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Change of use from church to pub gains approval from planning board

LACONIA — A plan to convert the former Evangelical Baptist Church at Veterans Square into a pub and restaurant took a step forward Tuesday night when the Planning Board granted conditional approval of a request from David and Maureen Kennedy of Hampton for a change of use of the building from a place of worship to an eating and drinking establishment.
Kennedy, who is close to finalizing the purchase of the building, is working on plans which will see a dining room established on the upper level of the building and a cafe which will serve as a hub for small ''faux shops'' selling baked goods and Irish-themed articles on the lower level.
The restaurant will be the Kennedy's second, both housed in churches. The Holy Grail Restaurant and Pub in what what was St. Joseph's Church on Main Street in Epping has twice been chosen as the state's finest Irish pub by New Hampshire Magazine.
He plans to add a second story to a triangular addition at the rear of the church building for the kitchen, offices, utilities and storage.
Because the building occupies the entire lot, he is faced with reaching agreement with abutting property owners on access issues such as a walkway from the city parking lot at the rear of the property and perhaps a shared dumpster.
Members of the Planning Board were sympathetic to the problems faced by Kennedy, who told the board that he has not yet reached any formalized agreement with his neighbors and that the site plan he is developing will be influenced by the agreements he reaches.
At least two abutters, the Laconia Congregational Church and Kevin Campbell, said they were willing to work with him.
Linda Tunnicliffe and John Walker of the church said that the church is constructing a brick walkway as part of its Community Way Project which will link the church and its parish house with a second floor covered elevator and bridge. The parish house is located next to the former Evangelical Baptist Church and extending the walkway in that direction is seen as a way of helping provide access to the new restaurant from the municipal parking lot used by the Downtown Farmers Market on Thursday nights.
''It would be the right solution for everyone,'' said Tunicliffe as she showed drawings of what the completed project will look like and said that the new restaurant would be ''a beautiful addition to downtown.''
Kennedy said that he was trying to work out an agreement with other restaurants in the area which might involve a shared dumpster.
He has also agreed to pay half of the cost, $35,000, of bringing a new 10-inch water line to the lot which will allow him to install a sprinkler system in the building and the City Council recently agreed to pay half of the cost, up to $35,000 using funds from the Downtown TIFF District account, for the water line.
The planning board has also agreed to waive the development impact fee of $6,900 for the restaurant due to the capital outlay it is making for the water line project.
Keith Hall of Kramer and Hall Goldsmiths, which is located across the square at the Laconia Railroad Station, said that he is concerned that the private parking spaces next to his business will end up being used by customers of the new restaurant and hoped that signs will be put up to indicate that they are not public parking spaces. He also said that he believes a rear entryway into the new restaurant would be desirable.
Planning Board Chairman Warren Hutchins said that the completed site plan will have a number of conditions to deal with, including parking and walking improvements, as well as lighting and compatibility of the architecture of the second floor addition with existing architecture in the downtown area and a possible entryway at the rear of the building.
John Moriarty of the Main Street Initiative reminded Planning Board members that the 34-lot municipal parking lot which will be used for parking and the dumpsters was created by a special assessment on downtown businesses in 1985 and that it should be borne in mind that it was intended to serve all of the surrounding businesses.
With that said, Moriarty said to Kennedy ''we really welcome you to the city and want this project to be successful.''
City Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that "the project has been fast tracked by the city and that Kennedy hopes to have the business up and running by next summer.

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 November 2013 04:32

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County officials will take budget case directly to towns

