LACONIA — Following a public hearing this week the City Council voted unanimously to declare the strip of land along Union Avenue owned by the city and leased to Lakeport Landing marina surplus property and to weigh the future of the property at a workshop beginning at 6:30 p.m., prior to its next regularly scheduled meeting on March 9.
The property, 0.81 acre, lies between the roadway and railway and runs from Elm Street northward to halfway between Harrison Street and Walnut Street. The property 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 extended further. In 1987 Lakeport Landing constructed a 9,840-square-foot building on the lot. The property has an assessed value of $389,600 of which the building represents $263,200. At the termination of the lease all buildings and improvements on the lot become the property of the city.
Last month Erica Blizard, who succeeded her father Paul as owner and operator of Lakeport Landing, offered to purchase the property for $331,400. Earlier she explained that the lot houses the firm's offices and showrooms and while the marina owns three other buildings on lower Paugus Bay, it could not offer boat sales at the location without the property.
The council has been advised that it cannot negotiate exclusively with Blizzard, but should it chose to sell or lease the property do so through an open, competitive process. However, City Manager Scott Myers told the councilors that the process need not take the form of auction that would lease or sell the property to the highest bidder. Instead, he suggested the city could set criteria for the development and use of the property so long as they applied equitably to all potential bidders and the responses to the criteria could then be weighed alongside the offering prices in awarding the bid.
Alternatively the council could do nothing, in which case ownership of the land and building would revert to the city when the lease expires. the council has considered subdividing the property and selling the portion where the building stands while retaining the remainder as a parking lot.
Attorney Rod Dyer, representing Blizzard, urged the council to declare the property surplus, explaining that it would then have the opportunity, but not the obligation, to lease or sell it. He said that no public need for the lot had been demonstrated in the past 30 years. Moreover, he claimed that access to the lot was not assured since the Bureau of Rails, a division of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, no longer grants easements to cross the tracks, but instead issues licenses that can be revoked.
Attorney Suzanne McKenna, representing neighboring Irwin Marine, asked if the property is declared surplus and offered it for lease or sale, there would be a competitive bidding process in accordance with the city ordinance (183-3), which applies to the sale of property acquired for unpaid real estate taxes.
Warren Hutchins, who said he was speaking as a private citizen and not as chairman of the Planning Board, advised the council "not to divest the land from the city inventory." He said that the future use of the adjacent lot where the former Lakeport Fire Station stands could determine the ultimate value and use of the lot. He noted that Union Avenue is a very narrow but heavily traveled roadway representing a "major safety area" and that the strip of land could be part of a solution. In addition, he said that the building at the southeast corner of Union Avenue and Clinton Street, which houses the Lakeport Opera House, is being sold, foreshadowing changes at this major intersection. With "many factors at play," Hutchins said the city should not relinquish the property.
"I have my wildcat scarf on," said Dorothy Duffy, who also asked the council to retain municipal ownership of the property, primarily to provide parking for local businesses. "Parking has always been an issue in Lakeport," she said, adding that the lot would provide addition spaces without demolishing more historic buildings.
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