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Consensus that castle itself cannot be saved?

GILFORD — For the second time a standing room only crowd of people joined the selectmen for a discussion about the future of Kimball Castle and the 20 acres of property upon which it sits.

The Wednesday night gathering learned two new things: that an individual appraisal of the 115-year-old castle is $375,000 and that the selectmen have been working in non-public sessions with their lawyers and the Kimball Castle LLC. owner and his lawyers to come up with a way to save some artifacts and secure the property so that it doesn't pose a danger to the general public.

"As stewards we believe it is not in the town's best interests to own the property," said Selectman's Chair John O'Brien. He added that of the 80 or so letters the town has received from residents, very few have expressed a desire to use tax money on the building.

Kimball Wildlife Forest Committee Chair Sandra McGonagle said her committee's recommendation is to comply with the building inspector and either fence in the castle or tear it down, to try a purchase the land using local fund-raising and any available state and federal grants, and to preserve an easement that would allow access to the trails from the west side of the property.

"We've heard your concern about safety and vandalizing," she said to the board. "We conclude with the recommendations of the building inspector."

Selectmen said it is the owner's desire to sell the 20 acre-property as a single family residence but some in the audience, including Robert Heinrich, had objections.

He said the current owner was part of a consortium of people who worked out a "sweetheart" deal with the town in 1991 and that he was approached about joining in the early 1990s. 

When the plan to build a restaurant collapsed for lack of financing, he said the owner originally was trying to sell the castle for $2.895 million but has allowed the castle to fall into such disrepair that the building itself is virtually worthless.

Many murmured in agreement when Heinrich said the owner has a responsibility to the town to maintain it. He also said the provisions of Charlotte Kimball's will specifically said she didn't want the property used for a residence but for a wildlife preserve.

Others said they didn't support using state LCHIP (Land and Community Heritage Investment Program) money for the castle because it is so hard to get and there are better uses for it even in Gilford.

Jim Sherman said the castle isn't historic. "It's 100 years old and my neighbor calls his home a castle," he said.

Conservation Commission alternate member John Goodhue said he knows there is someone working with the owner to purchase it but the owner needs the town's help to "put the deal together."

While Goodhue didn't say how he knows this, O'Brien had said earlier there have been some behind the scenes negotiations with selectmen to facilitate some kind of solution.

Just about the only thing everyone agreed on was the castle itself was beyond repair and posed a potential liability to the town.

One man pointed out that the liability to the town grows daily because the selectmen keep extending their order to the owner to either tear it down or build a fence.

As it stands right now, the owner has until April 30 to either tear it down or build a fence around the castle.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 01:11

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New market rate apartments to be built in Laconia for first time in decades

LACONIA — In the 40 years since Lakeshore Estates was built in 1974 there has been no major investment in expanding the inventory of rental housing units in the city. But, in the past year Dick Anagnost of Manchester announced plans to construct 96 apartments of Mile Hill Road in the South End and Chinburg Builders intends to add 37 rental units to the Beacon Street West complex. Meanwhile, last month a Florida investor purchased Lakeshore Estates for $5 million.

"The economics of the marketplace for units renting at market rates has changed for the first time in years," said Russ Thibeault of Applied Economic Research.

Although population growth has stalled, a number of demographic and economic factors have combined to boost demand for rental housing. "It is not growth but change that is driving demand," explained Dan Smith of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, "and it's happening across the state."

Despite the sharp fall in property values during the recession, home ownership remained beyond the means of many young singles and couples. Some were burdened with student loan debt, which in New Hampshire averages $32,900, the highest level in the country. They may also have lacked secure employment or earned modest wages. Some balked at home ownership as a risky investment. At the same time, lenders tightened their standards and down payments increased.

At the other end of the spectrum, as the baby boom generation begins to retire they are realizing the equity accrued in their homes and downsizing their living arrangements. Moreover, a share of these retirees never owned a home.

Not surprisingly Anagnost told the Planning Board that that he expected that two age groups — 29 to 35 year-olds and 62 to 75 year-olds — would represent most of the demand for apartments in the South End.

