BELMONT — An effort to make the planning process easier for those who come before the town's Planning Board seems to be working.
Responding to selectmen's concerns that many applicants do not understand what is expected of them, the town has created a Application Review Committee. The committee was set up under the guidance of Building Inspector Steve Paquin.
Like similar review committees in nearby communities, Belmont's ARC meets monthly, and anyone considering a project that has to go before the Planning Board or the Zoning Board of Adjustments has an opportunity to discuss their idea with department heads before the formal application.
Town Planner Candace Daigle said nobody from the Planning Board attends the ARC meetings, so a board's decisions aren't influenced by discussions with the committee. The meetings are open to the public and are typically held during the daytime when department heads are all available.
Daigle said the ARC gives applicants some background as to what information must be included in an application to the Planning Board as well as some very valuable feedback from department heads who must review applications for compliance issues.
She said there is no charge to come before the committee.
One of the projects that was discussed in a recent ARC meeting was Ramsey Al-Shawafi's plans to renovate the former Belmont Village Store.
Initially Al-Shawafi ran into obstacles with the planning process and in February he came to selectmen to vent his frustration.
As well as removing an ell behind the store and then re-siding the outside of the building, Al-Shawafi also wanted to put three apartments in the upper two floors — one for himself, one for an employee, and one for what he hoped would be a long-term tenant.
He told selectmen that he was concerned because he was told he couldn't do what he wanted to do because of a parking shortage. He was also upset because he didn't want to spend $15,000 designing a site plan and a boundary-line survey just to be rejected by the Zoning Board of Adjustments.
"What (the town employees) don't understand," said Selectman Jon Pike, who as a businessman said he empathizes with Al-Shawafi, "is that he needs to spend $10,000 to $20,000 just to get a plan."
"If he does this survey can we make this happen?" Pike asked, noting that the town had just spent a great deal of money and effort making the village district look good and he didn't want the town to get in the way of a businessman who was trying to improve one of its properties.
Selectman Ruth Mooney said in her opinion the town should be working with people who are willing to improve their properties.
Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin told the board that Al-Shawafi was scheduled for a meeting with the ARC and that his concerns would be addressed.
Minutes from March 6 ARC meeting indicate that the project is subject to state building and fire codes with the biggest obstacle being three apartments as opposed to two because while two apartments are regulated by state residential code, three or more apartments are regulated under the commercial multi-family code that adds multiple requirements.
Parking for three rental units was a concern for the Police Department.
Minutes said Al-Shawafi was told that the department heads and the Planning Department would continue to work with him to help him bring his project to fruition. He asked if he could make two apartments upstairs and use the second and third floors for each apartment, and was told he could.
At Tuesday night's selectman's meeting, Selectman Ron Cormier said he attended a recent ARC meeting and liked what he saw.
Daigle said Al-Shawafi was moving forward on his project with the help of the town of Belmont. She said he is doing some internal improvements now for which he doesn't need any permits.
Last Updated on Friday, 21 March 2014 12:22
CORRECTION — The date for the first meeting of the Joint Building Committee that will oversee the renovation of the high school is March 24 at 3 p.m. School Board members serving on the JBC are from the Facilities Committee. The date of the meeting and the name of the subcommittee were incorrectly stated in an article that ran on March 19.
Last Updated on Friday, 21 March 2014 12:04
LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners have agreed to provide legal counsel to County Convention Chairwoman state Rep. Colette Worsman in the lawsuit filed against her by the five Democratic members of the Belknap County Convention who have asked Belknap County Superior Court to overturn a 7-7 tie vote that blocked adoption of the 2014 county budget recommended by the commission on Feb. 18.
But at a meeting yesterday afternoon the commissioners, maintaining that the county's legal budget is virtually exhausted, made the appropriation contingent on the County Convention approving a supplemental appropriation of $10,000.
The vote was taken when the convention met in the midst of a heavy snowstorm on Feb 18. Only 13 of the 18 members were present when the meeting was convened a half-hour past the scheduled hour of 5 p.m. In addition to those who showed up for the meeting, Worsman (R-Meredith), arranged for Rep. Guy Comtois (R-Barnstead), who was tending to a failing roof, to participate by telephone.
The suit, naming Worsman and Cormier, the clerk of the convention, alleges that Worsman violated the provisions of the Right-to-Know Law bearing on members participating by telephone. The Democrats note that the convention was not required to allow one or more members to participate by "electronic means" and claim the decision properly rested with the convention, not the chair. Moreover, they charge that no notice was given to the convention that Comtois would be permitted to participate by telephone nor was the reason he could not be physically present recorded in the minutes as the statute requires. Finally, contrary to the law, Comtois failed to identify anyone else present at the location from which he was participating.
Consequently, the Democrats claim that since "Rep. Comtois' vote was unlawful and in violation of RSA 91-A:2" the vote should be overturned.
When the convention met on March 4 Worsman sought to amend the minutes of meeting of Feb. 18 to show that before the meeting was convened she and other members referred to the Right-to-Know law and discussed the procedure for allowing Comtois to participate by telephone. But that motion failed 5-4 with four abstentions.
County Administrator Debra Shackett said yesterday that she had conferred with County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen, who said that the legal action brought by the five Democrats as individuals representing themselves qualifies as an action against the county and that legal fees should be paid by the county.
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2014 08:33
LACONIA — The School Board will present a maximum 2014-5015 budget request of $36,293,552 to the City Council on March 24 at 6 p.m.
The amount to be raised by taxes local taxes will be $17,669,159, which is up $672,488 while the amount to be raised by the statewide property tax is projected to be $4,608,269, which is down $118,146, for a net increase in local taxes of $554,340.
School Business Administrator Ed Emond said $36.3 million was calculated for tax cap purposes based on a Consumer Price Index-Urban or inflation rate of 1.5 and $19 million of net property value increases.
Traditionally, the school district figures its own budget by multiplying the dollar amount of the captured value of property taxes — the $19 million — by the 2013 school tax rate of of $12.06 per $1,000 evaluation. The city portion of that is $9.40, and the statewide property tax portion is $2.66.
Emond explained that the way the final school budget is determined is by calculating the maximum amount allowed under the tax cap, presenting that number to the city, and waiting for their acceptance of the total amount of money allocated to the school.
At that point, the School Board takes its priorities and "backs in" to the line-by-line budget that will be finalized by the School Board sometime in May or June. The city has until July to vote on a final budget that will include the school budget.
In other business, Superintendent Terri Forsten said the last day of school will be June 13 as was presented on the school calender in the fall of 2013.
Forsten said the school has used five snow days so far this year. But she said the number of hours the students have been in school satisfies state requirements.
"We can't take too many more (snow days) before we reach the (point where the school will have to add days to the calendar), she said with fingers crossed. "We will surpass (the number of hours) with 175 days."
High School graduation is scheduled for June 7, a Saturday, and the Laconia Academy graduation is scheduled for the Friday night before the high school graduation.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 March 2014 01:22
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