City Council asks Planning Board to review Commercial Resort Zone uses

LACONIA — The City Council this week asked the Planning Board to review the various uses to which property may be put in the commercial resort zoning district and report any recommendations it chooses to offer to the council.

The commercial resort district begins on Lake Street, just south of its junction with White Oaks Road, extends northward along Weirs Boulevard, includes the center of The Weirs and runs either side of Route 3 to the Meredith town line. The zoning ordinance describes the district as intended to accommodate dining, lodging and recreation entities for both occasional tourists and seasonal residents as well as apartments and condominiums.

The council requested the Planning Board to schedule a public hearing and sound members of the public on appropriateness of the various permitted and non-permitted uses within the zoning district.

The resolution was offered in response to decisions of the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) to deny special exceptions to John Ganong of 355 Weirs Boulevard, and Charles Gulbicki of Gulbicki's Towing and Auto Repair at 1193 Weirs Boulevard, both of whom sought to sell used vehicles on their property. "Vehicle dealership, sales and service" is only permitted in the commercial district by special exception. Earlier the ZBA granted a special exception to Benson's Auto Inc. of Franklin to sell vehicles from a lot at the corner of Rollercoaster Road and Route 3 in the commercial resort district.
The request marks a retreat from an earlier resolution, which the council withdrew, asking the Planning Board to recommend amending the zoning ordinance to designate a permitted use in the commercial resort district, which includes almost all of the Weirs. "We are here for one person," Councilor Brenda Baer countered.

In 2007, when consultants sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considered the future development of the city, they noted that 85 percent of The Weirs is zoned for commercial uses and only 15 percent for residential uses. Their report recommended "refining" the zoning by replacing the one district — commercial resort — with a number of smaller districts, each with defined uses.

The Planning Board has yet to act on this recommendation.

Weirs park a dream come true that was 38 years in the making

LACONIA — The Weirs Community Park Association celebrated a dream come true and a job well done with a luncheon and ribbon-cutting at the city's newest park, 27 wooded acres riven by walking trails and featuring an amphitheater, playground and picnic pavilion.

"It's just amazing," said City Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1), whose ward includes the park. "I look at this and think weddings, family reunions, graduation parties and winter bonfires."

City Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6), whose ward abuts the park, said, "I've been fighting for this since 1976 when I voted to purchase the land. The people up here never gave up, and it's just wonderful that it has finally happened."

Although Bolduc said, "I take my hat off to Don Richards," Richards himself generously paid tribute to the many steadfast volunteers who pursued the project for many years, insisting "it took a lot of hands." But, Richards conceded "I designed it — the ideas, what went into it and where."

Alongside a sketch of the park lay two drawings of residential communities planned for the property, one a faux Swiss village of homes planned in 1892 and the other, Interlaken Heights, consisting of 232 two-bedroom condominiums divided among 21 buildings and which was proposed in 1974. "Think what could have been here," said Kevin Dunleavy, director of parks and recreation.

Joe Driscoll of the Cozy Inn and Cottages described the park as "unique, a true park that offers a different experience." He expected it would a popular attraction for visitors to The Weirs as well as residents. "I expect a big response from our guests," he said. "This is here for them, too."

For Pat O'Hearn, a member of the Weirs Community Park Association, the celebration was bittersweet, since Ed, her husband and fellow volunteer, passed away before the park was completed. "He would have loved to see this," she said, and assured he was looking down from above, agreed, "I'm sure he is."


Boys and Girls club honors Major donors in capital campaign

LACONIA — The Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region celebrated the completion of the first phase of its building campaign with a breakfast meeting Wednesday at which it honored supporters and major donors.
Walter Flinn, chairman of the Board of Directors of the club, which now has a permanent 17,000-square-foot home at the former St. James Episcopal Church on North Main Street, said that the club completed the first phase, which included the $700,000 purchase of the land and buildings as well as extensive renovations, for $61 a square foot and has no mortgage on the property.

Flinn said that the club has been awarded $500,000 in tax credits for 2015 and 2016, which when sold will produce $400,000 in funds for the club as it moves into the second phase of its renovation and restoration program.

Last year the club launched a three-part $2.4 million capital campaign, $700,000 for the purchase of the church property, $700,000 for renovations and $1 million for an endowment fund.

Al Posnack, past president of the club and chairman of the the fund drive, announced that the endowment fund is off to a good start and has received a $200,000 donation from Gladys Sakowich, who along with her late husband, Tony, donated $400,000 to the club's building fund several years ago.

In addition there is a $100,000 challenge gift from her for the endowment fund, which if matched by the club will add another $200,000 to the endowment.

Posnack also announced that several large contributors will have rooms named in their honor, including:

— Robert and Miriam Smith of Gilford, for whom the community room will be named. Long-time supporters of the club, they have dedicated the room to their five grandchildren.

— The AuoServ dealerships, for whom the kitchen will be named and which was represented by Paul and Brigid Gaudet at the meeting.

