Planning Board contends Weirs Blvd. has transitioned to a residential area & should be zoned that way

LACONIA — The recommendation to rezone about 2 1/2 miles of Weirs Boulevard from the Commercial Resort (CR) district to the Shorefront Residential (SFR) district has rankled a number of Weirs business owners, who will urge the City Council to ask the Planning Board to reconsider the proposal.

The proposal, prepared by the Zoning Task Force and endorsed by the Planning Board, will be presented to the City Council when it meets on Monday, May 11 at 7 p.m.

Attorney Paul Fitzgerald yesterday confirmed that he represents the Naswa Resort and will address the City Council on behalf of the Makris family, who he said are "seriously concerned about the impacts of creating a predominantly residential zone compared to what has been allowed and encourage up and down the boulevard in the past. " He said that the owners of other business entities share these concerns and he expected they would express them to the council..

Fitzgerald said that the rezoning, along with several changes in the uses permitted in the CR zone, appear "at variance with discussions with property owners at the Weirs during the past 20 years in so far as they are more, not less, restrictive."

The proposal would designate the length of Weirs Boulevard from just south of the Naswa to the junction with White Oaks Road, which is currently in the CR district, as SFR. The change would alter the mix of permitted and prohibited uses significantly.

Properties sharing residential and commercial uses, which are permitted in the CR zone would not be permitted in the SFR zone. Likewise, a number of commercial uses permitted in the CR district — restaurants, flea markets, retail outlets, sexually oriented businesses, shopping centers, appliance repair, banks, laundromats, personal services, professional offices — would also be prohibited. Entertainment and recreational uses permitted in the CR district — arcades, amusement parks, art centers, movie theaters and nightclubs — would not be permitted in the SFR district. Car washes, taxi services, auto dealerships and fueling station, permitted in the CR district, would be prohibited in the SFR district.

However, hotels, motels and inns as well as neighborhood stores are permitted in both the CR and SFR zones.

Don Richards, a resident of the Weirs and longtime member of the Planning Board, said the proposal recognizes that Weirs Boulevard has become a predominantly residential neighborhood and future development is likely to increase the number of residential units. He noted that Brady Sullivan seeks to build some 300 residential units at Langley Cove while "no new commercial projects are planned on the boulevard".

The owners of these residential units, Richards described as seasonal and weekend residents, who "pay heavy taxes, use few services, have few if any children in the schools. " He said because they are occasional residents "they don't have a voice here. They want to sleep when they want to sleep," he continued. "And they don't want loud outdoor music screaming at them when they're trying to sleep."

Richards was echoed by Warren Hutchins, the chairman of the Planning Board, who also lives at the Weirs. The proposal, he said, "recognizes what has taken place and reflects what it is. You have to respect that Weirs Boulevard is a residential zone and one of the most scenic roads in the city." Hutchins described the proposal as "a very pro-property owner change" that provide predictability to owners of residential units.

There are 10 businesses operating now or opening soon in the affected area of the boulevard: four motels, two restaurants, an ice cream shop, security firm, insurance agency and real estate office. Richards stressed that the existing businesses would be "grandfathered" and insisted that the proposed change "does not effect anybody on Weirs Boulevard in business who wants to stay in the business they're in. Nobody should have an issue."

However, Fitzgerald suggested that because a variance or special exception would be required to change the existing use of a commercial property, the encumbrance could impair its value.

John Ganong, who has operated several businesses on the boulevard over the years, declined to comment on the merits of the proposal, but said "my concern is the people who don't know what is going on. There are people returning from Florida," he continued, "who will ask 'what's going on here?' They should have been notified as property owners and property taxpayers."

Lakeside condo owners don't want 'commercial' zone

LACONIA — "It's the unknown that concerns us," said Fred Clausen, one of 22 homeowners at Eastern Shore Condominiums on Lake Street, at the foot of Weirs Boulevard, whose properties the Planning Board recommends rezoning from Commercial Resort to Commercial.

Altogether the proposal would rezone a dozen acres fronting Paugus Bay which house the Margate Resort, Eastern Shores Condominiums, two single-family homes and Lake Street Home Services.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the issue — as well as on other Weirs-related zoning matters (see related stories in this issue) — shortly after 7 p.m. on Monday, May 11.

