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Man's proposal to build on 53-acre track on Meredith Neck stirs up some old bones

MEREDITH — Within weeks of purchasing property on Meredith Neck, Ron Coburn has found his dream of building a lakefront home haunted by the spectres of prior plans for the 53-acre tract, which came to grief at the hands of neighboring homeowners and pressure of economic recession.

The rectangular property, with for a small panhandle at its northwest corner with 350 feet of shoreline facing Stonedam Island, lies on the west side of the peninsula. There is a four-bedroom farmhouse, built in 1929, and 1,800-square foot barn on the property. Along with the 53 acres, Coburn also acquired a 1.9 lot with a three-bedroom cape built in 1977, the only lot ever sold in 21-unit subdivision of the larger property approved in 1974. The house lot is reached by a private "driveway," a quarter-mile long, known by residents and designated on maps as Cushing Road, which is unimproved.

Coburn paid $1-million for the 53-acres and another $425,00 for the house lot and home built near the center of the tract.

Coburn's property lies within a loop of roads lining the tip of Meredith Neck — Cattle Landing Road to the east and south, Harris Road to the southwest and Happy Homes Road to the northwest. But, the loop is not complete. After leaving Meredith Neck Road, Happy Homes Road, a narrow, gravel track, wends westward then bends southward, crossing Coburn's property to form the panhandle, before coming to a dead end. Originally laid out as a public right-of-way in 1926, Happy Homes Road has never been extended to join Harris Road, the paved stretch of which runs northward from the end of Cattle Landing Road for a tenth of a mile before becoming an unpaved track. This break in the loop blocks the flow of through traffic around the tip of the neck, which is just the way the property owners like it.

This week Coburn, represented by attorney Jack McCormack, approached the Board of Selectmen at a workshop with a proposal to subdivide his 53-acres into two lots, the panhandle of five acres where he would build a home on the water and the remainder,of 48 acres where the farmhouse and barn would either be restored or replaced. The existing house lot would remain. He proposed accessing the lots from the completed portion of Happy Homes Road and asked the board to discontinue the remaining length of the public right-of way encumbering his property. Authority over town roads is vested in the Board of Selectmen.

Community Development Director John Edgar recalled the troubled history of the property, explaining that proposed subdivisions in 1974, 1980 and 2007 were all abandoned. The most recent, Harris Cove Estates, consisting of 13 lots, included developing the public right-of-way to link Happy Homes Road and Harris Road, roused the ire of residents of both roads as well those with homes on Cattle Landing Road. All were opposed to closing the loop, which would open the tip of the neck to through traffic, or as Selectman Herb Vadney put it "tour buses of full leaf peepers."

McCormack the board that Coburn intended "to provide some stability to the property," noting that Happy Homes Road would provide better access than Cushing Road, which intersects Meredith Neck Road at the dangerous junction where it bends at a right angle to become Cattle Landing Road. Discontinuing the public right-of-way, he said, would eliminate the risk of intensive development of the property.

Selectman Lou Kahn, who along with his colleagues Vadney and Peter Brothers served on the Planning Board that considered the last proposed subdivision, recalled that then neighbors "turned out with torches and pitchforks" and said that they would not accept more traffic — "none ever!" In return for discontinuing the right-of-way, he suggested that Coburn undertake to ensure that the property would never be further subdivided, to foreclose the prospect of further development and additional traffic. "If you want help from us, you have to help us by really stabilizing the property," he said.

McCormack called Kahn's suggestion "not proper, not realistic," prompting Kahn to repeat "you're asking us to help you, but you're not helping us."

Vadney agreed "something has to be done out there", while Brothers told Coburn he "must be very, very mindful of the history."

"The last person in here pays the price," McCormack remarked, telling the board "I have never had a board seek assurances about the future." He said that neither he nor Coburn were aware of the history of the property.

Kahn wondered why proposals of this kind seem to be presented between December and March, when most waterfront residents are out of town, and insisted that no understandings be reached or actions taken without hearing from nearby property owners.

"I want to build a house on the lake," Coburn said, noting that he anticipated a lengthy planning and permitting process. "What I don't need," he added, is a second battle over what happened years ago." He referred to Kahn's suggestion as "bait and switch" and repeated that he would not place restrictions on the future of the property. "I'll be dead," he remarked.

"So will I," Kahn replied, "but the town will still be alive."


Last Updated on Thursday, 19 December 2013 01:45

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3 bills drafted to address county budget spat

CONCORD — Three members of the Belknap County Convention — Representatives Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), and David Huot (D-Laconia) — have introduced legislation to address the county budget process, which has put the convention and commission at daggers drawn for the past year.

