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Council Mulls Sign Ordinance

LACONIA — The City Council divided 4-2 last night in voting to schedule a public hearing on the sign ordinance recommended by the Planning Board. The public hearing will held at next regularly scheduled meeting of the council on May 27, at which the council could either adopt or amend the proposed ordinance.

As proposed by the Zoning Task Force and endorsed by the Planning Board the ordinance would distinguish between two types of "electronic message center" (EMC) — "static" and "dynamic." Static electronic signs are those on which neither the copy nor pictures change during the message while their dynamic counterparts appear to move or change as they present a stream of images or words that fly in, fade out, rotate and scroll across the face of the sign.

Neither type of electronic sign would be permitted in the six residential districts. Where they are permitted, the dimensions and heights of signs would have to conform to those of free-standing signs in the specific district. Moreover, the electronic portion of the signs must not exceed 75 percent of the total area of the sign, a provision that ensures that all such signs are framed.

EMC-dynamic display signs would be confined to the commercial resort district, which includes The Weirs, and permitted there only by special exception.

EMC-static display signs would be excluded from the downtown riverfront district but permitted in the commercial resort district and permitted by special exception in the professional, business central, business central/industrial, commercial, industrial park, industrial and airport industrial districts. In addition, the display, whether imagery or script, on EMC-static display signs could not change more frequently than every five minutes.

After Suzanne Perley, who chairs the Zoning Task Force, explained the proposal, Steve Weeks, a longtime real estate broker and dissenting member of the task force, challenged two of its major provisions — the requirement for a special exception and the frequency of the changing display. Requiring a special exception, he said is "more bureaucratic red tape" and, since where EMC-static display signs are currently permitted they are permitted by right, is "going backwards instead of forwards."

Special exceptions are granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment upon finding a request satisfies specific eight criteria and which may attach conditions to its approval. Weeks said the requirement "stiffens the ordinance," making it more difficult for the business owner seeking to erect an an electronic sign.

Likewise, Weeks said that the frequency of five minutes was unnecessarily restrictive, preferring to allow messages to change every 30 seconds or one minute "at the very most." In five minutes a driver traveling at 30 miles-per-hour would cover two-and-a-half miles, he said, while a driver stopped a traffic light would seldom see more than one message.

Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that both the task force and Planning Board placed a premium on preserving "community character" and chose to exercise greater oversight over electronic signage. She said the board sought to avoid what she called the "Las Vegas look." Saunders explained that if a less restrictive ordinance were adopted and subsequently found wanting, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to tighten it. The board, she said, decided "not to make all the changes at once and then be unable to back track."

"I'd rather be a successful Las Vegas than a dead Laconia," Weeks countered, emphasizing that local businesses must not only compete with their counterparts in neighboring communities but also with firms advertising on the internet. "They depend a lot on signs," he continued, explaining they need the opportunity to advertise as many of the goods and services they offer to as many consumers as possible.

Weeks struck a chord with the councilors. Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) urged the council to adopt the ordinance as recommended, and immediately begin the process of amending it. Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) also appeared open to amending the ordinance as recommended, but suggested the council first hold a public hearing.

Lipman insisted that with the advent of the summer business season the council should adopt the ordinance, which would allow businesses to proceed with their plans for signage and enable the city officials to judge the efficacy of the ordinance. If the ordinance proves too restrictive, he said it could be subsequently be amended.

With Lipman and Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) dissenting and Councilors Ava Doyle (Ward 1), Bob Hamel (Ward 5) and Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) joining Bownes his motion to proceed to a public hearing prevailed.

