Gov. Sununu & Executive Council to hold regular meeting at Funspot today

LACONIA — Gov. Chris Sununu and the Executive Council will meet at the Funspot Family Entertainment Center at the Weirs from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday and will recognize several local people.

Each year, the council takes its meeting on the road in the summer to each councilor's district.

District 1 Executive Councilor Joseph Kenney is hosting this meeting in the Lakes Region.

“This year, the Governor and Council will be recognizing four individuals: the matriarch of the Naswa, Hope Makris, for her contributions to the business and veteran communities; Peter S. Karagianis, a long-time local businessman and civic leader will be recognized posthumously, being represented by his family; Robert Lawton of Laconia, owner and patriarch of the Funspot who has helped create the world’s largest arcade with his family for the enjoyment of all families; and Melissa Fifield of Wakefield who is New Hampshire’s only female NASCAR driver on the Whelen Modified Tour and public service announcement presenter for the New Hampshire Department of Safety,” Kenney said.

“Additionally, the first responders of Wolfeboro, Moultonborough and Tuftonboro will be recognized for their cleanup efforts from the March storm of this year.”

He also said Father Marc Drouin of the St. Andre Bassette Parish in Laconia will give the opening prayer and Hallie Day, of Pittsburg, New Hampshire, a former American Idol Contestant, will be “a musical guest.”

In its regular meeting, the governor and council will review more than 120 contracts and preside over nominations and confirmations of various boards and commissions.

  • Written by Rick Green
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Some downtown business owners want City Council to reconsider its position on repairing parking garage

Business owners want City Council to reconsider parking garage issue

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — It's been a year since City Council members punted on the issue of repairing or replacing a dilapidated downtown parking garage, and some local business owners say it's about time to reconsider the matter.

The 1970s-era, three-story structure has corroded steel beams reinforced with wood, graffiti-scrawled walls and a top deck that is closed because of structural issues.

Last year, a costly proposal to tear it down and build a new one failed to gain support at the City Council. There was also opposition to refurbishing the existing structure. Ultimately, the council urged the Laconia Main Street Initiative nonprofit group to look into the issue.

Breanna Henderson, owner Polished and Proper Barbershop and Shave Parlor, said Tuesday something needs to be done.

“The question is, 'How much longer are you going to wait?'” Henderson said at a meeting of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing Advisory Board, of which she is a member. “It's been a year. Did you give them (Main Street Inititave) a timeline on it?” she asked Mayor Ed Engler, who was also at the meeting.

“Well that's a good question,” Engler said. “It's been a year. And that's certainly a time to revisit it.”

Members of the board agreed to send a letter to the City Council, asking for a formal process for the city to reconsider the issue, possibly through its Lands and Buildings subcommittee.

Robert Sawyer, owner of Sawyers Jewelry, compared the situation with the garage to that of an old car needing brakes.

“You say, 'I'm not going to do the brakes in this because I want a new car,'” he said. “Well, you know, you've got to have the brakes.”
Sawyer, also a member of the board, said at the meeting that demand for parking will increase and that the city needs to make the garage a well-maintained, welcoming place.

At minimum it needs to be kept clean, he said, adding that upon his return from a trip he found extensive bird droppings and learned the garage hadn't been swept in six weeks.

“For the vitality of downtown, we need a certain number of parking spaces, and unless we do it somewhere else, it has to be there,” he said.

The Whiskey Barrel Music Hall is attracting more people downtown. More motorists will be looking for parking once the historic Colonial Theater is refurbished and offering entertainment. Genesis Health Care is building the Lakes Region Mental Health Center next to the garage, while a large fitness club on the ground floor of the garage is supposed to open next month.

Engler told the board that there has been a great deal of disagreement among local businesses and property owners about what to do about the garage. The situation is complicated by the fact that a private party owns retail space on the ground floor of the garage.

So, even if the city wanted to demolish the structure, it would first have to buy the private space, which at one point was for sale for $1 million. It would cost another $500,000 to knock down the building, and as much as $6 million to build a new one. Refurbishment of the existing structure could cost as much as $3 million.

The garage, which opened in 1974, has exposed steel that has corroded after long exposure to road salt. A series of repairs and upgrades have been attempted over the years.

The last time the council considered the matter, many people said more money should not be put into the garage, Engler said.

“That in effect became the council's default position,” he said.

Meanwhile, John Moriarty, who was not at the meet, president of the Main Street Initiative group, said his organization has been collecting information.

“It appears from the ongoing empirical data we've been collecting there is no parking emergency,” he said.

Moriarty said there are about 1,100 parking spaces downtown.

It's not practical to spend a lot of money on the current, dilapidated parking garage, he said.

“My personal opinion is that we've already spent good money after bad on the parking garage and it is time to find a replacement solution for it.”

