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Speaker at Alton forum sees workforce housing initiative as conspiracy by federal & state agencies to take control of local land use

ALTON — For the second time in as many weeks, more than 75 people crowded into the Gilman Museum on Wednesday night to voice their opinions, apprehensions and suspicions that an initiative to bring the town into compliance with a state statute requiring municipalities to provide opportunities to develop so-called workforce housing represents a sinister ploy by federal and state agencies to rewrite local zoning ordinances and trample private property rights.

"What I've not heard tonight is anything about the impact of workforce housing on Alton," said Bob Longabaugh as the meeting drew to a close.

"Workforce housing is part of a bigger picture," warned Ken Eyring of Windham, the featured speaker at the second of two forums hosted by the Alton Business Association. He explained that workforce housing is but one aspect of Granite State Future, a program funded and overseen by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) and managed by the nine regional planning commissions in the state.

Stressing that the program "bypasses our elected representatives," he said that it caters to those protected against discrimination by the federal Fair Housing Act, including racial, ethnic and religious groups as well as low and moderate income households. He cited a document from HUD that referred to developing strategies to "reduce or eliminate barriers" to fair housing, which included New Hampshire's "strong tradition of private property rights and hostility to planning and zoning."

Eyring noted that Alton accepted a grant from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority (NHHFA), which in turn accepted funds from HUD under an agreement that authorizes HUD to "interpret" the results of the work funded by the grant. He claimed that the agreement between HUD and the NHHFA applies to Alton, which is subject to HUD's oversight.

Referring to establishment of regional planning commissions in 1969, State Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) said that was when the federal government began influencing local planning decisions. The regional planning commissions, she continued, "are not about municipalities working together but are part of a much grander plan." Cormier spoke of federal agencies "bypassing our Legislature and going into our communities to change our zoning laws."

"Your representation in Concord is being usurped," Cormier declared, vowing to file legislation that would do away with regional planning commissions, which she described as "huge, bloated, corrupt" organizations. "Our zoning ordinance shouldn't be manipulated by anyone," she insisted. "It's definitely a local control issue."

A week earlier she called for repeal of the workforce housing statute and this week repeated "this has got to go."

Cormier received a warm welcome from Linda Hart, who said that along with others "we're going to go on the road to as many towns as we can to tell them 'wake up!' We'll tell them why we don't like workforce housing and don't want regional planning commissions," she said. "People are waking up all over the state."

The third featured presenter, Ric Perreault, who operates a business in Rochester and owns a lakefront home in Alton, suggested that rather than enabling workforce housing, an article should be put to Town Meeting to "get rid of the town planner." He warned that in Alton as in Rochester so-called workforce housing would become subsidized housing.

When town officials present at the meeting were asked what they thought of what they heard, Tom Hoopes, vice-chairman of the Planning Board and a member of the Zoning Amendment Committee considering the question of workforce housing, replied that he heard "a great deal of confusion."

Hoopes explained that the only way to adopt, repeal or amend a zoning ordinance was by a vote of Town Meeting, dismissing suggestions that federal agencies could set local zoning policy. Likewise, he said that speakers displayed "a total misunderstanding of the regional planning commissions." He said that he represented Alton on the Lakes Region Planning Commission and found that instead of imposing policies on municipalities, the staff of the commission collected data and conducted research to assist them in addressing local issues. "You need real honest answers and you're not getting them," he cautioned.

"You can say that again," retorted one of his many critics.

"I think there's a lot of ignorance out there and only a few of us on top of things," said another man, after expressing misgivings about Granite State Future, workforce housing and Common Core.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 September 2013 02:32

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New LHS Science Center dedicated to 'local guy who made good'

LACONIA — "Fantastic" was the first word out of Richard (Dick) Dearborn's mouth last night after his first tour of the state-of-the-art high school science center that bears his name.

Dearborn and the leadership of the manufacturing company he founded, Eptam Plastics of Northfield, made a $100,000 donation to the School District's 2012 Capital Campaign to supplement the budget for the renovation and expansion of the Huot Regional Technical Education Center and other campus improvements at Laconia High School. Part of the project was the construction of a new science wing, with seven classrooms, that is now the Richard A. Dearborn Science Center.

Dearborn was joined at a dedication ceremony by members of his family, his work family, and members of the community who came to thank him and tour the new center. He is a 1954 graduate of LHS.

City Councilor Matt Lahey, who also headed the capital campaign, referred to Dearborn as a "local guy who made good and does a lot of good for his community."

He described the e-mail informing him of the donation as one of the most exciting of his life. Lahey is a 1973 graduate of Laconia High.

The new science classrooms and labs are in the spot that housed some of the programming at the Huot Center, space that was renovated and equipped as part of the $14 million construction and renovation project that also includes the Bank of New Hampshire Stadium and a new 32,000-square-foot building that now houses many of the technical center's programs.

Eptam Plastics also works with the school to coordinate its curriculum to make science and technology students ready for the jobs that await them after graduation.

Last night's dedication is part one of an event-laden Homecoming Weekend that includes the traditional Homecoming Parade to downtown and back (4 p.m.), the football game at 7 p.m., the dedication of the Fitzgerald Field (6:45 p.m.) and other alumni, school sports, and community events.

Science Department chairs and teachers Bonnie Ashworth and Ivy Leavitt-Carlson guided two groups of tour takers through the new center. Each teacher spoke briefly about his or her science program that includes physics, chemistry, biology, and the Huot Center's Bio-Technology Program –— one of the fastest growing high school programs that serves all of the Lakes Region's students.