City Manager Scott Myers advised the council that it could vote on the proposed ordinance following the public hearing on May 27. However, if the council chose to substantially amend the proposal, by eliminating the requirement for a special exception or changing the frequency of changing messages, another public hearing would be required before a vote.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 May 2014 01:52

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WEMJ Bringing Back Lakes Region Voice of Sports Show (702 w/cut in Ed's e-mail)

LACONIA — The Lakes Region Voice of Sports, a staple of local radio in the 1970s-80s, will be returning to the airways on WEMJ 1490 and the one-hour show will be broadcast Fridays at 7 p.m. and rebroadcast at 9 a.m. on Saturdays.
Host for the show will be Keith Murray, a veteran broadcaster who grew up in Laconia, played baseball for Laconia High School ,and cut his teeth on radio as an intern at WEMJ in the 1980s.
A 1984 graduate of Laconia High School, Murray was a catcher for coach Dave McCabe's teams and later caught for the Wilkins-Smith Post 1 American Legion, where he had two of his more memorable moments: A a grand slam homer in a game at Berlin and a picture-perfect throw to second base which cut down one of the state's fastest runners in a game at Rochester where he also collected a pair of hits in an upset Laconia victory.

''The Berlin game was in extra innings and we had the bases loaded and they pulled the right fielder in so he could throw the runner out at the plate on a short fly ball. I hit it over his head and it just kept rolling away from him while I ran around the bases,'' said Murray.

He said the 1986 Rochester Legion team was loaded with talent and was the top-ranked team in the state with an especially fast base stealer who seldom was thrown out. ''It was the best throw I ever made and just beat him. I doubt if I could do that very often, but it was a great feeling. Bobby Hawkins was pitching that night and had an incredible curve ball and kept putting his pitches wherever I called for them.'' Murray recalls.

He knows from his own personal experience how important sports can be young people and their parents and the sense of community they create and wants to see that brought back to local radio, something which he says Binnie Media, which purchased local radio stations in the Lakes Region and and operates them under the NH1 Media label, is committed to doing.

''I've never been a big fan of the consolidation we saw in radio over the past 20 years. The community connection was lost and without that there was no reason to listen,'' says Murray.

He says that in addition to the Lakes Region Voice of Sports, WEMJ will also be broadcasting the Laconia High School football games with him doing play-by-play and Henry Yip serving as color analyst. This summer the station will be carrying the live feed from all Laconia Muskrat games and will be providing coverage of a variety of other events, from Youth Field Day to lacrosse jamborees.

A staple of the Lakes Region Voice of Sports each week will be Sachems Corner which will feature Laconia High School Football Coach and Athletic Director Craig Kozens.

We'll' be providing live streaming and podcasts so that you can hear us from anywhere in the country. If you're a Sachem fan in California you can still follow your team,'' says Murray.

The son of Laconia Police Officer Dave Murray, he got his start in radio in 1984 working summers as an intern at WEMJ and WLNH. He attended Plymouth State for a couple of years before joining the Army where he was stationed in Hawaii and got to play a lot of sports. When he returned he worked for stations in Laconia, WZID in Manchester and WBOS in Boston before starting his own ad agency in 2004.

''I'm really looking forward to this show. The station is now located in a downtown Laconia studio which gives us great visibility and I think there's a real hunger out there for local news and local sports that we're going to be able to satisfy,'' says Murray.


Lakes Region Voice of Sports will be returning to radio station WEMJ 1490 on Fridays at 7 p.m. and rebroadcast at 9 a.m. on Saturdays. Craig Kozens, Laconia High School athletic director, left, is shown being interviewed by Keith Murray, host of the show, along with Henry Yip, color analyst for Sachems football, Greg Lounsbury, Laconia Little League and Laconia Youth Soccer, and Tony Pederaszani, Laconia Youth Lacrosse. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 May 2014 01:24

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Gilmanton knitting group makes 541 purple hats for N.H. children Trust

GILMANTON — For the past four months, the Purple Finches of the Corner Library have have been knitting for special cause — trying to prevent shaken baby-syndrome.

The group, which meets every Saturday between 10 a.m. and noon at the library, has either knitted or crocheted 541 hats for distribution to New Hampshire hospitals by the N.H. Children's Trust as part of the Period of Purple Crying education program.

"We challenged the members of the knitting group to each make 25 hats by October," said June Garen the spokeswoman for the Purple Finches.

Garen said many members of the community contributed to the effort either my knitting purple-based hats themselves or by donation yarn to the project.

Janine Mitchell of the N.H. Children's Trust joined the Purple Finches Saturday morning to accept the hats and talk some more about the project and shaken baby syndrome.