  • Written by Rick Green
  • Category: Local News
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More questions than answers as Gilford planners again tackle agri-tourism issues

Gilford Planning Board debates definition of agritourism

Andy Howe’s farm-to-table application awaits answers to members’ questions

By THOMAS P. CALDWELL

LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — The question of whether a wedding reception with invited guests falls under the definition of agritourism, which aims to bring visitors to working farms, was one of the hang-ups members of the Gilford Planning Board had with Andrew Howe’s application to hold farm-to-table dinners and other events on an 8-acre section of his 188-acre farm.

But before the Planning Board could even take up his proposal on Monday night, it had to decide whether it was materially different from a previous site plan by Howe and his wife, Martina, that is the subject of ongoing litigation.

Howe maintained that, by addressing all of the previous objections and conforming to new state laws and local regulations, his application is materially different. Some Planning Board members, however, said the intention remains the same, regardless of how many physical changes have been made to the plan.

A state Supreme Court decision, Fisher v. City of Dover, found that a zoning application filed after the rejection of a previous application must reflect a material change of circumstances or a use that materially differs in nature and degree from its predecessor. A subsequent ruling, CBDA Development, LLC v. Town of Thornton, extended that ruling to include site plans before planning boards. In that case, the court ruled that the Planning Board did not have to consider a developer’s minimally amended site plan.

Howe’s plan for 285 Gunstock Hill Road eliminates the use of 70 acres that were included in the previous site plan, including a parking lot across Gunstock Hill Road. Instead, it calls for attendees to be bused to the site and dropped off. It also does not incorporate a temporary event area or the Buttrick Meadow lot.

Howe noted that the plan exceeds the 500-foot setback requirement in the regulations, with the closest abutter being 700 feet away and the furthest being 3,300 feet away.

The town’s site study committee, which had reviewed the application, determined that “it is less impactful on the neighbors than the previous application in that no temporary tent on the adjacent lot is proposed. All activities will be at the barn site and in the Gully Field which is rather isolated from all homes in the area. The impacts of traffic are also reduced since individual attendees will not drive to the site but will be bused in groups. This will also eliminate the earlier concern of pedestrian traffic crossing Gunstock Hill Road. Overall this is a better application for the neighborhood.”

Jack Landow argued against declaring the plan “materially different” from the original.

“On its face it’s different, but when you drill down into it, and I look at the intent, I start seeing  a lot of similarities to what was previously proposed,” he said.

Despite his objections, the board voted, 4-2, that it was materially different and qualified for review.

Members then cited other concerns.

Acting chairman Carolyn Scattergood said her idea of agritourism is to allow the public to attend farm-to-table events, but Howe’s proposal for private events allows only invited guests.

Howe said a conservation easement prevents parking on the property, but farm-to-table events are “our most fun events. We would like to try to do something like that.”

William Johnson had concerns about a sharp corner on the road accessing the site, but he said wedding receptions are among farm-to-table events allowed under the definition of agritourism.

When the hearing was opened to public comment, former Planning Board member Jerry Gagnon said the underlying problems of noise, nuisance to neighbors, and traffic remain.

“How many buses will be going up and down?” he asked. “Mr. Howe can move it to the commercial location at the bottom of the road that he owns.”

While the property has been actively farmed for 200 years, abutter Ryan Crawford argued that agritourism would become the primary income source, rather than an accessory use, as stipulated in the law. Crawford, who moved there two years ago, said he would be there to oppose the plan every time it goes before the board.

Abutter Steve Legro said, “I have to worry about what happens if the whole farming industry is not able to survive. Farms are going to have to adapt in the future, and if Mr. Howe isn’t able to work the land, what’s going to happen to my view? It will become a blight there. He has a conservation easement, so not much [besides farming] can happen there.”

Attorney Joe Driscoll said the current court case involving his client, Monique Twomey, revolves around the Howes’ alleged failure to meet the conditions of the town’s ordinances, and he said the new agritourism ordinance requires parking, which is absent from the current plan.

“The same concerns exist; it’s a definitional problem.”

Driscoll also argued that the plan turns a residential neighborhood into a bus stop.

An issue Howe raised about the ordinance’s requirement that there be no artificial lighting also was of concern to the Planning Board. The town’s emergency services are likely to require lighting for visitors’ safety, which would be in conflict with the agritourism ordinance.

Planning and Land Use director John Ayer said the conflict might force Howe to scale back the hours of operation to daylight hours. The ordinance allows events between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Because of the pending litigation on the previous site plan, board members questioned what would happen if they approved the current plan. Howe said he was willing to withdraw the old plan, but Scattergood said she was unsure whether that would be legal.

In the end, the board tabled the application until Ayer could answer questions about whether the plan matches the definition of agritourism and how to address lighting, two site plans, old conditions that had been imposed, and the visibility at the corner on the access road.

While Howe’s proposal took up most of the meeting, the Planning Board also held hearings and approved four other applications: Stone Brook Hills LLC wants to make a barn and other buildings on the property available during outdoor events in case of inclement weather; Paugus Bay Marine Center and Storage Facility LLC plans to erect four boat storage buildings and a marine light repair shop; Pem Real Estate’s plans to expand four offices on Hounsell Avenue; and DGET Realty’s wants a building addition.

 

  • Written by Tom Caldwell
  • Category: Local News
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