— Bank of New Hampshire, which has contributed more than $250,000 to the club in recent years and for whom the 5,000-square-foot Great Room, which is used for indoor recreation, drama, dance, music, and social opportunities, will be named, was represented by Mark Primeau, president and CEO of the bank.
— The art room will be named in honor of the WLNH Children's Auction, which made a generous donation to the capital campaign last year and was represented by Alan Beetle, a member of the auction's board of directors.

— Polly and Leo Sanfacon of Gilford, for whom the computer room will be named.
— Melcher & Prescott Insurance Agency of Laconia, for whom the meeting room will be named.
— 3M Corporation of Tilton, whose charitable foundation 3MGives, donated $50,000 to the fund drive.

The building itself is named in honor of Gladys and Tony Sakowich, a couple who were married in 1955 in the former Our Lady of the Lakes Church of Lakeport and were long-time summer residents of the Lakes Region and noted philanthropists in the Andover, Mass., area..
Paul Gaudet Sr., who is the founder of the AutoServ family of automotive dealerships, and has known the Sakowiches for decades as friends and neighbors, explained that about five years ago he was approached by Tony Sakowich who informed him that he and his wife were selling their vacation home in Laconia.

Before Sakowich and his wife departed the Lakes Region, however, Tony — who many years ago developed the process to manufacture kitchen laminates and who counted the Sears and Formica companies as customers — told Gaudet that they wanted to leave a legacy to the area.
Gaudet said that when he told them that the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region wanted to build a building of its own that the couple were eager to help and gave him a check.

''So I was sitting here with the check and didn't know what to do next. So I called Bob Smith (a Gilford resident who is also known for his charitable giving) and in three days he had a trust set up,'' said Gaudet.

It was also announced at yesterday's meeting by Pat Anderson, interim executive director of the club, that she will be working with Chris Emond, director of the Concord Boys and Girls Club, on expanding the club's programs. Emond will be working with the club on a daily basis for a month and will offer suggestions on how to strengthen the club so that it meet its long-term goal of serving youth in need in the Lakes Region.

State Rep. candidates sympathetic to city council’s county jail concerns

LACONIA — Appearing before the City Council last night, candidates running for seats in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, who would also fill the 18 seats on the Belknap County Convention, generally shared the city's approach to rebuilding the Belknap County Jail.
Mayor Ed Engler explained the council's concern that since the city will bear approximately 20-percent of the expense of constructing and operating a new facility, its share of the cost should fall within the limits of the tax cap.
Last month the council resolved that the county jail must comply with all state and federal regulations and standards required of correctional facilities in order to eliminate any liability to the county and that the project should be undertaken in a timely manner. Moreover, the council specified that a compliant facility should be built for between $15 million and $20 million, either by renovating some or all of the existing facility, constructing an entirely new jail or some combination of the two. The term of a borrowing to fund the project should be as long as possible in order to minimize the annual principal and interest payments. Finally, the council noted that the higher the construction cost, the lower the operating costs to limit the aggregate annual cost to the debt service on a borrowing of between $15-million and $20-million.
This resolution was sent to all incumbent members and aspiring candidate, who were invited to respond to the council.
"I will continue to give careful consideration to this project," Rep. Ian Raymond (D-Sanbornton) began, "but, I will not allow the Laconia tax cap to take precedence over public safety."
David Devoy of Sanbornton, a candidate for the Belknap Commission, assured the council "I will protect Laconia's tax cap and I will protect public safety."
David Pollak of Laconia, who is competing with Devoy for a seat on the county commission, dismissed the suggestion that anyone sought to spend $42-million on the jail and said that there are several alternatives, one estimated to cost $25-million. The size of the facility, he noted, depends on making changes to the criminal justice system, particularly the pre-trial and sentencing processes, to reduce the number of beds required.
Brian Gallagher of Sanbornton, who is running for a House seat, said that he would measure the financial impact on all the municipalities in the county and seek to balance the interests of as many as possible.
Rep. Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), who chairs the executive committee of the county convention, asserted that cost of the project "should be within the tax cap" and said that he was "optimistic" this goal could be achieved.
"I'm all for building that jail and building it now," said Rep. Bob Luther (R-Laconia), who suggested that the rift between the convention and commission was the major stumbling block. "'No' never built anything," he remarked
Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) cautioned the council that by setting a range of costs "you're essentially speculating. The cost will be determined by how soon we get pricing." He said that to meet all codes and regulations as well as provide "a modicum of support for programs to keep from having to build more jails is going to cost some money." Huot also questioned the wisdom of extending the amortization schedule on a borrowing.
Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) countered that extending the amortization would distribute the cost of the project over a greater number of residents who would benefit from it. More importantly he stressed the importance of lending highest priority to bringing the facility into compliance before considering adding programs and personnel. In particular, he said that county officials should begin by setting a budget for the project and asking the architect and engineer to design a facility with the parameters of the budget.
Devoy offered that if elected, he would tell the architect "you have $7-million to work with. You got to think what you can afford," he said.
Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) expressed concern that the animosity between the convention and the commission had brought the process to a standstill. "What can we do to get this process going?" he asked.
"After November 4," said Gallagher, "there will be a real opportunity to look at something that makes sense."