The Period of Purple Crying is typically in the first five months of life and occurs when babies cry for lengthy periods of time — often for no apparent reason. The first five months is also when babies are also the most susceptible to being shaken — many times out of sheer frustration exhibited by the parents or caretaker.

Shaking a baby can cause blindness, seizures, death, and learning and physical disabilities and crying is the number one trigger for parents.

The goal of the N.H. Children's Trust is to distribute a kit that includes a purple hat and a pamphlet and a CD that explains constant crying to new parents and coping mechanisms for them for every baby born in a New Hampshire hospital.

With 541 purple hats for babies completed, Garen said the Purple Finches are thinking about new knitting projects, for their Saturday morning sessions, including knitting hats and scarves for some of the homeless people living under the Messer Street Bridge in Laconia.




The Purple Finches knitting group donates purple hats to Janine Mitchell from the New Hampshire Children's Trust Saturday morning at the Corner Library in Gilmanton. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 May 2014 01:10

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Prosecutor contends alleged Lafond drug use was one chapter of 'ongoing criminal episode'

LACONIA — County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen yesterday filed her objection to the motion of Attorney Mark Sisti, who is defending Amy Lafond against charges that her reckless and negligent driving took the life of one teenage girl and severely injured another, to try drug and traffic charges against her separately.

Gulbrandsen is asserting that Lafonds "consumption of drugs" was was part of an "ongoing criminal episode".
Lafond, 53, is charged with manslaughter, a class A felony, two counts of negligent homicide (alternative theories), both class B felonies, and second degree assault, a class B felony, arising from an incident on April 19 when she allegedly drove into two teenage girls on Messer Street, killing Lilyanna Johnson and seriously injuring Allyssa Miner. She is also charged with possession of a narcotic drug, possession of prescriptions drugs as well as three traffic violations—straying from the proper lane, failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk and speeding.
Guldbrandsen has not alleged that Lafond was under the influence of either alcohol or drugs when the collision occurred, in which case the charges of negligent would be class A felonies and carry enhanced penalties. Instead, she has charged her with negligent homicide first for "failing to maintain a proper lookout" and second for "failing to pay due attention" and added the phrase "after having consumed drugs" in each case.
All the charges were consolidated on December 24, 2013, approximately three weeks after Lafond retained Sisti as defense counsel in place of attorneys from the New Hampshire Public Defenders Office.
In asking the court to sever the charges for drug and traffic offenses from those for manslaughter and negligent homicide, Sisti claimed that the first set of charges is not related to the second. He cited an opinion of the New Hampshire Supreme Court holding that related offenses must be based on "a common plan," that is, "a definite prior design which included doing the charged acts as part of its consummation." It is not sufficient, Sisti claimed, to contend that a sequence of actions "resembles a design." Instead "the prior conduct must be intertwined with what follows, such that the charged acts are mutually dependent," he said.
Sisti insisted there is "no interdependence among the charges" against Lafond. He noted in deciding whether charges should be severed, the Supreme Court held that courts should consider whether "in view of the number of offenses charged and the complexity of the evidence to be offered, the trier of fact will be able to distinguish the evidence and apply the law intelligently to each offense." In this case, Sisti concluded, "the jury will run a considerable risk of confusing the evidence the state will offer to support the manslaughter and negligent homicide charges from the drug charges" and "be hard pressed not to consider the alleged presence of contraband as evidence in the other charges."
In response, Guldbrandsen asserted that "the conduct involved the consumption of drugs which appeared in the Defendant's blood after the collision. Thus," she continued. "the ongoing criminal episode in this case occurred from the time the Defendant consumed drugs, continued through her traffic violations and the collision with Johnson and Miner, and ended when an oxycodone pill was found in her possession while receiving treatment for her injuries resulting from the collision."
In addition, Guldbrandsen contended that Sisti failed to file his motion to sever the charges in the a timely manner. Citing the rules of the Superior Court in criminal proceedings, she noted that motions to sever charges must be filed not more than 60 days after entering a plea of not guilty. In Lafond's case, she said the deadline fell on or about December 3, 2013 while Sisti filed his motion in April, after the trial date had been continued twice, without showing good cause for the late filing.

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 May 2014 12:57

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