LACONIA — The City Council, by a vote of 2-to-4 Monday, rejected a request that the Planning Board hold a hearing on a request to amend the city's Zoning Ordinance to allow boat and watercraft storage in the Shore Front Residential Zone.
The request came from Atty. Paul Fitzgerald who is representing Kevin and Peter Morrissette who recently purchased the former St. Helena's Church, which sits on about a 3-acre lot, at the corner of Route 11B and Pendleton Road.
Fitzgerald said he was not speaking for the Morrissettes in particular, but was addressing a zoning change with the council that would provide an amenity for the people who lived in the shorefront residential area as a place to store their boats.
"All we are requesting is a right to be considered (by the Planning Board)," Fitzgerald said.
There are two ways zoning changes, not generated by the council itself or the Planning Task Force, can be effected in the city of Laconia. The first is to appear before the City Council, ask for permission to go before the Planning Board and, if permission is granted, the Planning Board shall hold a public hearing within a specified amount of time and made a recommendation back to the City Council. The City Council is the only entity that can make zoning changes and is not obligated to accept the recommendations of the Planning Board.
By its action Monday, City Council closed off that avenue.
The second way is for a citizen's petition to be submitted to the council, in which case it shall request the Planning Board to hold a public hearing and make a recommendation. The final authority again lies with the City Council regardless of the Planning Board's recommendations.
It is not known if the Morrissettes will mount a petition drive.
During the public comment period of the meeting, that occurred before Fitzgerald's presentation, Planning Board Chair Warren Hutchins and his wife both spoke against boat and watercraft storage in the shore front residential area, which is actually two areas in the Weirs section of the city — one near Pendleton Road and one by the former Brickyard Mountain Resort.
Should the Morrissettes choose to go forward with their plan to put boat storage on the lot, they can always apply to the Zoning Board of Adjustments for a variance.
Warren Hutchins called the Morrissettes attempt to change the uses allowed in the shore front residential zone as "spot zoning" which he said "is not looked upon favorably by case law."
Mary Hutchins said that she didn't think storage of any kind was going to benefit the Weirs community. She noted that, in her opinion, there are plenty of boat and watercraft storage facilities in the area.
"I don't think boats are any less attractive than Cheapo Depot," she said referring to an past incident when the Cheapo Depot wanted to park its lettered trucks on Court Street. Planning officials objected because it was the first thing people saw as the entered the city.
Fitzgerald said during his presentation to the council that his request was not "spot zoning" but was a request to change the use for the entire district for the benefit of the residents who lived there.
He said boat storage in the zone is consistent with city efforts to clean up the city by enforcing the rules against boat storage in front or on the sides of people's homes. "It fills a community need," he said.
Ward 2 City Councilor David Bownes strongly objected to having the City Council allow the matter to go before the Planning Board.
"There is a process," he said, saying that it is "imprudent" to amend a zoning ordinance when the city is in the middle of a Master Plan that is considering a complete zoning review. He said Fitzgerald's request was tantamount to taking a piecemeal approach to zoning and he was against it for that reason.
Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman disagreed with Bownes by saying that Fitzgerald's request was reflective of a long-standing approach the council has with requests.
"It's an established route (to a zoning use change)," he said.
Ward 1 Councilor Ava Doyle was against having the City Council even consider sending Fitzgerald's request to the Planning Board.
She said a number of her constituents had contacted her about the Morrissette's plan and were against it. She said she understands that some people will be signing petitions against boat and watercraft storage for the zone.
"The Weirs doesn't need that," she said. "I can't support sending it to the Planning Board."
Ward 4 Councilor Brenda Baer agreed with both Doyle and Bownes. "The Weirs is a tourist mecca not a place for boat storage," she said.
Ward 5 Councilor Bob Hamel said allowing boat storage in the shore front residential zone would completely change the zone. "That's just not the Weirs," he said.
In the end, Ward 6 Councilor Armand Bolduc, who brought the matter to the council in the first place, made a motion to allow the request to go to the Planning Board and Lipman seconded it.
The vote failed by a vote of 2 to 4, with Bolduc and Lipman voting for it.
Note: Gail Ober is an alternate member of the Zoning Board of Adjustments.
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