not pressing.
Luke Powell, assistant director of Public Works, said cost of constructing sidewalks varies, depending on the conditions of particular sites as well as the need for curbing and drainage. He said the cost has ranged from as little as $30 per linear foot to as much as $78 per linear foot.
After the board denied the waiver, Morrissette said that instead of building seven single-family homes he would propose constructing 17 apartments, the maximum number of dwelling units permitted by the zoning ordinance, divided among several buildings. The greater density would enable the cost of installing the sidewalk to be spread over more units.
The property is surrounded by a 30-acre tract where the Planning Board has approved a cluster subdivision, which includes four waterfront lots.
Peter Morrissette purchased the property from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester for $185,000, well below the asking price of $349,000, after the property had been listed for about a year. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester, the prior owner of the property, limited its future use by placing permanent restrictions on the deed that run with the land. Without the authorization of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester, the property cannot be used as a place of worship or for any purpose "inconsistent with the faith and morals of the Roman Catholic Church."
Originally Morrissette proposed using the church as a storage facility and applied to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for the necessary variance. However, he withdrew his request in the face of bitter opposition from residents of Pendleton Beach Road and Boathouse Road.

Community education - International students learning more than how to make coffee at Dunkin' Donuts (450)


LACONIA — Behind the counter of the Dunkin' Donuts on South Main Street, customers will find group of international college students working to perfect their English, as well as their iced coffee.

This summer, students from the Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, China, Turkey and Thailand were granted the opportunity to work at local Dunkin' Donuts through the nonprofit organization Council on International Educational Exchange Work and Travel USA program. The partnership between the council and the Work and Travel USA program began in 1969, and since has been helping facilitate a partnership between international students and businesses in the United States during each summer season. This year, over 15,000 international students were accepted into this program and are working in stores across the nation through the J-1 visa.

The program not only helps students learn new skills in a career field, but also helps them build relationships with the local community and with each other. Living together in the new Lakes Region Community College apartment complex, students have had a chance to experience various forms of cultural exchange, which they hope will shape them into more open-minded people when they return home in the fall.

Bringing knowledge from their own fields of study, which include communications and computer science, students are constantly in an active learning environment, both at home and at work. While at Dunkin' Donuts, students have relied on the willing assistance of American workers to help them learn how to take orders, communicate with customers, and take part in active daily conversations.

07-14 Anastasiia Sudakova

"During my time here, I have improved my English, and have been able to gain confidence in myself," said Anastasiia Sudakova, a 19-year-old student from Ukraine. "This is the first time I have been away from my family, making decisions all by myself, and through this experience I feel like I can be independent when I go home."

07-14 Oksana Pak

One student hoping to return home not only with a greater understanding of herself but also the United States is 21-year-old Russian student Oksana Pak. In her home country, Pak attends university with a major in international relations, therefore she found it important to learn English and get a better understanding of American culture.

"After spending time in America, I have seen the tensions our nations feel are not between people, but are just a problem between governments," said Pak, who went on to say she hopes this experience can be used as platform to build a positive relationship between nations in the future.

07-14 Vika Abduzakhmanova

Fellow Russian colleague Vika Abduzakhmanova echoed Pak's sentiment, both saying they have felt welcomed by the local community and look forward to returning to the United States again in the future.