While demand has grown, the inventory of rental units, especially beyond the southern tier of the state, has stagnated and aged. Smith estimated that about a third of all rental units may be at least 70 years old. As the supply of rental units has not risen in pace with the demand, rents, which began rising in the wake of the collapse of property markets in the early 1990s, have continued to climb in pace with inflation.

According to the annual rent survey undertaken by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, the median gross rent (including utilities) was $1,018 for all units and in 2013 and $1,076 for two-bedroom units statewide and $953 for all units and $1,005 for two-bedroom units in Belknap County in 2013.

Thibeault said that the mix of growing demand, short supply and viable rents offered opportunities for investment in rental development.

Apart from expanding inventory, new construction and reinvestment will likely enhance the quality of rental units in the city. Speaking to the Planning Board, Anagnost described a "trickle down effect," explaining that when new apartments come on to the market, renters in older units move into them, filling them relatively quickly. As vacancies increase at other properties, landlords are faced with lowering their rents or improving their properties in order to compete. The new owners of Lakeshore Estates have already indicated they intend to improve the interiors of the apartments.

Smith said that by introducing more competition to the housing market, investment in rental properties would offer more choices to households shopping for shelter.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 April 2014 01:04

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Frankllin comes to the table to talk about Hill leaving shared school

by Thomas P. Caldwell

HILL — Attorney John Teague pronounced the efforts of the Hill School District AREA Withdrawal Study Committee a "good attempt at addressing the somewhat vague points" the State Board of Education had requested following a hearing in Concord last month.
Others attending Monday's meeting were not as satisfied with the discussion, and Franklin School Board Vice-Chair Greg Husband abstained from the vote to approve the compilation of the information for a review and formal vote next Monday, April 14.
The study committee met April 7 to address the two points the State Board of Education outlined in a letter following the March 26 hearing in Concord. State Board Chair Tom Raffio wrote that the withdrawal plan needed additional information about the disposal of property and the assumption of liabilities upon the dissolution of the AREA agreement between the Franklin and Hill school districts; and it lacked a detailed analysis of the financial and educational consequences of the proposed withdrawal.
Until Monday, Franklin had not participated in the study initiated last November. After appointing representatives to the committee, the city tabled the matter and Hill's representatives met alone to draft the document that seeks to end the Hill School District's tuition agreement with Franklin. Although the law allows 180 days to draft such a report, the study committee completed it in 42 days, aided in its efforts by prior discussions about withdrawing from the Franklin school system.
Hill is looking to be freed of the agreement so it can negotiate tuition agreements with Winnisquam or Newfound as well as Franklin. Although it might send students elsewhere, the school district is not looking to separate from School Administrative Unit 18 which oversees the Franklin and Hill school districts.
Franklin School Board Chair Tammy Feener questioned why Hill would want to remain a part of SAU 18 if it was sending its students elsewhere. "Wouldn't you want a say in what their education was?" she asked.
Hill board members responded that they are only looking at the tuition agreements at present, although they might consider withdrawing from SAU 18 at a future point. Others pointed out that Hill currently has no say in the education of students attending Franklin schools, as SAU 18 uses a weighted vote system that effectively denies Hill a chance to participate: Franklin's vote always trumps Hill's under the current policy.
In addressing the first point in the state board's letter, SAU 18 Business Administrator Michael O'Neill reviewed the rental factor built into the current tuition agreement. He said it is based on the annual bond payment for the high school, divided by the average daily membership. That figure currently stands at $376.83, he said.
O'Neill also noted that state statute calls for any debt remaining to be paid until the end of the bond. In the case of the Franklin School District, that debt amounts to about $250,000 a year which would be allocated according to the projected enrollment.
He also noted that Hill would be responsible for its portion of state building aid. At the time of the bond, the state provided 30 percent of the cost of building, plus 10 percent for each district in an AREA agreement. Hill would be obligated to make up that 10 percent, or $25,000 per year, for the next five years, O'Neill said.
It was when the committee took up the state board's second point — the educational and financial consequences of Hill's leaving the district — that the discussion grew heated. The committee had asked Franklin High School Principal Richard Towne for an analysis of class sizes with and without Hill students. For most courses, the removal of Hill students would not have a great impact on average class sizes. Exceptions are in mathematics, where class sizes would be halved, and in honors courses where the impact might call into question Franklin's ability to continue offering the classes.
Towne said that, when there are fewer than 10 students in a class, the district has to take a hard look at whether it should continue offering that class. AP Calculus 2, which has only three students now, would have a single student if Hill pulled out. Physics I currently has nine students and that number would drop to six if the Hill students left.
Husband said the educational consequences could be even greater, as Hill contributes $650,000 to the Franklin School District budget. It would be likely that the city could not take such a financial hit without eliminating some teaching positions, thus affecting educational offerings in Franklin.
Hill representatives argued that, since they would not necessarily leave Franklin, and since students currently in the Franklin school system might choose to remain there until they graduate from high school, the loss of that much money would not necessarily follow, and if Hill did withdraw, Franklin would have time to make adjustments over the next five years while some Hill students remained in the high school.
On a different point, Towne pointed out that the report that had gone to the state board inaccurately reflected the number of classes offered in each of the three school districts under consideration. Winnisquam's course listings included classes that take place at the Huot Regional Technical Education Center in Laconia but those classes were not included under Franklin, although Franklin also sends students to the Laconia tech center. Likewise, Franklin students take part in some of the classes that Winnisquam offers at its agricultural center. He agreed to provide an updated course list so the offerings would be accurately listed in the charts.
The information discussed Monday night will be assembled as an addendum to the earlier report and the study committee will meet on the 14th to formally approve the changes.
"The state board really wanted to be sure that Franklin had an opportunity to take part in this," Teague concluded.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 April 2014 12:58

