Mayor suggests city taking action against man allegedly selling used cars without zoning OK

LACONIA — When the City Council met this week, Mayor Ed Engler said that the city is taking steps to address complaints about the continued sale of used cars at Gulbicki's Towing & Auto Repair on Weirs Boulevard, the substance of which will be disclosed within the next two weeks.

Engler spoke in response to Denis Bourque, the owner of nearby property at 1187 Weirs Boulevard. For the second time this month, Bourque told the councilors that the business has operated in violation of the zoning ordinance for more than a year with the knowledge of city officials, who have done nothing to stop it. Earlier this month Bourque told the council "I've gone to the city and have gotten little or no help."

In 2011, C.J. Gulbicki applied to the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for a license to sell used cars at his father's repair shop. When the DMV asked if used car sales were permitted at the location, Planning Director Shanna Saunders assured the agency they were and Gulbicki was issued a license in February 2012.

However, the property lies in the Commercial Resort District where used car sales are only permitted by a special exception granted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. When Saunders realized her mistake, she advised Gulbicki to apply for a special exception, which the ZBA ultimately denied. Last year the DMV notified Gulbicki his license would be revoked. At Gulbicki's request, Saunders intervened, asking the agency not to revoke his license since he was seeking to rectify the situation.

This week, when Bourque pressed City Manger Manager Scott Myers to explain why the city intervened on Gulbicki's behalf, he was told that Gulbicki had agreed to dispose of remaining inventory and curtail future sales. Myers also said that enforcement actions "are not always successful," prompting Bourque to reply "that's smoke and mirrors . . . I don't buy the answer."

Nevertheless, in March the DMV revoked Gulbicki's license. Gulbicki has indicated he has made arrangements to operate a used car lot at 248 South Main Street where it is permitted by the zoning ordinance. Meanwhile, Bourque insists that Gulbicki has continued to sell cars from the property on Weirs Boulevard with the use of a cell phone and the website Craigslist, transactions Gulbicki claims are "private sales".

This week Engler assured Bourque that enforcement actions are "underway". He said these steps cannot be discussed in public at this time, but urged Bourque to return in two weeks when an explanation of the measures would be forthcoming.

Afternoon Gilford brush fire contained

GILFORD — Firefighters from eight towns fought a fast moving brush fire beyond the last house on Belknap Mountain Road for more than three hours yesterday.

Deputy Fire Chief Brad Ober said the fire was reported by the Belknap Fire Tower around 3 p.m. Gilford firefighters arrived to find the fire, pushed by a strong wind, climbing a steep slope, and called a second alarm. He said that crews from Laconia, Belmont, Alton, Gilmanton, Tilton-Northfield, Sanbornton and Meredith responded. "We were light on manpower and it looked like it would run on us," Ober said. "We used everyone who was there."

Ober said that the fire burned more than acre and may have started from embers remaining from when a homeowner burned brush the night before.

City manager will hold 'informal conversations' wiht potential Lakeport property buyers

LACONIA — City officials yesterday clarified the decision the City Council took when it met this week with respect to selling the property on Union Avenue, which has been leased to Lakeport Landing, Inc. for the past 30 years. The city manager has been asked to hold "informal conversations" with the two companies that have expressed interest in buying it in order to answer questions about the city's detailed position and gauge the level of remaining interest.

The property, a 0.81 acre strip between the roadway and railway was leased to Lakeport Landing in 1985 for 10 years with two 10-year renewal periods. The lease will expire on October 31, 2015 and the tenant has no renewal rights. In 1987 Lakeport Landing constructed a 9,840-square-foot building on the lot. Under the terms of the lease, ownership of the land and building would revert to the city at the expiration date.

In January, Erica Blizzard, who owns and operates Lakeport Landing, offered to purchase the property for $331.400 and subsequently Irwin Marine, which operates on the abutting lot, submitted a more recent offer of $335,000. Meanwhile, earlier this month Capital Appraisal Associates, Inc. of Concord pegged the market value of the land and building at $480,000.

With Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) absent, five of the six councilors discussed the issue in a non-public session prior to their regularly scheduled meeting, but remained divided. Reading from a prepared statement in open session, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) offered a motion to negotiate the sale of the property solely with Blizzard. "First do no harm," she began. "We are dealing with people. We are dealing with our neighbors." She recalled that the council agreed to sell the former police station on Church Street to Binnie Media for $1 in an effort to revitalize downtown and said that selling to Blizzard would "build confidence with the business community." Baer urged her colleagues to "do the fair thing, the right thing." Only Councilor Armand Boluc (Ward 6), whose ward includes the property, joined with Baer and her motion failed by a vote of three-to-two.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) then moved to reject both offers, which fell short of the appraised value of the property, and to authorize City Manager Scott Myers to conduct "informal conversations" with representatives of Lakeport Landing and Irwin Marine to inform them of terms and conditions of a sale of importance to the city.

Mayor Ed Engler said on Wednesday that the city manager was not directed to negotiate a sale of the property, but only to sound the two parties on reactions to four specific issues and report to the council when it meets on Monday, June 8.

First, he said that the city expected the sale price to match or exceed the appraised value of the property.

The city will also require an assurance that the owner of the property will not alter or demolish the existing building unless the change sustains or increases the existing taxable value of the property.

If the current tenant is displaced by the sale, the mayor said that the city will require the date of possession by the new owner be deferred for up to two years from the date of the closing to provide time for Lakeport Landing to secure new quarters. Should this provision be invoked, he explained that beginning when the lease expires on November 1, 2015, Lakeport Landing would pay a monthly rent consistent with the appraised value of the property.

Finally, Engler said that the property must be conveyed with easements enabling the city to maintain water and sewer lines as well as the retaining paralleling Union Avenue.

NOTES: The City Council on Tuesday authorized the expenditure of $15,000 from the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund to purchase and install a new system of security cameras at the parking garage. Police Chief Chris Adams told the council that the system will enable dispatchers to monitor activity at the garage in real time and immediately dispatch an officer to investigate untoward incidents at the facility. He said that quality of the video footage will be superior to that of the system it will replace, which was owned by the landlord and required a contract with Metrocast.. . . . . . In response to concerns from food vendors operating during Motorcycle Week, who must close at 11 p.m. on the first Friday and at 12:30 a.m. thereafter while other venues remain open, the council agreed to allow food vendors to operate until 1 a.m. As it did a year ago, the council decided to allow beer tents to open on the Friday before the first official day of the rally. The Police Department reported that the crowds on Friday were minimal and the early opening required no additional personnel. . . . . . Mayor Engler reported that the Belknap Mill Society has given the city a replica of the bell that hangs in the cupola of the mill in recognition of its contribution of $5,000 to the society. He noted that the donation was made possible by Aavid Thermalloy, which celebrated its 50th anniversary by giving the city $20,000 that was shared evenly among four civic organizations, including the Mill Society. . . . . . Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, reminded the City Council of the ongoing effort to install signs designating U.S. Business Route 3 along Court Street and Union Avenue. St. Clair said that signage was erected after construction of the bypass, but the Department of Public Works (DPW) , which provides signage within the so called urban compact, did not replace it when it fell into disrepair. Since the city controls signage on the portion of the compact that falls within the compact, St. Clair hopes the council will direct the DPW to restore it and urge the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to erect similar directional signs at entrances to the bypass.