One teacher said "amazing space" when referring to what it's like to teach students in the new center and that was the universal sentiments of the teachers who showcased their labs and their programs that include Advanced Placement Chemistry for the first time this year.

"This is a new generation of scientists," said School Board Chair Joe Cormier, "and because of the Dearborn family, we'll be able to give these students the education (they'll need)."

For Eptam Plastics and the Dearborn family, the science labs are an investment in their company in the form of potential employees.

"We look at the science center as part of our future," said Eptam President Jeff Hollinger.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 September 2013 02:24

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Ward 5 write-in vote controversy holding up printing of general election ballots

LACONIA — The petition requesting a recount of the primary election results in the City Council race in Ward 5, which Dave Gammon filed last week, will be heard in Belknap County Superior Court on Wednesday, Oct. 2. Meanwhile, City Clerk Mary Reynolds said yesterday that the questions arising from the primary have already set back preparations for the general election on November 5 by a week.

The City Charter stipulates that the two candidates receiving the most votes for each office in the primary election shall advance to the general election in November. In Ward 5, incumbent City Councilor Bob Hamel, who ran unopposed, was declared the winner with 39 of 47 ballots cast. Although election officials reported no write-in votes for city councilor, a computer print-out indicates that three write-in ballots were cast in the race.

Gammon claims that he, his wife and another woman cast write-in ballots for former mayor Tom Tardif, which would account for the three write-in votes for city councilor that appear on the computer print-out. Election officials reported that Tardif received three of four write-in votes cast for ward clerk, but none for city councilor. If Tardif received a majority of the write-in votes, he would be entitled to a place on the general election ballot, which he may either accept or decline. He has yet to indicate whether he would accept the nomination and run in the general election.

The issue can only be settled by opening the ballots, which have been sealed since the polls closed. Reynolds said that she cannot open the ballots without being authorized to conduct a recount.

Gammon asked the court to set aside the the reported results of the primary election in Ward 5 and direct the City Clerk to "schedule a recount or review of the three write-in ballots." Alternatively, he suggested the court review the ballots to identify who received the second highest number of votes in the primary election and therefore, qualified for the general election. He also asked the court to instruct the clerk not to print the ballots for the general election until "the irregularities in the conduct and reporting" of the primary election are resolved.

Reynolds said that she aims to print the general election ballots and distribute absentee ballots at least 30 calendar days before the general election. According to the law, seven days notice must be given for a recount. In other words, if the court orders a recount, it could not be held before October 10, just 26 days before the general election during which ballots would have to be prepared and printed as well as distributed to absentee voters. "That would put us three weeks behind schedule," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said that attorney Laura Spector-Morgan will ask the court, if it decides to order a recount, to also set its date and time. "I could do it the next day, October 3, if the court agrees," Reynolds said.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 September 2013 02:19

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$1.2 million police station vote in Gilford's future

GILFORD — Selectmen approved a 2014 Capital Improvement Program plan Wednesday night that includes $1.213 million for the renovation and addition to the town police station.

The proposed addition, said selectman Chair Kevin Hayes yesterday, is very much like the 2009 proposed renovation and addition that garnered a majority of votes at annual town meeting but didn't get the 60-percent majority needed to pass.

The key difference between the two is newest proposal eliminates the the geothermal heating system that was included in 2009.

"The need is more than it was a few years ago," Hayes said.

Hayes the the $1.213 million budget has been updated for pricing and materials costs by the Amoskeag Architectural Group of Manchester the firm that designed the project.

"We think the number is spot-on," Hayes said.

The CIP plan shows the police station debt would cost the town $96,000 beginning in 2015 and would gradually taper off from then. The proposed police department plan has also been coordinated with the on-going Town Hall upgrade.

The addition and renovation proposal calls for a two-story addition to the backside of the building with the sally port (secure entrance for vehicles) on the ground level.

The 2009 proposal called for about 11,800-square-feet of additional space and a multipurpose room that could be used for community events when it is not being used by the police for training or other law-enforcement uses.

Perhaps most importantly, the expansion would add space for evidence and equipment storage and would bring the department up to national police standards. It would also provide more safety for police personnel, detainees, and the general public.

The Capital Improvement Program Committee consists of Chair Larry Routhier, Giselle Lambert, Jack McDevitt, Selectman John O'Brien, Planning Board member Wayne Hall and Gilford School Board member Paul Blandford.

Other items recommended by the 2014 CIP Committee are a heavy-duty dump truck with a plow for $179,000, a light-duty dump truck with a plow for $97,000. The Highway Department also requested a $60,000 weather cover for the sand pile, however selectmen and Public Service Director Sheldon Morgan and are still researching it and selectmen have made no recommendation to date.

The 2014 CIP report also calls for $220,000 for an ambulance, $50,000 for station improvements, $50,000 for refurbishing Engine 2, and $50,000 in equipment upgrades, all of which have been recommended by the selectmen.

The CIP Committee recommended $165,000 for resurfacing the parking lots and walkways at all schools, $105,000 for high school auditorium seating and $200,000 for technology upgrades for the administration.

Hayes said yesterday that the selectmen's recommended CIP plan will be presented to the Budget Committee on October 3.

Last Updated on Friday, 27 September 2013 02:14

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