LACONIA — The city this week responded to the lawsuit brought by Erica Blizzard, the owner of Lakeport Landing marina, challenging the decision of the City Council to sell the property at 21 Elm Street, which her marina leased from the city for 30 years, to neighoring Irwin Marine.
Blizzard, who is represented by Bron Bedard of Concord, bases her case on two major claims. First, she contends that in 2005 the council granted her late father, Paul Blizzard, a "right of first refusal should the city ever choose to sell the property. She also claims that City Manager Scott Myers exceeded the authority granted him by the council when, rather than conducting "informal conversations" with both marinas about the conditions of a sale, he solicited the "highest and best offers" from each in a letter he said was not "a comprehensive bid document". Blizzard has asked the court to rescind the action of the council and remand the issue back to the council with instructions that any sale must comply with chapter 183 of the city code.
In response, attorney Walter Mitchell, representing the city, countered that there is no evidence that the council ever granted Paul Blizzard a "right of first refusal" to purchase the property. There is no mention of such a decision in the minutes of the council and a video recording of the meeting during which the grant was allegedly conferred indicate that no such discussion took place and no such decision was made.
Mitchell explains that Chapter 183 of the city code provides two procedures for selling city property, either by sealed competitive bids or "by a process without general advertisement, when an unsolicited offer is received." When Blizzard, anticipating that the lease would expire and could not be renewed, offered to purchase the property, the city followed the second course by declaring the property "surplus" and commissioning an appraisal.
Meanwhile, the city received a second unsolicited offer from Irwin Marine. Mitchell argues that when the council met on May 26 it rejected both unsolicited offers and agreed that "the City Manager was to proceed with discussions with each entity to seek how much each was really willing to pay, rather than begin a general advertised competitive bid process."
On June 1, the City Manager wrote to both Blizzard of Lakeport Landing and Bruce Wright of Irwin Marine, reminding them that the appraised value of the property exceeded their offers and asking that their "highest and best offers" be returned to him by 4 p.m. on June 8. Mitchell notes that although the appraised value of $480,000 was known to both parties, Blizzard submitted her original offer of $331.400 while Irwin Marine offered $528,000, which the council accepted.
Meanwhile, attorney Bedard, acting for Blizzard, has objected to the request of Irwin Marine to intervene in the litigation. Earlier this month attorney Joseph Driscoll, IV, representing Irwin Marine, claimed that it is an interested party since the council accepted its offer to purchase the property and authorized a purchase-and-sales agreement, which has yet to be concluded. The firm has placed funds in an escrow account in anticipation of closing the transaction.
In objecting to Irwin Marine's intervention, Bedard insists that the only question posed by the litigation is "whether the city followed lawful procedures in selling its property." He stresses that Blizzard is not asking the court to compel the city to sell her the property, but instead to remand the issue to the council with instructions to conduct the transaction in accord with the city code. Bedard claims Irwin Marine has no "right" at issue and its interests would not be at risk if its request to intervene were denied.
A structuring conference in the case is schedule on November 15.
On Monday of this week, City Council authorized Myers to sign a new, 2-year lease for 21 Elm Street with Blizzard. A condition of the city's sale to Irwin was that Blizzard have up to two additional years to make other arrangements before her competitor takes title to the property.
Lakeport Landing's 30-year lease expires on Saturday night. As per the terms of that lease, at midnight the city becomes the owner of the 9,000-square-foot showroom building Paul Blizzard built back in the 1980s.