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Judge won't dismiss lead paint lawsuit against city; trial scheduled for July

LACONIA — A Belknap County Superior Court judge will not dismiss a lawsuit against the city for selling a home that was contaminated by lead paint to a family who claims their son was harmed by the lead.

Stephanie Randall and her minor son have filed suit for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and violating the Consumer Protection Act, claiming the city failed to disclose that the house they bought on 192 Elm Street in 2003 was contaminated.

The suit was originally filed in 2012, nine years after Jamison Randall bought the home from the city. At the time of the sale, the city allegedly failed to provide Jamison Randall with the proper lead paint remediation documentation.

Three years after he purchased the home or in 2006, his son was born. In 2008, the Randalls learned their son had a blood lead level of 21 mg/dl; 5 mg/dl is considered the highest acceptable level.

The suit claims the child has developmental and cognitive disorders caused by lead paint ingestion.

According to background information provided in Judge James O'Neill's ruling of March 27, 2013, Library Director Randy Brough told Jamison Randall that the house had previously been used as group home so it would have to have been remediated. The library used it for storage prior to the sale.

Although Jamison Randall had an inspection done before he bought the house, he contends the city had a duty to provide him with the report of a 1996 inspection performed by Alpha Lead Consultants, Inc.

Alpha reported that lead-based paint was present in the home.  The Alpha report was disclosed to the city when it purchased the house in 1998. The Library maintained a copy of the report in its files, however it was not turned over to Jamison Randall in the course of the sale to him.

The Alpha report was turned over to the family's attorney as part of the initial discovery process after the suit was filed.

The city had tried in 2012 to get the case dismissed, arguing that the statute of limitations, from the time of the sale to the date the injury was first discovered, had expired.

The trial court originally agreed with the city in a summary judgment ruling.  However in May of 2012 the U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit, overturned the ruling, concluding that the Randalls could not have known of the injury within three years of the sale, because the child wasn't born yet.

With the case once again alive, in late 2013 the city asked the trial court to dismiss the suit. After a hearing in February, O'Neill ruled the case could go forward to trial.

When contacted yesterday, City Manager Scott Myers said he couldn't discuss ongoing litigation but noted the city is working with its attorneys and the Randall's attorneys.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 April 2014 12:51

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