Flatten city garage? - Laconia counselor says ‘Drop a bomb’ on it

LACONIA — While the budget for fiscal year 2017 proposed by City Manager Scott Meyers contemplates borrowing $3 million to repair and improve the downtown parking garage, at least one city councilor would prefer to demolish it.

"If I had my druthers," Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) said this week, "I'd just drop a bomb on it. I can't imagine a scenario by which we restore that place that bears long-term rewards."

The future of the garage has been clouded by its divided ownership. The city owns the ramps and north end of the second and third levels, including the northernmost stairwell, which includes 204 of its 240 parking spaces. The ground floor of the garage, except for the ramps, and the south end of the second and third levels, including the southernmost stairwell, along with seven commercial units on the ground level, are privately owned by Downtown Crossing LLC.

The parking garage is structurally entwined with the commercial units; the second deck serves as the roof of the units. While it would be possible to demolish the garage alone, it would likely be cost-prohibitive to restore the roofs and reinstall the utilities. Bownes acknowledged that the property would have to demolished in its entirety, which would require the city to acquire the privately owned portion at a cost of $1 million. Dubois & King Inc. has estimated the cost of razing the entire structure at $455,000.

Bownes said that the cost to repair, renovate and improve the facility is projected at $3 million, which would extend the life of the garage for 25 or 30 years.

"It would still be ugly and not performing a really useful function," he said, adding that "nobody uses the third floor and no one ever has. It's a nightmare," he continued, "and I don't want to create another nightmare for our successors down the road in 25 years."

Bownes is not alone. Attorney Matt Lahey likened investing $3 million in the parking garage to "spending $20,000 to repair a $500 car." Moreover, he noted that while Daniel DiSangro, the principal of Downtown Crossing LLC is seeking to sell his share of the property, he is apparently unwilling to fund the estimated $300,000 required to repair it or adjust his asking price, which is why Genesis Behavioral Health withdrew an offer to buy it. Lahey said that Genesis intended to invest $5.5 million in the project, but doubted that any other private investor would be forthcoming.

Likewise, Attorney Pat Wood, a member of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing Advisory Board, said that "The garage has outlived its useful life and should be demolished."

If the parking garage were demolished, 240 parking spaces downtown would be lost. Bownes and Woods both conceded that replacing the garage would be very costly. City Manager Myers has suggested that the cost of constructing a parking lot could run to as much as $30,000 for each space, which would put the cost of garage with 240 spaces at $7.2 million.

Wood said that a new garage could be built on the site of either the parking lot adjacent to City Hall or the parking lot between Main Street and Pleasant Street.

Neither Bownes nor Wood offered specific suggestions for funding construction of a new parking garage, but both said that fees for parking downtown could not be excluded from the discussion. Recalling that free parking was touted as a means of enlivening commerce downtown, Bownes openly doubted that it proved successful and acknowledged that parking fees could provide a revenue stream to service the debt incurred to build a garage as well as the cost of maintaining it.

"If the garage is the beginning and end of the discussion, then we haven't done our job," Bownes said.

"There are valid reasons for considering paid parking and it has be discussed," said Wood, who also suggested that tax increment financing could be applied to providing parking.

Party time - Laconia's 125th anniversary to have two celebrations (228)


LACONIA — The committee convened to design and stage the celebration of the 125th anniversary of Laconia being incorporated as a city on March 24, 1893, held its first meeting at the Central Fire Station this week.

Pam Clark of the Laconia Historical and Museum Society said Wednesday that more than two dozen people attended, including former Mayor Rod Dyer and attorney Pat Wood, who presided over the 75th and 100th anniversaries respectively.

The committee scheduled two celebrations to mark the occasion, the first on March 24, 2018, the date Laconia became a city, and a second on July 4, 5, 6 and 7, 2018. Clark explained that by setting the dates as soon as possible the committee would avoid any conflicts with the town of Meredith, which is marking its 250th anniversary the same year, and position itself to book entertainers and services.

The committee also named a number of its members to a steering committee, which will next meet on April 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Fire Station. A second open meeting will be held on May 10 at a time and venue to be announced.

Clark said that the committee expects to form seven subcommittees to oversee different aspects of the program — logistics, finances, volunteers, public relations, entertainment, history and the parade. She said the committee is actively recruiting volunteers and urged anyone wishing to offer ideas or services to contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Gilmanton officials debate rule over bathroom additions


GILMANTON —If a home already has a bathroom, can another be added without a septic evaluation? The words "where none exists" have taken on a special meaning for the selectmen who challenged the town land use technician's interpretation of a 2015 zoning ordinance in just such a situation.

According to land use technician Annette Andreozzi, her interpretation of Article III A means that where a bathroom doesn't already exist, a person who wants to add one shall have a septic evaluation by a state certified examiner.

According to Selectman and Board Chairman Michael Jean, Article III A means a septic evaluation shall be done only in the instance where the first bathroom is being added to the structure, not additional ones.

The line at issue reads "Any structure that is being improved by adding a bathroom where none exists, adding a bedroom or whenever a structure is being converted from a seasonal to a permanent use, shall have the existing septic system evaluated..."

The fireworks began earlier this month when Andreozzi and the building inspector denied an unidentified homeowner's request to add a bathroom to an existing house. Andreozzi said she denied the request because of some other rulings on the subject made by the ZBA.

The homeowner was told he could appeal her ruling to the Zoning Board of Adjustments but apparently decided to go through former selectmen and excavating contractor Brett Currier to get the board of selectmen involved to expedite the matter.

In a meeting that was initially slated for a nonpublic session but Andreozzi requested it be open to the public, Jean told her that he "just wanted to make sure the laws are applied properly" and said the board took up the matter because there was a complaint.

Jean interprets the ordinance to mean that as long as there is a bathroom in the house, a second can be added. He said it's the number of bedrooms that decide whether or not a septic system evaluation should be completed.

When Andreozzi asked him directly if he was ordering her to reverse her decision, Jean hedged a bit and allowed for some public input that included many people, including Currier and Planning Board member Roy Buttrick saying that she miss-interpreted the plain language of the law and she should reverse her decision.

But former ZBA member and land attorney Carolyn Baldwin told selectmen were out of their jurisdiction. She, as well as current ZBA chairman Betty Hackett, cited N.H. RSA 677:33 that states the ZBA is the body that will "hear and decide appeals if it is alleged there is error in any order, requirement, decision, or determination made by an administrative official in the enforcement of any zoning ordinance adopted pursuant to RSA 674:16."

ZBA member Perry Onion said the state deliberately set up a system.

"If you can make a decision about this, you can make any decision," he said.

Selectman Marshall Bishop said he felt the ZBA should be the one to make the decision.

"We have a ZBA for a reason," he said.

The board decided by consensus to have the town administrator call the town attorney for an opinion on which board has jurisdiction.

Since it is too late for posting any new items onto this month's ZBA meeting, should the town attorney determine the homeowner needs to go to the Zoning Board, the earliest it could happen is the May meeting.