Planning Board votes to proceed with proposal to rezone The Weirs


LACONIA — Against the will of Planning Board Chairman Warren Hutchins, the board, by the narrowest of majorities, acceded to the request of the City Council by voting Tuesday to expedite  consideration of its  proposal  to redraw the zoning map and change the permitted uses of the commercial resort district encompassing The Weirs.

The board resolved "to refer the Council request to amend the Commercial Resort Zone to the Zoning Task Force and begin the review process." The five-to-four vote followed a lengthy, sometimes heated, back and forth between Hutchins and Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), the council's liaison to the Planning Board. Bownes was joined in the majority by Charlie St. Clair, Jay Tivnan, Michael DellaVecchia and Bill Contardo while Edwin Bones, Gail Denio and Hamilton McLean voted with Hutchins.

The Commercial Resort District begins on Lake Street, just south of its junction with White Oaks Road, extends northward along Weirs Boulevard, includes the center of the Weirs and runs either side of Endicott Street North (US Route 3) to the Meredith town line. It also includes property along both sides of Endicott Street East (NH Route 11-B) east of the roundabout to just beyond the Weirs Community Center. Both specified commercial and residential uses are permitted throughout the district.

The proposal by the council would divide the district into two parts by carving a Commercial Resort Corridor District, designated CR2, out from the existing Commercial Resort District, which would become CR1. The corridor would be defined as the area extending 400 feet from either side of the center line of Endicott Street North (US Route 3) and Endicott Street East (NH Route 11-B) between the Meredith town line to the west and the center of the intersection with White Oaks Road to the east. Within the corridor residential development would be restricted to the upper level of buildings and then only if the ground floor of the same building were put to commercial use. In both the Commercial Resort Corridor and Commercial Resort districts the requirement to set aside a portion of lots as green space would be eliminated when the property is put to commercial use.

Last month, when the council endorsed the proposal, it agreed to ask the Planning Board to deal with it in a timely manner by addressing its major elements in October or November. Specifically, the council asked the board to schedule a public hearing as soon as possible in order to forestall property owners from submitting applications for projects under the existing zoning ordinance.

Hutchins told the board that after discussing the council's request with Contardo, the vice chairman of the board, he decided "our normal procedure applies." He said that the proposal has been distributed to members of the board for them to study prior to the next meeting in October. He said that Mayor Ed Engler, the architect of the proposal, will be invited to present the proposal at that meeting and respond to questions from both the board members and general public. Following what Hutchins said would be "similar to a conceptual plan review," the board would vote on the next step.

Bownes replied that he had a charge from the council and "your procedure for doing business does not quite conform to the specific charge that I have from the council." He said that the council is asking the board to treat the proposal as "expeditiously as possible." He noted that if a public hearing were deferred beyond November or December, it may not be scheduled until March, April or May when property owners at The Weirs are able to participate in the process. Some 100 properties would be affected by the proposal. Bownes stressed that the council was not "curtailing or shortchanging the process of review."

"We have a responsibility to ensure a thorough understanding of the proposal," said Hutchins, who insisted the board should follow what he called "our normal process." Describing the proposal as "very complex," he said that it should be referred the appropriate city departments, Zoning Board of Adjustment and Conservation Commission as well as the Town of Meredith and Lakes Region Planning Commission, because "this has a regional impact." He said "there is no sense of urgency from any standpoint," suggesting that undue haste could expose the city to litigation. Referring to state law, Hutchins said that while the City Council has "tremendous responsibilities, but one of them is not zoning. It is our responsibility." He said that it was especially important to follow procedure in the event there is litigation in order to not to be "subject to a change of procedure or political interference."

Bownes insisted that he was not asking to bypass any step in the process. "I'm just asking to get the ball rolling" by referring the proposal to the Zoning Task Force, which could report to the Planning Board in November or December.

Hutchins said that the Planning Board "did not know enough" to refer the proposal to the Zoning Task Force and begin the process right away. "There is absolutely no sense of urgency," Hutchins repeated. "The fear factor is just a smokescreen." He said that expediting the process would be "totally irresponsible" and asserted "this is our responsibility, not the council's."

With that Bownes offered the motion to refer the proposal to the Zoning Task Force and direct it to begin the review the review process.

After the motion carried, Interim Planning Director noted that the motion did not direct the board to schedule a public hearing, but will take public comment at its October meeting. Both Hutchins and Bownes stressed the importance of soliciting and receiving opinion from the general public.

However, when Hutchins suggested that zoning changes should follow, not precede, the adoption of the Master Plan, which he anticipated would be completed in six or seven months, Bownes said he is opposed to the proposal. Denying the charge, Hutchins replied, "I have a lot of questions. I consider this proposal very dangerous and I want to find out more. And I wanted each of you to find out more before you voted. That's our responsibility."