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners, citing ''a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding'' about the Belknap County budget, are preparing to go directly to local boards of selectmen and budget committees to explain the $27 million spending plan they are working to finalize over the next few weeks.
''We should be going out into the towns to tell them that spending levels are unchanged since 2008 despite increases in areas like health insurance and fuel oil. This is something people should get an understanding of,'' said Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) when the commissioners met Wednesday morning.
The commission is bracing for another contentious budget setting process with the Belknap County Convention, the 18-member group of legislators from the county which recently voted to go to court in a year-long battle with the commissioners over line item budget authority.
Last year the battle began at the organizational meeting of the convention at which there was a failed attempt to strip all funds for employee pay raises from the proposed budget, which was followed by a closed-door meeting of the Republican majority of the convention which developed a strategy for cutting the proposed budget through asserting control over line items, a move which was resisted by the commissioners, who ultimately transferred funds within departments to restore money to line items, including contracted benefits, which had been cut by the convention.
A budget presentation made by the commission last year included a chart showing that since 2009 the county has eliminated 37 full-time positions, going from 208 in 2009 to 171 in 2013, while increasing the number of part-time positions from 26 to 46.
The 2013 budget proposed expenditures of $26.8 million, which were not only less than the three previous budgets but also $2.9 million, or 9.9 percent, less than in 2008 and $2.2 million, or 7.6 percent, less than in 2009. However, the commission recommended augmenting revenues from sources other than property taxes by $2,100,000 compared to $3,750,000 the year before, which increased the amount to be raised by property taxes 8.9 percent. The convention reduced spending and adjusted revenues, trimming the tax commitment to $13.8 million, 1.1-percent less than the $14 million raised in 2012.
This year commissioners have developed a preliminary budget which will increase appropriations 2.4 percent to $27,013,237 and the amount to be raised by taxes 7.2-percent — to $14,887,599.
They will present their proposed budget to the convention next month, at which time a public hearing will be held, and plan to make their case at that hearing.
''Since the dialogue is more difficult lately, we'll have to have make the case in our presentation,'' said County Administrator Debra Shackett.
Philpot said ''we've had tremendous cutbacks in revenue across the board'' and pointed out that since 2008 revenues, exclusive of fund balance, have declined from $13.4 million to $10.1 million, almost 25 percent. Meanwhile, the tax commitment has risen from $14.3 million to a projected $14.9 million, an increase of 4.3 percent. In 2008, $2 million of fund balance was added to revenues and the commission recommends applying an equal amount in 2014.
''The state is taking a larger chunk of the money that was going to the counties.'' said Philpot, who doubted that a public information session on the budget solely for local officials would draw a large enough audience to have any impact on the budget discussion.
''We'll have to go the selectmen. And that will mean a lot of meetings,'' said Philpot.

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 November 2013 01:12

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Child's mother on stand at 2nd day of Eric Grant trial

LACONIA — Eric Grant's attorney, Emily McLaughlin, continued yesterday to try to discredit the 17-year-old girl who said she was sexually assaulted at the band leader's home during a New Year's Eve party that happened when she was 10.

After another two hours of cross-examination of the alleged victim, the girl's mother was called to the stand by Asst. Belknap County Prosecutor Carley Ahern, who tried to elicit testimony from regarding any change in the girl's demeanor after the 2006 New Years Eve party and if the girl's relationship with her uncle (Grant) changed.

The state's case against Grant, who is a well-known local country music performer with some national recognition, is that he digitally assaulted the girl while the two were sitting next to each on a couch at the party. The girl never disclosed the assault until she told her therapist about it during a session in April of 2012.

According to her mother, the girl had told her that Grant touched the top of her butt and that it made her uncomfortable.

With no physical evidence except the child's testimony and a few pictures and a video of portions of the evening, McLaughlin needs to poke enough holes in the girl's story to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the nine men and three women who are the jurors that her client raped her with his finger.

Grant has said that he gave the girl a "wedgie" when she passed gas in his face. He has also said the issue was discussed about seven months later when he and his family went to California to visit the girl's family.

The girl's mother testified yesterday that until her daughter's therapist told her about the allegation in April of 2012, she thought that all that had happened was that Grant had touched the top of her butt and he had told the family that he "probably" gave the girl a wedgie.

The girl's mother said the only thing out of the ordinary she remembered about the night of the party was a loud verbal argument between Grant and his wife (her sister). She said she had been drinking but her husband had not.

She testified yesterday that after the argument she noticed her daughter was very upset but she had attributed her discomfort to the fight. She also said that she hadn't spent a lot of time with her daughter that night because she was visiting with her mother (the girl's grandmother) who she said she didn't get to see that often.

She said that until that time, Eric Grant was her daughter's favorite uncle. "Oh she loved him. He was her favorite."

She said that after that night, the girl didn't want to be around her uncle any more.

With the therapist's note excluded from the trial except for impeaching a witness, McLaughlin grilled the mother about Grant's California visit seven months later, a family trip to Jamaica in 2011, and her daughter's visits to the therapist.

Under direct questioning, the mother had testified that her daughter didn't not want to be with Grant, that she "made her" go on the family trip to Jamaica, and that her daughter somewhat stayed away from him during the times the family was together after the 2006 alleged assault.

The mother didn't remember all the details and dates but testified that when she learned about the alleged assault in 2012, mother and daughter were not getting along very well. She said she was concerned primarily about her daughter's marijuana use but was also concerned about her unusually poor grades.

She described her daughter as a good student who got "A"s and "B"s and the occasional "C." She also said that after the therapy, the disclosure, and Grant's divorce from her sister, that mother and daughter got along fine again and are still fine today.

Under cross-examination McLaughlin pressed the alleged victim's mother about what she remembered from that night and the mother said she didn't remember any farting incidents or wedgie incidents.

She also said her daughter slept with her and her husband at her sister's house that night, contradicting the girl's recollection that she stayed upstairs at Grant's in the same bedroom as her grandmother. The family flew back to California on New Year's Day.

