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Planners happy about plans for new, affordable apartments downtown

LACONIA — The Planning Board last night unanimously approved the proposal by the Laconia Area Community Land Trust to construct a three-story, affordable housing apartment building on the lot tucked between lower Union Avenue and the Winnipesaukee River last occupied by the F.W.Webb Company, a wholesale plumbing and heating firm.

Following the vote, Warren Hutchins, chairman of the board, congratulated Linda Harvey, executive director of the LACLT, for pursuing "a dynamic project" that would provide "a real shot in the arm for downtown."

The boundaries of the 1.87-acre parcel describe a triangle, with 685 feet of frontage on the river — 598 feet above Avery Dam — representing its longest side and bordered on the other two sides by Arch Street and Union Avenue. However, its frontage on Arch Street is limited by a 0.34-acre lot that runs more than half the length of the street from its intersection with Union Avenue owned by Combined Investments, LLC of Milton, Massachusetts, which houses two apartment buildings. The footbridge below the dam links the lot to the Rotary Park, Belknap Mill, One Mill Plaza and City Hall.

There are two buildings on the site, the original mill of 18,597-square-feet, built around 1850 at the river's edge, and a newer outbuilding of 5,154-square-feet near the corner of Arch Street and River Street. Both will be demolished to make way for the project.

Kevin Leonard of Northpoint Engineering, LLC of Pembroke told the board that the LACLT plans to demolish both existing structures on the lot and replace them with a new building will consist of two wings, paralleling Union Avenue and Arch Street and joined in the middle to form a "V." He said that the ground floor of the building will be at "river level" and the top floor even with Union Avenue.

The building will house 12 one-bedroom units, each 675-square-feet and 20 two-bedroom units of 864-square-feet. Like all the projects undertaken by the LACLT, the units will be offered at affordable rents and property taxes will be paid on the apartment building. A parking lot with an entrance at the corner of Arch Street and River Street will have spaces for 30 vehicles and a smaller lot along Union Avenue will have another 6 spaces. The lower level will be faced with brick and the upper levels with vinyl siding.

Leonard said that a stretch of the downtown riverwalk would be designed and built across the lot as part of the project, with the cost shared between the LACLT and the city.

Harvey estimated the cost of the project at approximately $4 million, but cautioned that this is not a firm figure. She said that the process of assembling the financing package the acquisition of the property and construction of the building is underway but not yet complete.

Although no one spoke against the project, the board raised two issues. First, Leonard explained that the lot included a parking area with a dozen spaces on Union Avenue, which are used by the owner of 100 Union Avenue, which abuts the parcel to the south, under the terms of an easement. He said that the LACLT is seeking to purchase the easement and, if successful, would incorporate this piece of the parcel into the project, but otherwise would not improve the area.

Jerry Mailloux insisted that the LACLT improve the entire property, stressing that the land along Union Avenue is an eyesore. He conceded the parking lot need not be reconstructed but said that the area should be landscaped and lighted to match the remainder of the frontage on Union Avenue. If the LACLT succeeds in purchasing the easement, Mailloux said that the stretch of a retaining wall on that section of the property should be rebuilt to match its counterpart on the rest of the site.

Second, the LACLT asked the board to waive the requirement to install a sidewalk on Arch Street, where it is not practicable. Although the board agreed, Don Richards said that since the project would increase traffic in the neighborhood, the safety of pedestrians, especially children, would be at greater risk. To address the issue the board denied the request for a waiver, but rather than require a sidewalk to be built in a specific location directed the LACLT to set aside funds for the construction of sidewalks in appropriate places in the neighborhood to enhance public safety.

The board granted the LACLT's request to waive impacts which, with an 80-perecent discount for an infill project, amounted to $11,140.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 02:34

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Police found 32 ax wounds on Belmont mother & son

LACONIA — One of the lead New Hampshire State Police homicide detectives testified yesterday at Shawn Carter's probable cause hearing that his mother, Priscilla Carter, 59, died from 10 separate wounds — nine that appeared to blows from an ax and one that could have been a knife wound, under one eye. She had been stomped or kicked repeatedly and had multiple broken bones.

His brother, Timothy Carter, 39, died from what Det. Sgt. Joseph Hebert said were 23 chop wounds. Both were found in the same room at 20 Sunset Drive in the Winnisquam section of Belmont, a room he said appeared to be Timothy Carter's bedroom.

Shawn Carter, 30, formerly of the same address, is accused of allegedly chopping them to death between 10 p.m. on May 23 and 2 a.m. on May 24 according to Hebert's recounting yesterday of what he was told by the coroner.

Hebert's testimony was taken in 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division in front of Judge Jim Carroll.

