LACONIA — Residents of Walker Street have appealed to city officials to address the congestion and appearance near its junction with Union Avenue where three businesses — Laconia Refrigeration, Lake City Auto Body and the 405 Pub & Grill — operate on three small lots on opposite sides of the street.
"It's just become too crowded," said Matt Lahey of Cottonwood Avenue, who routinely travels the street to and from home and work. "It's a failure of the planning process."
"It's awfiul," echoed Jane McFadzen, who has lived on Walker Street since 1984. "You can't even get up your own street and it's a blatant eyesore."
The problems arose in the summer of 2010. At the time, the 0.36-acre lot at 11 Walker St., at the corner with Butler Street, housed Lake City Auto Body and a rented apartment while the Galley Restaurant operated on the abutting 0.18-acre lot at 405 Union Ave. The restaurant also owned the 0.32-acre lot across the street, which served as parking for its patrons.
In the summer, Laconia Refrigeration moved from its rented space a block south on Union Avenue to share the building at 11 Walker St., then owned by William Hawkins, with Lake City Auto Body. Lahey noticed the firm moving into the building and notified the Planning Department. Kris Snow of the Planning Department wrote to Hawkins, explaining, "It has come to our attention that Laconia Refrigeration is operating at the rear of 11 Walker Street" and reminded him that the additional use required approval by the department. In particular, since there was a auto body shop and apartment already in the building, the additional use would require eight parking spaces, bringing the total parking spaces on the lot to 22.
In December 2010, over the misgivings of several residents of the neighborhood, Planning Director Shanna Saunders approved the new use of the property after the required number of parking spaces was apparently reduced to 18. The approval prescribed that all loading and unloading occur during business hours and any outdoor storage and parking be screened from neighboring residences.
In 2011, Steve Olson, the principal of Laconia Refrigeration, doing business as Fat Boy Kole LLC, purchased the lot at 11 Walker St. A year later, when the Galley Restaurant closed, Fat Boy Kole LLC acquired the lot on Union Avenue housing the restaurant and the parking lot on Walker Street at auction.
In December 2013, Fat Boy Kole LLC applied to build a 1,680 square foot storage building at the rear of the parking lot on Walker Street, informing the Planning Department that "the 23 (parking) spaces on the lot are used for the restaurant across the street."
Soon residents began encountering congestion as delivery trucks blocked the travel lanes and forklift trucks ferried heavy equipment back and forth across the street. Intended for patrons of the restaurant, portions of the parking lot have been used for outdoor storage, leaving diners to park on the street, adding to the congestion. Parking areas were not screened and fenced as prescribed and trucks and trailers were parked on Butler Street.
Earlier this month the Planning Department found Fat Boy Kole LLC in violation of city ordinances for failing to provide screening, fencing and landscaping at 11 Walker St. and for using the parking lot across the street for outdoor storage without approval.
"The decision to grant any of the three businesses permits to operate without ample parking and/or storage was irresponsible," wrote one resident.
"It is like a small industrial park. It is becoming more and more embarrassing and a definite eyesore," added McFadzen.
City Manager Scott Myers said yesterday that he expects to meet with the property owner to address the issues cited by the Planning Department and raised by the residents.