LACONIA — A proposal by Steve and Kara Olson, owners of Laconia Refrigeration on Walker Street, to ease congestion in the neighborhood just north of the High School by designating a loading zone for tractor trailers around the corner on Butler Street met with opposition from nearby property owners when it was presented to the Zoning Board of Adjustment earlier this month.
Laconia Refrigeration operates at 11 Walker Street, the the commercial district, while Butler Street marks the boundary between the commercial and residential single family districts. The zoning ordinance stipulates that "no loading space or bay in a nonresidential district shall be located within 50 feet of a residential district boundary or within 50 feet of the lot line of an abutting residential use within a residential district." Consequently, the Olsons required a variance to place a loading zone on Butler Street.
There is a 12-foot-wide strip of unpaved land on the the west side of Butler Street, which borders a side of the property at 11 Walker Street, then a row of shrubs screening the parking lot of Laconia Regrigeration. Steve Olson told the ZBA that the tractor trailers could unload on the dirt strip without the fork lift truck encroaching on the pavement, then proceed south on Butler Street and reach Union Avenue by way of Lyman Street.
Suzanne Perley of the ZBA asked who owned the unpaved strip and Olson volunteered that he thought it was city property. Matt Lahey, a resident of Cottonwood Avenue, claimed that strip was part of the 50-foot municipal right-of-way and owned by city. He asked the ZBA not to proceed further because the Olsons were seeking to use property they did not own.
Lahey emphasized that the overriding issue is that two businesses — Laconia Regrigeration and Lake City Auto Body — which both generate significant vehicle traffic, were operating on a small lot. The coming, going and parking of large trucks, cars and fork lift trucks created congestion and posed risks. He said the situation would not be improved by allowing tractor trailers to idle on city property in front of a residence. He urged the board to deny the variance.
Lahey was echoed was echoed by several residents, including a grandmother who feared for the safety of her grandchildren who ride their bicycles in the neighborhood. Etta Wheeler of 4 Butler Street said her home would directly across the street from the proposed loading zone. She expressed concern for the value of her property as well as for the safety of children, the impact of noise and the increased traffic on a residential street.
Steve Bogert, who chairs the ZBA, said before proceeding the board should determine the ownership of the unpaved strip of land on Butler Street. If the Olsons own the land, they could could apply for a variance, but if the land belongs to the city, it could not be used as a loading zone. At the same time, Olson was asked to explore alternatives means of loading and unloading large trucks, including using the firm's parking lot where he feared losing required parking spaces to provide sufficient turning space. He remarked fixing one problem could cause other problems.