LACONIA — While the City Council this week once again deferred its decision on the future of the lot on Union Avenue owned by the city and leased to Lakeport Landing marina, a majority of councilors appeared to welcome a fresh proposal that would enable the marina to continue using the property.
The property, a 0.81 acre strip between the roadway and railway was leased to Lakeport Landing in 1985 for 10 years with two 10-year renewal periods. The lease will expire on November 1, 2015 and cannot be renewed again. In 1987 Lakeport Landing constructed a 9,840-square-foot building on the lot. Under the terms of the lease, ownership of the building, which, with the land, is assessed for $389,600, would revert to the city at the expiration date.
Anticipating the expiration of the lease, Erica Blizzard, the owner of Lakeport Landing, approached the council last year seeking to secure ownership or retain use of the property. Attorney Rod Dyer, representing Blizzard, suggested ways the council could negotiate the sale of the lot to Lakeport Landing and last month Blizzard submitted an unsolicited offer to purchase the property for $331,400. However, the council has been advised by its attorney that it cannot negotiate exclusively with Blizzard, but should it chose to sell the property must do so through an open, competitive process.
This week Dyer proposed that the council simply extend the current lease. "I disagree that the lease cannot be extended," he told the councilors, recalling that he had extended many leases for many clients during his legal career. "There is no reason willing partners cannot amend and extend an existing lease," he insisted."There is nothing to prevent the city from extending the current lease," he repeated.
Dyer reminded the councilors of the importance of the lot to Lakeport Landing and of the investment the marina has made in the property as well as the drawbridge and railroad signals located where the railroad tracks cross the foot of Paugus Bay. "Fairness comes into play," he remarked.
Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) asked Dyer why he had not made this proposal at the outset. Dyer replied that he had suggested a negotiated sale, but the council was advised that any sale must be opened to all interested parties. Irwin Marine, whose property on Union Avenue abuts the lot, has expressed interest and, apparently, so has nearby Paugus Bay Marina.
Bruce Wright of Irwin Marine questioned Dyer's proposal, noting that the city and the marina were not two private parties negotiating the disposition of private property. Because the lot is public property, he said that the city "is in a different arena and subject to a different standard." Wright urged the council to dispose of the property by "a fair and open process," stressing that "it's the right and proper thing to do." Then alluding to the lease granted to Paul Blizzard, Erica's father, he added "that's not what originally took place 30 years ago."
The council voted unanimously to direct City Manger Scott Myers to seek an opinion from city attorney Walter Mitchell about extending the current lease or creating a new one and, at the same time, to obtain an independent appraisal of the property on which the terms of a sale or lease could be based.
Earlier, at a workshop before the meeting, there was little support among councilors for subdividing the property into two lots, one to the north with the building and 24 parking spaces for sale or lease and another to the south with parking for between 12 and 14 vehicles, which would be retained by the city.
Mayor Ed Engler asked if the council wanted to consider the the future of the adjacent Lakeport Fire Station lot. Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) . described the station as a "unique buidling and valuable property" and said that Lakeport residents are bent on preserving it. While the building could be leased and put to another use, he said that the city should not sell or demolish it.
Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) said that the council should address the two issues — the Union Avenue lot and the Lakeport Fire Station — separately.