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Selectmen urged to let Kimball Castle fall of its own accord

GILFORD – While nobody who spoke at the Kimball Castle public hearing last night had the same solutions, the majority of those who spoke at last night's public hearing supported putting a fence around the buildings and letting nature take its course.

About 50 people were at the Gilford Town Hall meeting room last night to hear more about a proposal suggested to the town by Kimball Castle LLC, represented last night by Dave Jodoin, to tear down the castle, change some of the land restrictions, and sell the property as a single-family lot.

The selectmen which, as trustees, must submit any recommendation for change to the Belknap County Superior Court, held a hearing last night to give the public a chance to speak about the proposal at hand. They have not decided whether to support it as written.

"Put up a fence and let it go to ruins," said Victor Nichol, a relative newcomer to Gilford. "Honor the heritage of the castle."

Nichol's views were mirrored around the room. While a few wanted to try and keep the now condemned landmark and restore it, most agreed the castle itself was no longer salvageable, but didn't want to see it razed. Many supported the town's repurchase of the land at the same price for which it sold in 1999.

Others, including Atty. Steve Nix, pointed out that the current owners bought the castle and 24-acre parcel with the stipulation that it be restored to some use. Many characterized Jodoin's ultimate ownership of the castle as a bad investment and had little to no sympathy for his financial well-being.

Nix told selectmen that the only value to the town lies in its easements and urged the town not to cede public access through the carriage road or east portion of the property. The proposal as written gives access though the parcel only for emergencies and maintenance.

"As trustees," he said to selectmen, "you are in an excellent position to negotiate."

Retired Belknap County Forester Sumner Dole made a similar argument.

"To remove the right of way access to the public is absurd," he said.

Resident Steve Davis suggested they dismember the castle and rebuild it on the Witches — a notorious unnavigable area in the middle of Lake Winnipesaukee that has been the demise of many boats and boaters over the years.

"It will be a pile of stones on a pile of stones," Davis said, adding that if they didn't put a roof in it, the Department of Environmental Services couldn't complain about impervious surfaces and runoff.

He said it would be beyond vandalism, it would still be Gilford's castle, and people would come to the area just to see it.

Sandra McGonagle, who has been involved with the castle and its surrounding lands since 1978 said the Kimball Wildlife Forest also opposes the giving up public access. She said their goal is to build a second access with parking on the east side of the property and if the draft proposal goes through as written, that possibility will be eliminated.

Kimball Castle was built around the turn of the last century by railroad magnet Benjamin Kimball. It overlooks "the Broads" — or the widest part of Lake Winnipesaukee — and has a panoramic view of the lake.

When Kimball's granddaughter died she left the property to the town for a wildlife sanctuary as well as a $400,000 trust to maintain the property. According to McGonagle, the trust money disappeared in the late 1970s, and in 1999, the town, then the owner of the property, decided to sell a 24-acre parcel on which the buildings were located to a now-defunct hotel company and use the money to maintain the rest of the property for wildlife and for recreation trails — as Charlotte Kimball wanted.

The original buyers, Historic Inns of New England, was never able to raise the capital to develop the property and Jodoin and his wife became the sole owners because they were the last investors standing when Historic Inns crumbled.

Now living in Boston, the Jodoins want to sell the property and are asking $799,000. To make it more marketable they have recommended the town eliminate the public access, except for emergencies, through that portion of the property.

The town's building inspector ordered the castle itself to be razed in early spring after determining it was a safety hazard.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 August 2013 03:20

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Some Gilford property owners exercising option to 'unmerge' lots

GILFORD – To unmerge or not to unmerge.

That is the question that a few landowners are asking themselves in the wake of a 2010 N.H. Supreme Court ruling and a Gilford town referendum that allowed landowners to "unmerge" or separate adjoining irregular lots that had been combined by the town without the knowledge of the owners.

According to Planning Administrator John Ayer, the law is quite clear — property that was involuntarily merged or combined with an adjoining lot by the town can be separated along the original property line. In addition, once two or more lots have been voluntarily merged by an owner, they cannot be "unmerged." Only a request for a subdivision is appropriate.

To date, Ayer said 11 lots in Gilford have been "unmerged" and one of the owners is considering putting his lots back together to save money on taxes after being unable to sell one of the separated or "unmerged" lots.

Ayer said the merging of non-conforming lots started in the late 1960s and early 1970s and, with the onset of zoning and the establishment of a minimum lot size, was likely a reaction by the town to a number of irregular lots abutting other irregular lots. Irregular lots were merged with adjoining lots if they had the same registered owner, often without the consent or knowledge of the owner.

Barbara Aichinger of Governors Island upset the apple cart in 2007 when she tried to "unmerge" her two lots and build a house on each one — one for her and one to sell to finance the other.

When the town initially agreed to separate the lots, it gave her a building permit for the second lot. But then the town changed its mind, and Aichinger went to court. While Aichinger actually lost many of the specific points of law she had argued in 2010, the N.H. Supreme Court upheld her right to continue building on the abutting lot.

