Economic Development Council looks to invest in downtown real estate

LACONIA — The Belknap Economic Development Council is considering targeting distressed downtown buildings and using its own money — coupled with that of other public and private investors – to purchase, rehabilitate, and resell them as a way of spurring development in the downtown area.

The new project was announced yesterday morning at a breakfast meeting at the Belknap Mill hosted by the organization's board of directors for community stakeholders.

The BEDC is using the services of Jack Dugan — the longtime chair of the Monadnock Economic Development Council — who used a similar approach in downtown Keene that led to its revitalization.

"We want to take distressed properties and turn them into more productive properties," said Henry Lipman who is the chair of the BEDC.

According to Vice Chair Randy Eifert, the BEDC has seen a drop off in the number of small businesses coming to it for short-term business loans.

Traditionally, the BEDC served as a sub-prime lender — meaning it provided loans, using USDA Rural Development money, to businesses who did not immediately qualify for traditional lower interest bank loans.

When the then BCEDC was founded in the 1980s, Lipman explained that many banks had failed in the wake of the savings and loan crisis and money for capital projects from traditional banks had dried up.

Fast forward to today and banks are awash in money and most business people with a viable plan can qualify for corporate loans at more favorable rate than that offered by the BEDC.

Eifert said the BEDC has about $800,000 in capital and would consider "(holding) its nose and overpaying to get a hold of the right piece of property."

Using the Keene model, ideally the building would be rehabilitated using BEDC money that could be used to attract additional community development money and private investment, put to a productive purpose, and resold on the private market with the proceeds going to purchase yet another distressed building.

Should a building be in the downtown TIF or Tax Increment Financing District, the increase in taxable value would be used of offset any infrastructure costs needed for the project.
The newest project of the BECD would be augmented by the three already stated goals of the — to retain and attract young talent to the Lakes Region, to support creative entrepreneurs, and to enhance workforce development programming.

Domestic violence issue center stage at candidate forum in Laconia

LACONIA — Candidates for county and state political offices offered a variety of ideas for dealing with domestic violence at a candidates breakfast forum Friday morning which was hosted by the Belknap County Family Violence Prevention Council and held at the Lakes Region Community Services headquarters building.
Most agreed that domestic violence is a learned behavior which is brought about by a variety of causes, ranging from alcohol and drug abuse to poverty and mental illness, but independent candidate Peter Bolster of Alton, who has been a pastor for 50 years, said that he views it as a spiritual problem, ''welling up within all of us'' and said it is mirrored within our politics even at the local level.
''Young people see it from us, in our lack of respect for other points of view and our not working together,'' said Bolster, a former selectman and state representative, who said that ''violence and hate are inbred. We're not all nice people inside. Envy and rage are there just waiting to burst into flames.''
He urged those in politics to tone down their rhetoric and find ways of working together which create an environment of acceptance of other points of view.
Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that he has witnessed many incidents of domestic violence which ''make no sense whatsoever,'' many of them involving substance abuse and alcohol abuse and observed that it is not just those living in poverty who are engaged in such violence. ''It's across all socioeconomic lines.'' said Wiggin.
He said that law enforcement has become pretty good in reacting to domestic violence incidents but more work needs to be done on the pro-active, prevention side. ''We can't arrest our way out of this problem.''
Wiggin likened the problem to that of DWI, noting that DWI was once more or less tolerated by society until an awareness and education campaign which started in the 1970s helped bring abut tougher enforcement and a reduction in fatalities.
Both Wiggin and Dave Pollak (D-Laconia), a candidate for the Belknap County Commission, touched on professional football's problems with domestic violence and the suspension handed out to Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens after a video of him knocking his fiancee unconscious in a hotel elevator surfaced. Pollak said that once the video was widely played all kinds of stories about abuse by NFL players ''came out of the woodwork.'' He said that making domestic violence more of a visceral experience like the video did made people take a closer look at something they weren't generally not aware of.
Wiggin said that after the NFL initially fumbled its response to the Ray Rice incident it has produced a hard-hitting awareness campaign featuring TV ads which characterize domestic violence as ''unacceptable'' and which he thinks will prove to be very effective.
County Attorney Melissa Guldbransden said that she thinks that education and programming for inmates at the Belknap County Corrections facility are one area the county can concentrate on and State Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) urged a community-based collaborative approach which involved mental health and substance abuse programs which utilize community resources as well as those of the county.
Pollak said the county needs a modern correctional facility with the kind of programs which will help reduce recidivism and that mental health courts and drug courts are needed to provide alternatives to incarceration along with a strong restorative justice program. ''We have to make a decision on whether we're willing to provide a minimum of the services needed to meet our responsibilities,'' said Pollak.
adding ''jails do not solve problems.''
Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), who is running against Pollak for a seat on the county commission, said that he owns convenience stores at which he employs young women who have had children out of wedlock and knows about their struggles with domestic violence. He said that it is important that people speak out about violence, saying ''if you see something, say something.''
Rep. Bob Luther (R-Laconia) said that he has seen a whole generation of people develop who seem to have no hope and it is important that those struggling in low-paying jobs be provided with support for the idea that they can have a brighter future.
Dorothy Piquado (D-Gilford), a candidate for the House of Representatives, observed that violent video games are popular ''because they're exciting'' and said that was a part of the broader culture which must be taken into account. A volunteer at the county Department of Corrections, she said that anger management classes are important and that it was important to teach people ''not to be victims or live as victims.''
Tom Dawson (D-Laconia), another candidate for the House of Representatives, said a better effort to educate people about resources available to victims of domestic violence is needed and observed that the growing imbalance of wealth in the country is perpetuating the conditions which lead to violence.
Rep. Dennis Fields (R-Sanbornton) said that it was important to improve the county jail so that it can provide programs to reduce violence.
Bolster said that government should find a way to pull together the groups involved in combating domestic violence and poverty and that better coordination between towns in the county could lead to a more efficient use of resources, not only when it comes to welfare, but also on police, fire and highway departments.