Shawn Carter was apprehended near his home, on Rte. 3, around 2 p.m. on May 24 — about three hours after police found the bodies and within a few hours from when they issued a be-on-the-lookout-for alert for him. The BOLO, recalled Hebert, contained information that Carter was likely driving his mother's red Monte Carlo and his drivers license had been suspended.

After getting a search warrant for the car, triggered by what police said was a knife in plain view in the map pocket of a car door, a yellow-handled ax similar to the one Shawn Carter bought at Walmart the week before the murder was found in the trunk. Police also recovered an atlas (map), and a black duffle bag in the back seat containing men's clothing, a second knife, and what Hebert said was a woman's wallet that police determined was Priscilla Carter's.

He was wearing work boots that Hebert said had human blood evidence on one of them. There was also blood evidence on the ax and on the hat he was wearing at the time of his arrest. He also said that most of the blood in the room belonged to Timothy Carter although blood belonging to Priscilla Carter was also found.

Carter was initially charged with operating without a license and, after being held for seven weeks on $200 cash-only bail, was convicted in the 6th Circuit Court, Franklin Division at a trial in early July. He was charged with the homicide on the day of his trial for operating after suspension.

Yesterday N.H. Senior Asst. Attorney General Jeff Strelzin questioned Hebert, who said that when Belmont Police Officer Patrick Riley responded to a call to the home made by a co-worker who was concerned for Priscilla's well-being, he found Priscilla and Timothy Carter and they were "obviously deceased".

Taking those in the courtroom through the steps, Hebert said the door from the breezeway was "ajar" and "unlocked" and there were no obvious signs of forced entry.

Herbert said Riley's report indicated he entered the home after knocking and identifying himself. He said all of the doors to various rooms were open except one. He said he looked in all the open doors and neither saw nor heard anything.

Hebert said when Riley opened a bedroom door he made the gruesome discovery. There was a considerable amount of blood in the bedroom including "splatter," said Hebert, but there was no other blood, signs of disturbance, or criminal activity in the house other than what was in the bedroom.

Hebert said the medical examiner reported the bodies were not "manipulated" very much and, when asked by Carter's defense lawyer Robin Wight-Davis, he said he was "fairly confident" Riley didn't see the stab wound in Priscilla Carter's face who, he said, was found face-down.

"There was massive trauma," he said.

He said he didn't know if anyone else at the house saw the apparent stab wound and said a different state police detective was the first to notice it. He said fire personnel were called but he didn't think they disturbed the bodies.

Hebert was also questioned about the medical examiner's report, the initial state of the bodies, and information about Carter's arrest. He testified about some witness statements and a surveillance tape that showed someone purported to be Carter at Cumberland Farms convenience Store on Court Street in Laconia just after midnight on May 24.

Hebert said the man in the surveillance was wearing a light colored cap that was very similar to the one Carter was wearing when he was arrested. Hebert said there were a few spots of on it that tested positive for human blood. He couldn't be sure if Carter was wearing the same clothes when he was stopped by police as the person who he said is Carter was wearing on the surveillance tape from the store. He bought, according to Hebert, cigarettes, gas and a map. He also said Carter appeared to have trouble with the gas pump.

Investigators interviewed a man who allegedly saw Carter at Cumberland Farms who knew him. Hebert said the man told him Carter said he had "stolen" his mother's car.

Yesterday's much anticipated probable cause hearing was attended by about 15 of Priscilla Carter's friends or family, who sat together in the last two rows of the court house. Many could be seen wiping away tears as Hebert revealed details of the slaying under Stelzin's direct examination.

A probable cause hearing is not a trial and the typical rules of evidence are not relevant, meaning hearsay or what another person told police is allowed.

Strelzin's objective, which he accomplished, was to present Judge Carroll with just enough information so that he could determine there was cause to justify Carter's arrest and the state could continue to hold him without bail.

Davis succeeded in getting a preliminary glimpse into some of the state's evidence before actual discovery, a few of their witnesses accounts, their alleged time line, and the location and condition of the house. She called no witnesses of her own.

The next step is for Strelzin to present his case to a Belknap County grand jury for possible indictment. The next grand jury is scheduled to sit in late August although it is not known if the case will be presented then.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 01:36

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Losers of 7 in a row, Muskrats season ends in Maine

LACONIA — The Muskrats season ended Saturday night in Sanford, Maine, where Laconia was beaten 4-2 in a play-in game to determine the fourth and final representative of the NECLB's Eastern Division playoffs. Laconia and the Mainers had ended the regular season with identical 21-23 records.

With a roster depleted by late-season injuries, the Muskrats lost their last seven games, enabling Sanford to get in the hunt.

