ZBA turns 'Pecker' away a second time; owner directs anger at complaining neighbor

LACONIA — Jeffrey and Bridgette Leroux, owners of a pet rooster named ''Pecker'', that they keep at their home at 58 North Street in Lakeport, say they plan to appeal the Zoning Board of Adjustment's denial of a rehearing on it's decision not to grant them a variance that would let them keep the rooster as a pet to Superior Court.
Monday night the board voted 4-1 to deny the Lerouxs' request for a rehearing, prompting an angry reaction from Bridgette Leroux, who turned on the neighbors who had made the complaint about their rooster, Dan Ouellete and his wife, Amanda., who were seated behind them at the Belknap Mill.
''Want to step outside?'' she said to the Ouelletes, standing up and pointing her finger at them. She then said ''Grow up. We wouldn't be here today if it weren't for you,'' and uttered a profanity as she started to leave the room.
Steve Bogert, chairman of board, said that unless the disruption ended he would have to have Leroux removed from the hearing room.
Bogert then advised Jeffrey Leroux that if he planned to go the next level and appeal that he should do so in a timely manner as there was a time limit in which an appeal could be filed with Belknap County Superior Court.
Members of the Leroux family and their supporters left the Belknap Mill and remained outside for a short period of time in which several of them maintained that there was a second rooster being kept in the Lakeport area, near Leavitt Park, and that it could have been that rooster whose crowing had annoyed their neighbors.
No public input was allowed at the meeting on the request for a rehearing. The request had been made by the Lerouxs in a letter written to the board in which they maintained that he rooster was a pet and not being kept for agricultural purposes. The appeal also included several letters of support for allowing them to keep the rooster as a pet.
Board member Orrie Gibbs, the only member of the board to support the request for a rehearing, said that she could not see how the bird could be regarded as agriculture and said if that was the case then anyone who has a garden or a fruit tree would be in violation of the city zoning ordinance.
Jeffrey Leroux bought the rooster at Sandwich Fair last year as a pet for his wife. In December, the Planning Department told the Lerouxs that the zoning ordinance prohibited the keeping of poultry in a residential district and advised them that they would either have to give up the rooster or apply for a variance.
Planning Director Shanna Saunders has said that the zoning ordinance defines "agriculture" as "the production, keeping or maintenance for sale, lease or personal use, of plants and animals," including poultry, and forbids agricultural uses of property in residential districts like North Street.
On May 18 the ZBA denied the Lerouxs' request for a variance by a 4-1 vote, with only Gibbs dissenting.
Board member Wayne Greski said that granting a variance would open the door to other requests and that people who had purchased homes in residential areas have an expectation that ''they're not going to have a cow looking in their window.''
Board member Suzanne Perley, noting that a proposed ordinance which would have allowed chickens in certain parts of the city and which had been rejected by the planning board would have barred the door to roosters.
Gail Ober, another board member, said that she was not convinced that letters of support constituted new evidence and moved to deny the request because it had presented no new evidence.

Councilor & fire chief spar over 'unique' Laconia

LACONIA — Sparks flew in the City Council chamber on Monday night when Fire Chief Ken Erickson presented the 2015-2016 Fire Department budget proposal, prompting Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) to challenge his portrayal of the city, along with his assessment of what is required to protect it.

Hamel referred specifically to a section of Erickson's report entitled "Laconia — A Unique City," in which the chief noted the high rates of unemployment, poverty and crime as well as as its "thousands of combustible buildings and homes." The number of structure fires per 1,000 residents,, Erickson calculated, is "one of the highest in the state." He concluded that "our fire department is not staffed adequately to protect and respond to all the various hazards and risks."

Hamel dismissed the description of Laconia as "unique", likening it other old mill towns scattered across the state. He called Erickson's characterization of the city "a tear down", asked "why the hell would anyone move here," and remarked that after reading it "everyone should move out."

Quickly Erickson insisted "my intention was not to degrade the city of Laconia," but he repeated "Laconia is a unique city from my perspective. I have a responsibility," he continued, "to tell you what we need to protect the city."

In particular, Erickson listed funding to retain the four firefighters, hired and paid for the past two years with a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which expires in October, as his top priority.

City Manager Scott Myers has recommended a plan to fund the positions for the next three fiscal years. LRGHealthcare, which contributes to the cost of ambulance service under a contract with the city, will bear half the annual cost of the four positions. The balance would draw on an account established in anticipation of the expiration of the grant, money budgeted to fund the positions through the current fiscal year on the assumption the grant would expire in May and $100,000 in unexpended grant funds. These funds would be supplemented by appropriations of $50,000 in 2016 and $45,000 in 2017 and 2018, representing total new expenditures of $140,000.

The four positions, Erickson said, provides the department with nine firefighters on each shift. The additional personnel has contributed to fewer emergency recalls, which have decreased by 72 percent — from 222 to 62 — from 2010 to 2014, contributing to reduced expenses for overtime, At the time, fire suppression capability has grown, injuries have diminished, response times have improved and inspections have increased. Erickson said that although additional personnel was not solely responsible for the improved efficiency and performance, it was major factor.

But, when Erickson reminded the councilors that Municipal Resources, Inc. recommended the department field 12 firefighters per shift and indicated he would request another four positions in the near future, Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) cautioned him. "You're asking use to stretch and stretch," he said, explaining that there are levels of risk. "It would help your cause not to push the envelop by trying to eliminate all risk."

2 more instances of drive-by vandalism & 2 drug overdoses keep police busy

LACONIA — Police said yesterday that two of instances of vandalixm reported to them Saturday morning are related to he recent spate of crimes committed by someone who pops out of a four-door sedan and uses a slingshot or similar devise to shoot golf balls or golf-ball shaped rocks at people's cars.

Sgt. Gary Hubbard confirmed that there was an attack on Dolloff Street and on Clinton Street that mimic the rash of attacks that took place late last week. Dolloff Street is in the south end while Clinton Street is in Lakeport.

In other area public safety news, police and firefighters responded to two drug overdoses Monday night — one on Brigham Street and one on Messer Street. Both victims were revived by Narcan that was administered by EMTs or Paramedics with the Laconia Fire Department.

Gilford Police and fire official also saved a victim in Sargent Park from an overdose yesterday afternoon. That person was administered Narcan by Gilford Fire and Rescue Personnel.

Belmont Police continue to investigate an attempted burglary at the Belmont Firearms and Range early yesterday morning.

Anyone with any information about any of the above are encouraged to call the Laconia Police at 524-5252, the Belmont Police at 267-8350 or the Gilford Police at 527-4737.