Throughout the year the Republican majority of the convention has insisted that the convention can rewrite the budget proposed by the commission by adding or deleting, raising or lowering appropriations for particular line items. And, in the course of managing the budget, the commission may only reallocate funds from one line to another with the approval of the Executive Committee of the convention.

With equal resolve, the commissioners claim that the authority of the convention is limited to itemizing appropriations in the categories prescribed the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA). Within these categories, the commission contends it can distribute funds among different lines without the approval of the convention as long as expenditures do not exceed the total appropriations of the particular categories.

The issue came to a head when, earlier this year, after the convention stripped appropriations to fund employee benefits, the commissioners shuffled money within departments budgets to fund them. Altogether the commission drew from 91 lines to fund 27 accounts the convention left empty.

The convention retained an attorney in anticipation of bringing suit against the commission, but has yet to initiate litigation. Although the convention must approve appropriations, the commission alone is authorized to approve expenditures. Moreover, the commission has claimed the exclusive authority to retain and compensate legal counsel to represent the county and its officials, including the convention, and consequently has refused to authorize payment of legal fees incurred by the convention.

Of the three bills, House Bill 1373, sponsored by Worsman, who chairs the convention, is the most aggressive and expansive. The bill would apply solely to Belknap County. It would affirm the authority of the convention to itemize appropriations "in detail, including specific lines within each department," and require the commissioners to seek the approval of the executive committee to transfer funds in any amount either between specific lines within a single department or from one department to another.

To overcome the dispute arising from the retention and payment of legal counsel, Worsman includes an enforcement provision in her bill. The bill provides that if any of its provisions "is reasonably believed to have been violated and it becomes necessary for the county convention to seek court enforcement, the commissioners shall timely pay the convention's incurred legal fees. Furthermore, if the court finds the commissioners in violation, her bill stipulates that "they shall be forthwith removed from office for official misconduct."

The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), Bob Greemore (R-Meredith), Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) and Charles Fink (R-Belmont).

House Bill 1120, sponsored by Tilton and co-sponsored by Representative Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), simply mirrors the first section of Worsman's bill pertaining to the authority of the convention to itemize all appropriations and, through its executive committee, to approve all transfers within or between departments. Unlike Worsman, Tilton provides no mechanism for enforcement nor does he address the authority of the convention to retain legal counsel or the obligation of the commission to pay fees it may incur.

Huot, a Democrat, the prime sponsor of House Bill 1370 takes a different approach that's more in keeping with the position of the commission. His bill requires the convention to itemize appropriations according to the "uniform chart of functions and account numbers" prescribed by DRA and report them on the form specified by the agency, together with the "master budget showing the itemized appropriations approved by the county convention." Huot provides that the convention may require authority from the executive committee to transfer all or part of any appropriation, except for transfers within an account.

Huot's bill also requires that the executive committee of the convention include at least one member of the minority party represented in the convention, unless, of course, all the members of the convention belong to the same party.

Representatives Lisa DiMartino (D-Gilfoird) and Ruth Gulick (D-New Hampton) are co-sponsors of Huot's bill.

All three bills have been referred to the House Municipal and County Government Committee chaired by Representative Marjorie Porter (D-Hillsborough). None of the 18 representatives from Belknap County, who compose the convention, serve on the committee.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 January 2014 10:41

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Newfound superintendent asked to keep an eye on class size at Bridgewater-Hebron Village School