She also spurred the state Legislature pass RSA 694:39-aa, which became law in 2011 and gave New Hampshire property owners whose lots were involuntarily merged by a local governing body until at least 2016 to "unmerge" them. The law also prohibits municipalities from involuntarily merging lots.

In 2010 Gilford voters passed a zoning ordinance that gave owners the same rights as the state law, but extended it into infinity or until a new ordinance is passed.

Fast forward to 2013 and potential buyers are wondering what lot merging means, what it means to have a lot "unmerged," and what building rights are associated with purchasing it.

The benefit to a land owner or future land owner to keep multiple lots together is taxes — one building lot will cost less in taxes than two or more building lots. The downside to keeping a merged lot is the inability sell it as a separate building lot without "unmerging" it — a process that can be time-consuming and comes with no guarantee that other restrictions won't deter construction.

The difficulty for a potential buyer is knowing whether or not a lot was involuntarily merged and assessing its real value.

"Buyer beware," said Ayer. How a property owner chooses to market his property, he said, is a decision made by the owner and the real estate agent. He declined to comment on specific Gilford properties listed for sale by saying each one needed to be researched on its own.

He said other restrictions can also rendered an "unmerged" lot not buildable — giving steep slopes, setbacks and proximity to water as examples of restrictions that can also restrict an owner's right to build, regardless of whether it was involuntarily merged or not.

He referred to a July 13, 2013, N.H. Supreme Court decision that centered on the town of Windham and the desire of a property owner to "unmerge" lots that date back in his family to at least 1913.

The case hinged on whether or not the lots were voluntarily merged by his ancestor. The town used to deeds and existing construction as guides to the intent of the now deceased former property owner and the court upheld their findings.

Windham officials had agreed some of the five full lots and two partial lots that had been involuntarily merged could be separated, but decided one of the partial lots wouldn't qualify because the previous owner had built a garage two feet from the old property line and with the same access as the main lot.

The town said the same principle applied to a bunkhouse built on an second abutting lot. The house, the garage, and the bunkhouse all use the same driveway.

The Supreme Court upheld the town's decision that two of the lots were voluntarily merged with the main lot by the previous owner because he built the garage two feet from the property line and must have considered it to be the same lot.

The same principle, said the court unanimously, applied to the bunkhouse.

"... a shared driveway alone may not be indicative of an intent to merge lots, when viewed in conjunction with evidence of the placement of the garage and the bunkhouse, the use of a single driveway to serve multiple lots supports the conclusion that the prior owners intended to merge the lots," reads the opinion supporting the town's ruling.

Ayer said Gilford will take no action on "unmerging" unless approached by the property owner and he will review each set of circumstances. He said his department makes its determination by examining deeds and conveyances to see if a lot has been involuntarily merged.

He said property owners should provide a written inquiry, a copy of their deed, and any other evidence that their lot was involuntarily merged.

If the property owner disagrees with his decision they can be appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The Windham case went all the way to the state Supreme Court.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 August 2013 12:43

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Massachusetts woman, charged with driving while intoxicated, held on cash bail

LACONIA — A Massachusetts woman was ordered held on $1,750 in cash bail after he arrest Tuesday for aggravated driving while intoxicated and driving after her license was suspended.

Paperwork obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division said a State Police Trooper clocked Rhonda K. Michels, 42, of 270 Canal St., #304, in Lawrence, Mass., driving in New Hampton at 83 mph at 6:25 p.m.

The trooper stopped Michels near Exit 23 and noticed her Massachusetts license had been suspended. She had an outstanding bench warrant for failing to appear for court in the 10th Circuit Court, Plaistow Division after being charged with DWI.

The trooper also noticed she had an outstanding warrant in Virginia for felony hit and run however, the state of Virginia doesn't want to extradite her.

He noticed her eyes were blurry and her breath smelled of alcohol and she was taken into custody. Once at the Laconia Police station, police said she voluntarily took a breath test and her blood-alcohol level was allegedly .28.

Judge Jim Carroll ordered her held on $750 for failing to appear in Plaistow and 1,000 on the recent allegation.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 August 2013 02:52

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Man, 2 children quickly rescued from choppy Lake Winnipesaukee

GILFORD — A man, two children and drifting boat were corralled in the choppy waters of Lake Winnipesaukee off Ellacoya State Park by a Marine Patrol officer and lifeguard around around 12:30 p.m. yesterday.

Officer Seth Allie of Marine Patrol said that the man was towing the two children on tube when the line became snarled in the propeller, suddenly slowing the boat, jerking the tube askew and sending the young boy and girl into the water. The man , who was not wearing a life jacket, went into the water.

Allie said that a bystander reported the incident, while a lifeguard at Ellacoya went to the aid of the children, who were both wearing jackets. First on the scene, Officer Nicholas Haroutunian of Marine Patrol helped the man regain control of the boat. Although a strong wind fed a steady chop on the lake, the three were not in danger and were brought to shore safely.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 August 2013 02:10

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