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Peter Bolster, an independent candidate for the state legislature from Alton, speaks at a candidates breakfast forum hosted by the Belknap County Family Violence Protection Council Friday morning in Laconia. State Representative Bob Luther (R-Laconia), right, follows the discussion. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

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State Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), speaks at a candidates breakfast forum hosted by the Belknap County Family Violence Protection Council Friday morning in Laconia. Following the discussion are Belknap County Sheriff Craig Wiggin , right, and Dorothy Piquado, center, (D-Gilford), a candidate for the state legislature. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Kennett rallies with 2 late TDs to beat Sachems

NORTH CONWAY — Kennett scored two touchdowns in the final 3 minutes Friday night to earn a key 30-20 win over the Laconia Sachems. The Eagles kept their season record perfect and stand alone atop the NHIAA Division II - North Conference standings at 7-0/ Laconia drops to 4-3.

Kennett led 16-7 at half-time but the visitors scored twice in the third period to take the lead. Quarterback Matt Swormstedt ran 12 yards for one of the Laconia scores.

The Sachems finish the regular season schedule at home next Friday night against Kearsarge. The seniors will be honored at Bank of New Hampshire Stadium before the game. Kearsarge was 3-3 heading into last night matchup against Lebanon. A Kearsarge win over Lebanon would help keep Laconia's playoff hopes alive.

Ordinance demanding half-acre per dwelling unit standing in way of Belmont renovation

BELMONT — The Zoning Board of Adjustment voted Wednesday to table for 60 days a request for a variance for the owner of the Belmont Village Store to add two apartments to the upper floors.

Ramsey Al-Shawafi had proposed adding two apartments to the upstairs portion of the three-story building — one for his own use and one for the possible use of his employee.

He needs a variance from the density portion of the town's zoning ordinances that say each dwelling must have .5 (one-half) of an acre. Ramsey's lot, most of which is taken up by his building, sits on .20 acres.

Should the ZBA grant Al-Shawafi his variance, he would still have to file and get approved a site plan with the Planning Board because the plan calls for the demolition of the "ell" portion of the building and the addition of parking in the "ell" area.

According to the minutes of the Application Review Committee held in March of 2014, Belmont department heads are generally very supportive of the project and that Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin has given Al-Shawafi some information about some tax relief that can be related to his project.

The uphill battle for Al-Shawafi remains the variance zoning ordinance itself.

At the ARC meeting, Town Planner Candace Daigle "strongly recommended" that Al-Shawafi get assistance in developing a legal argument for the variance.

"Being able to obtain a variance is truly the single most important hurdle for the project," reads the minutes.

Right now, the second and third floors of the store are vacant. Zoning Board Chair Peter Harris said yesterday that it appears that at some point in time, there was living quarters upstairs but that is not the case now.

In his application for a variance, Al-Shawafi addressed the five criteria for requesting a variance.

He said it would not be contrary to the public interest because the most of the work is to be done inside the building and he will improve it with new windows and siding.

The spirit of the zoning ordinance is observed because he is tearing down a portion of the building to provide parking for his proposed apartments. Since he would be living in one of the apartment, he said the need for addition parking for a second apartment would be minimal.

He said substantial justice will be done because the remodeling of the building will make the village area look better.

The value of the surrounding properties would not be diminished because of the clean new look of the building and it's likely surrounding property values could increase.

The hardship standard has two prongs both of which are specific to the property itself and the relationship of the ordinance. Proving a hardship is often the biggest hurdle an applicant has to face.

In this case, the minimum of .5 acres of land per dwelling is to limit residential growth within that district.

Al-Shawafi's response to this portion was to say that "finishing the apartment will no effect the people down town in (a) negative way. It will be better because I am planning to live (there.)"

The second prong is the reasonableness of the use to which Al-Shawafi said he is only using the building as it was used in the past.

"This time I am trying to make it safer and better by following all the rules" he wrote.