The proposal is the residue of the recommendation to remove the eastern shore of Paugus Bay along Weirs Boulevard south of the Naswa Resort from the Commercial Resort district and designate it Shorefront Residential. Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that rather than leave the small enclave in the Commercial Resort district, isolated from the the remainder of the district at the center of The Weirs, the decision was made to attach it to the Commercial district that extends along Union Avenue.

Clausen said that property owners were not notified of the proposal and only learned of it shortly before the Zoning Task Force presented its recommendations to the Planning Board. Several property owners at Eastern Shores Condominiums, including Clausen, expressed misgivings to the Planning Board and Saunders said other have raised questions directly with the Planning Department.

Although commercial uses are permitted in the Commercial Resort district, virtually all are associated with hospitality and recreation and compatible with waterfront property. Rezoning the properties would extend the number of permissible commercial uses to include vehicle sales, rentals and servicing, dry cleaning, fuel storage, packaging and processing, product assembly, warehousing and funeral services.

Noting that a number of commercial uses would be unsuited to the waterfront lots Clausen questioned the purpose of changing the zoning. In light of the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act, he asked "what could be built there?"

Saunders insisted that the site is suited to commercial uses, particularly since the opposite side of Lake Street, which lies in Gilford, is lined with businesses. She described the site as an extension the commercial district, consisting of lots fronting on to Union Avenue and backing on to Paugus Bay.

70 residents answer call to discuss & debate future of Belmont Mill

BELMONT — Some new faces joined with some familiar ones Monday night for a facilitated discussion about the future of the Belmont Mill. About 70 people attended the meeting at the High School.

The facilitator, Michael Castagna, was involved in both planning charrettes for the first renovation of the mill in the 1990s and the village redesign that was completed last year. He was paid by the town for his services.

While every participant had something a little different to say, the overall trends could be broken down into two categories, those, representing a minority and identifying themselves primarily as new to Belmont, who wanted to tear down the mill and those, who were in the majority, who wanted to save it.

"It's a health hazard," said one man named Joe who suggested giving it to the Fire Department and letting them "burn it to the ground."

"The mill is the gem of Belmont Village," countered Donna Hepp, a vocal proponent of saving it but an equally vocal opponent of converting in to town offices in one fell swoop. She thinks the restoration could be done over phases, an idea many liked.

What nobody can agree on is exactly what to do with the building, when it should be done, and how much should be spent to do it.

The discussion was prompted by the nearly 4-to-1 defeat of a warrant article that proposed spending $3.4-million, with 2.9-million to be borrowed, for the restoration of the mill and its conversion to town offices.

Few in the crowd Monday supported that option, though a number of people thought that the Department of Recreation could expand some of its activities to additional space in the mill.

One new idea that came to the fore was the possibility of a public-private partnership with many suggesting LRGHealthcare of Laconia as the likely partner.

The third floor is entirely occupied by the hospital company-owned Belknap Family Health Care which, according to statements made by unsubstantiated sources, wants to stay in Belmont but is looking for additional space.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin acknowledged at selectman's meeting earlier this spring that there have been very informal and non-committal discussions between her and LRGHealthcare. At the time, a spokeswoman from the hospital declined to confirm them saying only that it was looking at a number of options for Belknap Family Health Care.

All agreed Monday night that it would be sad if the doctor's offices left Belmont Village.

Although the mill was supposed to be the only topic, many saw the discussion as a way to talk about all of the town buildings in the immediate village area, including the former Northway Bank and the current town hall.

Current town hall, according to many town employees, has its challenges, including a partial dirt cellar, its small size, and an second floor that is unusable because of a lack of elevator required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Many of those who spoke were under the impression the bank was purchased for town offices although history, including prior news articles and selectmen minutes, indicated the town wanted it because it felt it was a key piece of property located in an important section of town.

Former Selectmen Donna Cilley pointed out that there never was any intent to move the town offices there because it is too small.

Others pointed out that although the fourth floor of the mill is unusable, the remainder of the building is structurally sound, though the "envelope" or the exterior needs some brick work.

Castagna drew the conclusion that people didn't have enough information when they went to the polls in March and defeated the article converting the mill to town offices.

Castagna plans on returning with some conclusions, however what Selectman Jon Pike said he's like to see is more townspeople being involved during the next round of planning so there is some consensus and more widely known and understood plans before voters go to the polls the next time.