Sanford advanced to a first-round playoff series with defending league champion Newport and the Mainers were taken out in two games. Newport starts a best of three series with Mystic on Wednesday to determine the Eastern Division champion.

Vermont has already advanced to the Western Division final and will play the winner of the Keene-Holyoke series that is tied at one game each.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 August 2013 03:39

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Resourceful Barnstead man's hydroponic systems popular with backyard growers

BARNSTEAD — The Comtois family first got into hydroponics in the summer of 2006, using a system designed for commercial growers which was effective but expensive.
Hydroponic growing, a method of growing vegetables using mineral rich solutions in water and without soil, now occupies five acres of their 93-acre Sticks and Stones Farm.
''The cost of the system we started with was equal to what it cost us to have it shipped here. We worked with it over the years, but we were always buying someone else's system. And our prices were too high as a result. So I decided to try building my own,'' says Guy Comtois.
He decided to make his own using off-the-shelf materials and developed a horizontal hydroponics system using four inch PVC pipe cut into four foot lengths that are mounted on stands which can hold 30, 60 or 120 plants.
''The PVC pipe is UV treated so that it can withstand the sun and we run a drip line through each of the pods that hold 10 plants each,'' says Comtois, who says that the drip line is controlled by a timer and periodically circulates the nutrient-rich water through the growing medium, coconut fiber from Sri Lanka.
''There are no weeds and we found that we could take sections of pipe to farmer's markets and let people pick their own lettuce,'' says Barbara Comtois, who added that lettuce, tomatoes, basil, onions and baby carrots all grow well in the system.
Guy says it took him about a year to perfect his home made system and that it wasn't until a customer who owned a summer home on a nearby lake was so impressed with it that he asked Comtois to build him one so he could take it back to his home in Massachusetts.
''I never planned on making them to sell,'' says Comtois, who since that time has started making the units and marketing them as a U-Gro system over the Internet. He's sold 100 of them so far, mostly to people in California and the Southwest.
''We've sold them in 15 states so far and I have a provisional patent which I'm hoping to finalize soon.'' says Comtois, who says he's already had offers to partner with investors who would have them built in China.
''I don't want to do that. It would defeat the purpose of why I built them in the first place, which is to encourage people to grow food locally and avoid all the shipping costs associated with agriculture,'' He's still working on new variations of the U-Gro and is now developing one now which is solar-powered.
He and his wife moved to Barnstead from Pelham in 2000, looking for a new life after seeing the town they had grown up in become overgrown with development.
''We went to a youth baseball game and realized that we didn't know any of the other parents there, that the town had changed so much we didn't recognize it anymore. That's when we decided we wanted something that was a little slower-paced,'' says Comtois.
He had worked remodeling retail stores in shopping malls all up and down the East Coast and realized shortly after they bought the land in Barnstead that something new was in order for him and his young family.
Both he and his wife were intrigued with the idea of raising their family on a self-sufficient farm and put their shoulders to the wheel to achieve it. Barbara home schools their two children and handles the business end of the farming operations.
Using his skills as a builder. Comtois built the family home and two green houses for their produce business, followed by a farm stand where they could sell their vegetables. Then he put up shelters and run-ins for their animals, which included rabbits, which provide lean high protein meat, as well as Belted Galloway cattle, a sturdy breed which can handle New Hampshire winters.
There are also chickens, who live in a portable roost which goes from one pasture to another so that they can live off the land while eating the worms and bugs that feed in the nutrient-rich soil left by the livestock. There's also a pond filled with ducks, which will supply food at local restaurants.
Two Belgian draft horses are used for plowing and pulling the hay wagon and also provide hay rides in the fall and sleigh rides in the winter for visitors to the farm.
The vegetables grown at their greenhouses include basil, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, collards, cucumbers, eggplant, head lettuce, kale, leeks, radishes, spinach, summer squash, tomatoes, watermelons and winter squash.
The farm grow raspberries, garlic, and asparagus using conventional methods and is also experimenting with fruit trees.
Comtois is also a skilled rock cutter who has developed rock sculptures which can be seen at many resorts and private homes in New England.
He says that he sees a bright future for small farmers in New Hampshire, especially with the eat local mantra which has developed in recent years.

A two-term member of the New Hampshire House, Comtois serves on the House Environmental and Agriculture committee, the Republican says he works on behalf of legislation which will help small farmers.

Barbara and Guy Comtois of Sticks and Stones Farm in Barnstead with a solar-powered hydroponic growing system that he has developed. (Roger Amsden for The Laconia Daily Sun)


Last Updated on Tuesday, 06 August 2013 03:24

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