GILFORD — An effort by the owners of the Airport Plaza to rehabilitate the the 40-year-old shopping center on Lake Shore Road (Rte. 11) have been stymied by the state Department of Transportation.
The center is known locally as the home of Gilford Cinemas 8.
According to correspondence obtained from the town of Gilford, DOT officials have refused to allow WJP Development LLC of Portsmouth permission to have direct access to the plaza from Route 11.
Meanwhile, town selectmen are going to bat for the project, urging DOT to reconsider its decision.
WJP said discussions with prospective tenants have been difficult because the only access to the plaza is from Old Lake Shore Road and those tenants have said they would like a second entrance.
WJP hired local engineer Steven Smith & Associates to create a conceptual site plan whereby the company would purchase and build an entrance at the base of the lights at the exit of the Laconia Bypass onto Route 11. The exit would remain where it is now, on Old Lake Shore Road.
Smith submitted his plan to the administrator of the DOT Bureau of Right-of-Way along with a check for the $500 fee on August 5.
On Oct. 14, the DOT chief of property management denied WJP's request saying, "I have processed your request through a departmental review and it was determined that the department will deny the granting of this access point due to drainage and safety issues this point will create."
Last week, the town of Gilford intervened on behalf of WJP, after selectmen learned of the rejection and felt that the project wasn't given proper consideration.
In a letter sent to DOT, selectmen said the Airport Plaza is "very important" to the Gilford economy but that in its current condition is an eyesore and is not financially sustainable.
Selectmen said they support WJP in its efforts to revitalize and revamp the old strip mall and said they expected the DOT to play a "pro-active" role in assisting the town as opposed to being a "roadblock" toward development.
"Surely in this day and age, with the engineering expertize that is available to the developer and NH-DOT, it should be fairly routine to design a site plan that will adequately mitigate any legitimate drainage and safety issue that may arise," wrote selectmen.
Selectmen also noted that, given the importance of the project to Gilford, the DOT should not have been so dismissive of the project but instead should have offered to help.
Selectmen also suggested that the state agency "become familiar" with the goals, objectives, and strategic initiatives set forth on the DOT website.
CAPTION: (Airport Plaza) With the Gilford Cinema 8 on one side and a restaurant on the other, the middle of the Airport Plaza lies empty and unused. At this point in time, the DOT has blocked at attempt by the owner to add a second traffic access point. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)