LACONIA — Like the first, the second of four sessions to which the City Council has invited property owners to discuss changes to the zoning at The Weirs passed again this week without anyone offering their views either in person or writing.
City Manager Scott Myers said that he had written to more than two dozen people who own property at The Weirs, explaining that the council is reviewing the permitted uses in the Commercial Resort district, particular along the US Route 3 and NH Route 11B corridor from White Oaks Road to the Meredith town line. He said that a few indicated they would attend the council meetings while others said they would provide written submissions, but so far no one has been seen or heard from.
"They're all in Florida," said Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6).
Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Engler with a map of the city and inventory of properties sought to place the issue in perspective. He noted that the commercial resort district encompasses most of The Weirs, beginning on Lake Street. extending northward along Weirs Boulevard, including the center of The Weirs and running either side of US Route 3 to the Meredith town line. It also includes property along both sides of Route 11B, including the former Surf Coaster property at the junction with White Oaks Road.
Engler said that Planning Director Shanna Saunders compiled an inventory of 32 large lots in the city that were either vacant or underdeveloped. Altogether, these lots represent 465 acres, of which 28 lots covering 446 acres, or 96 percent of the total acreage, are in the commercial resort district, most along the US Route 3/NH Roue 11B corridor.
Elsewhere, land suited for commercial development is scarce. Laconia, with 20.1 square miles of land, is one of the smallest cities in the state. Only Somersworth, with 9.8 square miles, and Portsmouth, with 15.7 square miles, are smaller.
Moreover, there are six state forests — Hamel, Huston-Morgan, Opechee Bay, Paugus, Prescott, Swain — covering 749 acres in the northern reaches of the city. Altogether these properties, together with Ahern State Park and the former Laconia State School property, account for nearly 10 percent of the land area of the city. Moreover, much of the remaining land in the northern part of the city on either side of Meredith Center Road and Parade Road lies in residential zones and is without municipal utilities.
The mayor noted that residential property represents 82.6 percent of the total assessed valuation, the largest share among the 13 cities in the state. Conversely, the value of commercial property and buildings, including utilities, accounts for 17.4 percent of the total assessed valuation, the smallest share of any city.
"Is it wise to allow residential development along the corridor?" Engler asked, referring to stretch along US Route 3 and NH Route 11B at The Weirs. "Theoretically, every one of these lots could become a trailer park," he continued. He said that the much of the recent development at The Weirs has been residential and warned if the trend persists "all that land could gone and we'd have no land for commercial development at all."
Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), who serves as the council's liaison to the Panning Board, suggested referring the issue to the Zoning Task Force. "I think we need some more input," he said, encouraging the council "to be a little more expansive in how we're going about this."
However, Engler said that any recommendations the council offers should be incorporated in the Master Plan. He said that the council would ultimately submit its recommendations to the Planning Board, which in turn would refer them to the Zoning Task Force. He said that the council should frame its recommendations and forward them to the Planning Board to ensure they receive thorough consideration.
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