By Thomas P. Caldwell

BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School District, which leases the Bridgewater-Hebron Village School from an independently created political entity, will be keeping closer tabs on the student population to avoid crowding at the facility.
The Bridgewater-Hebron Village District, which built and outfitted the school which is physically located in Bridgewater, had become concerned that the Newfound district's open-enrollment policy was allowing too many students from outlying towns to choose attendance in Bridgewater, resulting in larger-than-intended class sizes.
Village District Commissioners Terry Murphy and William White attended the Dec. 9 meeting of the Newfound Area School Board to see that the Newfound district adhered as closely as possible to the covenant between the entities. "We're not asking — and would not want — to force students currently attending the Bridgwater-Hebron School to leave," said Murphy. "We just want to address this issue at the preschool level, before students start attending the school."
The agreement, in which the Bridgewater-Hebron district leases the school for $1 per year to the Newfound district, specifies that classroom enrollment should not exceed "the average number of students per classroom in the relevant grade at all schools in the sending town(s)".
The 10-year agreement, renewed for another 10 years in 2009, provides for a mandatory service area comprising the towns of Bridgewater, Hebron, and Groton. Students from those towns are guaranteed placement at the school, unless they choose to attend another school. The Newfound district has the option of allowing attendance by students from the other towns — Alexandria, Danbury, Bristol, and New Hampton — if space remains to accommodate them without exceeding the limits established in the agreement.
To arrive at that number, the district divides "the total number of students in the relevant grade in all schools in the sending town(s) by the total number of classrooms used for the relevant grade in all schools in the sending town".
The concern, Murphy said, is that, in the past, previous superintendents have filled the classroom with students from other towns without sufficient thought as to what would happen if more students moved into the mandatory service area. Currently, the enrollment exceeds that average number in two classrooms at BHVS.
School Board Chair Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater said he wanted to put the issue on the agenda in order to ensure that, in the future, the superintendent keeps the agreement in mind when approving attendance by students outside the mandatory service area. He successfully offered a motion that would direct the superintendent to annually review the contract in April or May to ensure compliance with the required averages.
The towns of Bridgewater and Hebron had formed the village district in 1999 when the Newfound district was experiencing crowding at the elementary level, recognizing that school district voters were unlikely to approve a new building project while still paying for the high school, built a decade earlier. The two towns agreed to build and equip the school and then to lease it to the school district, maintaining it on a landlord-tenant basis. The school district became responsible for staffing and curriculum decisions.
Murphy noted that, after the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, the Bridgewater-Hebron Village District has spent $47,000 to install security cameras and to make other security improvements, and it faces the replacement of the roof next year. "The 25-year roof lasted 15 years," Murphy said, noting that the district is looking into litigation against the supplier.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 December 2013 01:33

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Wetlands disturbance issue puts Laconia Airport safety fence project on hold

GILFORD — A $700,000 perimeter fence project at Laconia Municipal Airport is in a holding pattern following the denial of the airport's application for a wetlands disturbance permit issued by the state Wetlands Bureau of the Department of Environmental Services.
The project calls for installation of a 15,800-foot-long, eight-foot high chain link fence around the airport and was the primary recommendation of the study performed last year by the USDA Wildlife Service, according to airport manager Diane Terrill.
She said that the fence would have barbed wire outriggers and four-foot chain link fabric which would be buried at a 45 degree angle below ground to prevent undermining of the fence by burrowing mammals such as beavers and woodchucks.
She said that the major objections from the wetlands bureau appear to relate to the 3,080 feet of the fence that impact wetlands around the airport.
''It's a highly technical document and I'm no wetlands scientist. But we didn't expect this outcome and were looking to react appropriately. From our standpoint it's an issue of human safety and we think that should be the priority,'' said Terrill.
She said that the Laconia Airport Authority is working with Steven Smith and Associates to amend its permit application and address the objections raised by the Wetlands Bureau and hasn't yet settled on what it will propose for a solution.
Terrill said that one suggested path forward is just building whatever portion of the fence is allowed.
''But to not enclose the airfield completely would be negligent. This is more than a permitting issue, it's also about public safety,'' she said.
The fence will impact wetlands along the south side of the property next to Route 11, around the east end of the property adjacent to Gunstock River and along the north side if the property adjacent to Meadowbrook Lane. The total length of fence that impacts wetland is 3,080 linear feet of conventional wetland and 2,096 linear feet of prime wetland. Seven different areas of wetland impact would be necessary to complete the fence installation.
Cooper-Terrill said the fence is designed to keep wildlife from straying on to the runway and potentially causing a collision with the aircraft that are landing or taking off. She said burrowing animals like rabbits, moles and mice are often preyed upon by larger animals like bobcats and coyotes, which also can stray on to the airport's runways to chase their prey.
She also said Canadian geese, turkey and ducks are a significant problem but not one that can be addressed by a fence.
A report completed last year indicated "aggressive harassment" like pyrotechnics, propane cannons, and electronic scarecrows can be utilized to reduce birds in the area.
It is not the first time that the airport and the Wetlands Bureau have been at odds over issues regarding wetlands around the airport.
In April of 2006, when wetlands issues imperiled an $8.1 million federally-funded runway extension and repaving program at the airport, the N.H. Wetlands Council issued a declaratory ruling sought by the Wetlands Bureau and the airport that in the case under consideration issues of public safety superseded the need for preservation of prime wetlands.
The project affected 13 acres of wetland and as a result an agreement reached between the Wetlands Bureau and the airport some 143 acres of non-runway access property on airport authority land was placed under permanent conservation easement.

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 December 2013 01:22

Hits: 356

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