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Cormier bill would abolish all regional planning commissions

CONCORD — A bill to do away with the nine regional planning commissions, sponsored by state Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) could cost the state more than $100,000 a year as well as place federal highway funds at risk, according to two state agencies.

Echoing the leadership of the Lakes Region Tea Party, Cormier is among those who believe that the regional planning commissions are the stalking horses of a federal effort, pursued under the aegis of Granite State Future, to promote "Smart Growth" and "sustainable living" at the expense of local control of land use decisions and private property rights. "NH Regional Planning Commissions," Cormier recently wrote in The Weirs Times, "are a scam, fueled by the feds, to reach the goals of sustainable 'smart growth' in our Live Free or Die state." In particular, she dismisses claims that the authority regional planning commissions is strictly advisory as "an out-an-out lie."
House Bill 1573 runs to 14 pages, mostly filled with deletions to references to the regional planning commissions in state statute. The bill would also require that a majority of members of municipal planning boards, who currently my be either appointed or elected, be elected.
In a note projecting the fiscal impact of the bill, the Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) explains that it has a statutory responsibility to assist cities and towns in managing growth and protecting resources, which the agency fulfills in part by distributing $100,000 a year to the regional planning commissions. If the commissions are abolished, the OEP anticipates that its own responsibilities will increase, requiring it to employ two additional full-time planners to directly serve municipalities. Less the annual $100,000 grant to the regional planning commissions, the net cost to the state is estimated at $87,770 in 2015, $95,798 in 2016, $105,032 in 2017 and $114,765 in 2018.
At the same time, the Department of Environmental Services (DES) reported that it relies on data by the regional planning commissions to assess the air quality impact associated with transportation as required by the federal Clean Air Act. Although DES expects the data will continue to be available, if it were not the federal government could impose sanctions or withhold highway funds.
Cormier said last week that the bill and fiscal note "made our argument." She said that sheer number of references to the regional planning commissions in state statute belies the notion that they have only advisory authority. "All of those repeals," she said. "How advisory is that?" That the commissions can be replaced by two planners at OEP, she said confirms that "municipalities will do just fine without the bloated bureaucracy," which she described as "basically a money laundering thing."
"The fight is on," Cormier declared, "and we're going for broke."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 01:47

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Belmont planners skeptical of ordinance to regulate property maintenance

BELMONT — The Planning Board will hold a second public hearing on January 13 about the possible adoption of the 2009 International Property Maintenance Code for the entire community.

The decision to hold a second public hearing came after four members of the Planning Board decided at the end of their meeting on December 12 to do more research into the idea.

Planning Board Chair Peter Harris said yesterday that the board hasn't really had enough time to consider the proposed code, which is about 40 pages long and was created to regulate the minimum maintenance requirements for existing buildings.

Although the IPMC is not new to New Hampshire and some cities, including Laconia, have adopted it, it is a relatively new concept to Belmont, which Harris describes as rural as opposed to urban.

The idea came from a Selectboard meeting in late October when the town administrator advised members that Code Enforcement Officer Steve Paquin had reported he had had some concerns with garbage piling up in front of some homes as well as some safety concerns that he was powerless to address.

Chair Ron Cormier said at the time that he would tentatively support some kind of property maintenance code for the village area because it looked so nice now that Phase 1 of the Village Revitalization Project had been completed.

Cormier said yesterday that the IPMC was what Daigle suggested and selectmen, after meeting with members of the Planning Board in late October, decided to include it on the 2014 warrant.

According to draft minutes of the December 16 public hearing, George Condodemetraky said he liked some aspects of the IPMC but said not all of its provisions apply to a small community like Belmont. His primary suggestion was to have the Planning Boar review the entire code, identify those provisions that would make sense for Belmont, and include some form of a maintenance code on the 2015 warrant.

Draft minutes showed that of the four members who were at the December 12 Planning Board public hearing (Harris, Claude Patten, Michael LeClair, and Rick Segalini, Jr.) had some problem with supporting the initiative at this time, with Patten saying he just didn't support it at all because he was uncomfortable with the town telling people to "re-roof their roofs."

Harris suggested they apply it only to businesses and commercial property, however Daigle said she didn't think "selective application" was legal.

His other concern was the town would get involved in "neighbor vs. neighbor" disputes and that the code enforcement officer has to be able to work with everybody.

The next public hearing for the adoption of the IMPC is Monday, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. at the Corner Meeting House. The board will also hear public opinion about a recently petitioned warrant article regarding the a historic review process prior to the demolition of buildings and structures more that 50-years-old.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 03:12

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Stafford House repairs supported by city-sponsored app for $500k Community Development Block Grant

LACONIA — The City Council this week endorsed the application of the Laconia Housing Authority for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to fund renovation of the Stafford House, widely known as The Tavern, at 7 Church Street, which houses low-income individuals and households in 50 studio and one-bedroom units.

In 2013 the Resident Buildings Group of Concord undertook an energy audit and needs assessment of the building, which was constructed in 1913. The firm's report and recommendations will serve as the basis for immediate improvements and long-term maintenance.

Jenn Mohoholland-Black, a resident of The Tavern, told the council, "we get out in the community," adding that she volunteered for the Got Lunch program and mentored at the Middle School. "We need a roof too," she continued. "We need a home too, we need a start too. We need help anyway we can get it." She said that the building is poorly heated and the pipes leak.

Services, including meals, housekeeping and personal care, are provided to some 15 residents of The Tavern, among them the elderly and disabled. "We have a great staff who take care of us," Moholland-Black said.

Last Updated on Saturday, 28 December 2013 12:51

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In court, Governor's Island Club property use restrictions trump local zoning laws; foundation ordered removed

LACONIA — After nearly two years of litigation, a Belknap County judge has ordered a member of the Governor's Island Club to tear down the foundation of a detached garage within 30 days unless he provides a design considered acceptable by the association.

In his ordered issued December 18, Judge James O'Neill ordered that Richie Homsi must also pay the legal bills of the law firm hired by the GIC once they have been submitted and accepted to the court.

Homsi's battle against the GIC represented a war that saw deed restrictions and covenants trump planning and zoning laws, showing that for him the Governor's Island Club is much like the Eagles song "Hotel California" — you can check out but you can never leave.

The Homsi property, although it is on the Laconia (mainland) side of the bridge to the island, was included in the Governors Island Club by a previous owner and membership travels with the deed — regardless of whether or not the property owner wants to be a member or not.

His quest began in 2012 when one of his neighbors had a small cottage that was going to be torn down. Homsi liked the small cottage and wanted to build a garage and put the cottage on top of it so he could have additional living space for him and his extended family.

Homsi's plans were shattered when the GIC refused his plans, saying the concept violated the deed restriction that says no unattached buildings can be built on properties covered by club covenants.

Because the zoning ordinances in Laconia permitted his construction idea and he got all his building permits from the city, Homsi began excavating for the garage.
The GIC filed for an emergency injunction to stop to project, it was granted by the court, and the legal fight has continued.

With the covenants saying that any outbuildings must be attached and not for rental purposes, Homsi reworked his plan to connect the two buildings with a series of Gazebos and covered walkways, however the GIC governing board nixed those as well.

Homsi began his legal fight acting as his own attorney. About a year ago he retained a lawyer from a firm in Concord. The GIC is represented by Paul Fitzgerald.

In his ruling, O'Neill also ordered the Governor's Island Club to negotiate in good faith about any revisions Homsi may submit regarding the use of his property.

Last Updated on Saturday, 28 December 2013 12:46

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