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Trump to visit Laconia tonight


LACONIA — During his fourth visit to New Hampshire since winning the first in the nation presidential primary and and his second since becoming the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump will hold a rally at Laconia Middle School tonight beginning at 7:30 p.m.
According to the announcement made by the Trump campaign on Wednesday, Trump will speak “on a variety of topics pertaining to the 2016 presidential election.”
Most recently, Trump addressed rallies in Windham and Manchester in at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester in August and earlier spoke to the issue of national security at Saint Anselm College and held a question-and-answer session on trade policy at the closed Osram Sylvania plant in Manchester. This will be Trump’s second appearance in Laconia. In July 2015, during the primary campaign, Trump drew a large crowd to the Weirs Community Center.
Trump’s popularity among Republican voters in Belknap County is unmatched. In the GOP primary in February Trump carried every ward in the city and every town in the county, topping his nearest rival, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, by a margin of more than two-to-one on his way to winning the primary with 35 percent of the vote..
New Hampshire is considered one of a number of so-called battleground states, where the result could affect the outcome of the presidential election. Before the party conventions in June the average of polls reported by Real Clear Politics showed Trump trailing Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, by margins of as much as 12 points. After the convention, Clinton’s lead shrank to less than three points then widened to nearly 10 points and now stands at five points.
Trump can expect an enthusiastic welcome. By almost every measure Belknap County is the most Republican in the state. The GOP holds all of the county’s 18 seats in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, including many representatives who are strong Trump supporters, and all three of the seats on the county commission.
While many voters have warmed to Trump, New Hampshire remains home to one of his harshest critics, former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey of Chichester, while Kelly Ayotte, seeking to hold her seat in the United States Senate, is the most prominent among a number of Republican candidates who have chosen to fasten on their own campaigns and distance themselves from the presidential contest.
Trump’s appearance follows on the heels of unveiling his plan for child and elder care, which features six weeks of paid leave for new mothers and excluding the cost of child care from taxation.

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No rezone - City council scuttles bid to allow seasonal camp on Big Island


LACONIA — In the teeth of opposition from residents of Paugus Park Road, the City Council flatly refused to refer a request by the owner of Big Island in Paugus Bay, which is in the residential single family district, to rezone the property by adding it to the commercial resort district.

Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) abstained from what otherwise was a unanimous vote.

Of the three islands in Paugus Bay — Plummer, Big and Little — Big is the second largest at 2.9 acres. It sits about 400 yards east of the marina at South Down Shores and some 1,500 feet north of Paugus Park Road.

Scott Everett, the founder and president of Supreme Lending, a mortgage lender headquartered in Dallas, Texas, who owns a seasonal home on Paugus Park Road, purchased the island in 2012 for $725,000. In 2014 he conveyed the island to NH-Big Island Co. with the intention of developing a seasonal camp, owned and operated by a charitable corporation, which he would endow. Since a camp is not a permitted use in the single-family district, Everett applied to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a variance, but withdrew the request when it met with stiff opposition from mainland residents, particularly property owners on Paugus Park Road.

The Zoning Ordinance provides that property owners may petition the City Council to change the boundaries of zoning districts if they represent "50 percent or more of the land area affected by a petition." Since Everett, as the sole owner of the island, represents 100 percent of the owners of the property that would be affected, he is entitled to present a petition. In turn, the ordinance prescribes that the City Council must refer the petition to the Planning Board, which must make a recommendation to the council within 90 days of receiving it.

Attorney Pat Wood, representing Everett, told the council that he seeks to develop a seasonal camp for girls aged between 8 and 14. A camp is not permitted in the residential single-family district, but would be permitted in the commercial resort district. He said that Everett has invested in bringing municipal water and sewer along with electricity, telephone and cable television to the island.

"Is there some reason this should not be referred to the Planning Board?" Wood asked.

He explained that the Planning Board would consider the use as well as the site plan for a camp and all aspects of the project. On the other hand, he said if application was made to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a variance, the opportunity to throughly review the proposed use of the proposed would be restricted.

Almost at once Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) suggested Wood ask his client to withdraw his request in light of the opposition voiced by neighboring residents. When repeated that his client was seeking an opportunity to make a presentation to the Planning Board, Lipman replied "I don't know that I want to be a part of that."

Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) said that however the current owner used the property, if it were rezoned the next owner would be able to pick from all the permitted uses in the commercial resort district. Wood countered that a covenant, limiting the use of the island to a seasonal camp, could be incorporated in the deed to the property.

Earlier, a half dozen property owners from Paugus Park Road urged the council to scuttle the petition. Ben Gamache said the only person to benefit from rezoning the island would be the owner while "the harm would be to the whole city." Given the range of permitted uses in the commercial resort district, he said, "we have no idea of what would become of the property and residents would have no control."

Fouad Youssef called the request "ridiculous" and "unfeasible" and said "if you approve it for his island, you might as well as approve it for me." His son Josh described the island as "the heart and nucleus of Paugus Bay, a quaint representation of island life in Laconia" and warned that putting it to commercial use would only cause problems. His brother Travis said developing the island would devalue neighboring properties.

09-14 Big Island map

Big Island in Paugus Bay near South Down Shores was considered for rezoning to allow a girls summer camp. On Monday night, the Laconia City Council voted against rezoning after protests from those living in the area. (Graphic courtesy Google Maps)

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