When McLaughlin asked if she remembered the pink pajamas the girl remembers wearing, the mother said she did, recalling she thinks she bought them in New Hampshire.

The mother also said she did her daughter's laundry and would have remembered if there was blood on the bottoms or if there was any bloody underwear. She didn't remember packing the clothes the day they flew home.

The girl has testified that she was bleeding from the alleged penetration and there was blood streaks on her pajamas. She also testified that she saw blood when she went to urinate.

The trial continues Thursday morning.

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 November 2013 01:10

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Downtown parking debate raises temps at City Hall

LACONIA — "I don't even want to call it an issue, said Mayor Mike Seymour by way of introducing another discussion of downtown parking when the City Council met Monday evening,"because I think the only issue we have is a lot of empty spaces and we'd like to fill more of them."

As it turned out, the mayor misjudged the temper not only of the council but also of John Moriarty, president of the Main Street Initiative, an organization of downtown building and business owners. What Seymour preferred to call "a concern" sparked exchanges first between Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) and Chris Santaniello, executive director of Lakes Region Community Services, and then between Councilors Henry Lipman (Ward 3 ) and Bob Hamel (Ward 5) and Moriarty.

Afterwards the council directed a Parking Committee, formed in 2012, to reconvene and prepare a report and recommendations to the council. At Moriarty's suggestion the committee, which consists of City Manager Scott Myers, Planning Director Shanna Saunders, Baer, Santaniello, Andy Patterson of the Laconia Clinic, Robert Sawyer of Sawyer's Jewelry and Moriarty, be expanded. Moriarty said he would like for residential, retail, entertainment, professional, hospitality and service interests to be represented.

In January, the council agreed to designate 34 of the 38 vertical parking spaces on the east side of New Salem Street for all-day parking, leaving four spaces immediately behind the historic railroad station restricted to two-hour parking for patrons of the businesses housed in the building. The 38 spaces had been evenly divided between two-hour and all-day parking. In reallocating the spaces the council was responding to business owners, who found that all-day parking for their employees had become scarce after Lakes Region Community Services (LRCS) occupied the old Federal Building on North Main Street.
At the same time, the council prohibited on-street parking on Harvard Street between North Main Street and Dartmouth Street, where congestion posed risks to motorists leaving the Laconia Clinic lot by the Harvard Street exit.
Both changes were introduced for a trial period set to expire with the lifting of the winter parking parking ban, which passed unnoticed. Last month, when City Manager Scott Myers recommended both changes remain permanent, the council deferred its decision until this week.
Santaniello endorsed the arrangement, explaining that her agency provided as much on-site parking as the Planning Board permitted and appreciated the spaces on New Salem Street for employees. "I don't think us parking there impedes any downtown business," she said, and added that she found it "frustrating when there is an issue about us using those spaces they were empty most of the time."
However, Baer responded that "if there are so many empty spaces, you should have no objection to two-hour parking." She reminded Santaniello that when the LRCS acquired the Federal Building there was sufficient parking on-site for its employees. Santaniello explained that in renovating the building many of those spaces were lost in order to comply building and fire codes, but that recently 10 spaces had been added.
Noting that a restaurant would be opening on Veterans Square and efforts are underway to expand business downtown, Baer said that without sufficient parking "everything's for naught." Santanuiello stressed that she also wants downtown to thrive and said the agency brought employees, clients and visitors to the city. "You have your opinion and I have my opinion," she told Baer, "and we may not agree."
"I wish, I really wish I could address this with humor, with some other tool in the arsenal," Moriarty began ominously. "We're all trying to raise a tide that will lift all boats. You've got to know that. You've got to know that," he continued, his tone sharpening and voice rising, "we don't commit our resources because we feel like doing it. We do it so the community succeeds. '
"Excuse me, John," Lipman interrupted. Would you tone down your tone a bit. I feel like I'm being yelled at."
"I really wish I could use humor," Moriarty replied. "I'm obviously quite upset about this."
"You don't need to use humor. Just talk in a level tone," Lipman said.
Saying that "our concern is not really two-hour parking, it's what's coming next," Moriarty urged the council not to legislate "one parking space at a time."
"I've listened to you talk for 10 minutes," said Hamel, "and I have no clue what you're talking about — no clue. I don't know what you're looking for."
At this point Seymour intervened, offering to interpret what he called the "initial diatribe." He said that Moriarty appeared to be asking for a comprehensive parking plan for downtown in place of a piecemeal approach.
"Yes!" said Moriarty, who added that the plan should be based on data profiling the number of parking spaces, who uses them and for how long and so forth.
Hamel said that the councilors relied on the property and business owners downtown to provide that information and urged them to present a plan rather than engage in a perpetual back and forth with the council.
It was Baer who, reading through the minutes of past discussions of the parking question, proposed directing the Parking Committee to prepare a plan.

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 November 2013 01:04

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