Work on Laconia’s Master Plan to resume after months of delays

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — After butting heads with the City Council over the preparation of the Master Plan for the past several months, the Planning Board has committed to working with the councilors to complete the plan. Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), who serves as the council's liaison to the board, told the council of the board's commitment this week.

At the same time, the council, which in November withheld further funding for preparation of the Master Plan, agreed to contract with the Lakes Region Planning Commission to complete the vision statement and land use chapter of the plan, the only two elements required by state statute.

The rift between the council and the board opened late last summer when the council referred a proposal to rezone the commercial resort district encompassing The Weirs, which the board summarily rejected. Warren Hutchins, who then chaired the board, insisted that any changes to zoning asserted its authority over zoning and insisted that no changes to zoning should be undertaken until the Master Plan was complete sometime in 2017.

In November, a divided council countered by withholding further funding for preparation of the Master Plan. In particular, the council shelved a contract with the Lakes Region Planning Commission to write the land use chapter of the plan. The council resolution expressed doubt that the Master Plan would tackle "the significant demographic and economic issues" facing the city, particularly the shrinkage of the middle class population and the diminished commercial tax base. Moreover, it pointed to the unwillingness of the Planning Board to engage in "a reasonable public discourse" about the proposal, to make changes to the zoning at The Weirs.

When the council met this week interim planning director Brandee Loughlin reviewed the progress of the Master Plan. Although work began in spring of 2014, only the vision statement and three chapters have been drafted while work on four chapters has not yet begun.

Mayor Ed Engler pointed out that only the vision statement and land use chapter are required and the remains in rough draft while work on the second stalled in April 2015. "I'm not leveling criticism at anyone who is the room tonight," the mayor said," but the only chapter required by law has not even been started." He said that work should proceed on the land use chapter "and nothing else," noting that $20,000 has been budgeted for the contract with the Lakes Region Planning Commission to write the chapter.

Engler stressed that the land use chapter "must have a purpose," namely to address the imbalance between the commercial and residential sectors of the city's tax base and to encourage the development of competitively priced housing. Likewise, Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) said that the chapter should include "creative ideas" for meeting the demographic and economic challenges facing the city.

Jeff Hayes, executive director of the Lakes Region Planning Commission, assured the council that the agency would work with the City Council and Planning Board to ensure that the chapter addressed the priorities set by the city.

Bill would add daylight to winter days by switching NH to Atlantic zone

By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

CONCORD — In the short days of January, when it's dark before 4:30 p.m., the idea of moving New Hampshire into a different time zone with later daylight hours grows more compelling.
Such was the case for state Rep. Kevin Murphy, R-Bedford, who is sponsoring a bill to move New Hampshire a step closer to adopting Atlantic standard time.
House Bill 209, before the Executive Departments and Administration Committee, "provides that, if Massachusetts adopts Atlantic standard time, the state of New Hampshire shall also adopt the Atlantic standard time, the effect of which shall be to make daylight saving time permanent in both states."
Filed at a constituent's request, the legislation adds New Hampshire to a list of New England states pondering such a change.
Murphy said New Hampshire, from March to November, is already in the Atlantic time zone. With his legislation, once Massachusetts made the change, New Hampshire would follow suit, and from November to March, "we'd have an extra hour of daytime in the late evening."
The question, he said, is: "Do you want it to be light at 5:30 p.m. or 6:30 a.m.?"
Murphy said he became a believer in this proposal after experiencing the shock of adapting to the Granite State in the winter.
"Once the constituent called me, I thought back to when I moved to New Hampshire 12 years ago, I moved here from the mid-Atlantic area, it happened to be in January. I realized that my first day here it got dark at 4:30 in the afternoon. I thought that was astonishing," he said.
Aside from moving north, Murphy realized he also moved several hundred miles east, almost straight down from Nova Scotia, where Atlantic time is the standard.
"The more I think about it, the more I think it's a good idea. It's one of those bills that nobody thinks will ever pass, but I think we ought to at least consider it," Murphy said.

Not everyone is a fan of the idea. People who deal with travel and interstate commerce voice reluctance.
"Personally I think it would be very confusing for travelers departing from Boston or Portland, Maine, if New Hampshire were on Atlantic time. My preference would be to eliminate daylight savings for everyone," said Kim Terrio, with Penny Pitou Travel in Laconia (http://www.pennypitoutravel.com).

Rep. Carol McGuire, R-Merrimack, said she co-sponsored the New Hampshire bill based on a constituent request, "plus it sounded like a good idea. Massachusetts is considering it, which makes it feasible — we wouldn't want to be out of phase with our biggest market."
The Massachusetts Senate last year approved an economic development bill which created a commission to study Atlantic time and the impacts of exiting Eastern Standard Time. Signed by Gov. Charlie Baker last summer, this bill created a task force to study the perils and possibilities of a new time zone for Massachusetts.
Murphy said the ties between New Hampshire and Massachusetts justify making any change in New Hampshire contingent on a similar decision in Massachusetts.
"Without Massachusetts going in, it would be impractical," he said.
Ryan Lorrain, legislative aide for Maine Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, is heading up a similar effort in Maine.
Dillingham has sponsored a bill, "Resolve, Directing the Secretary of State to Request that the United States Secretary of Transportation Place Maine in the Atlantic Standard Time Zone." This bill is similar to legislation proposed in 2005 which failed in the Maine House by a narrow margin, Lorrain reported.
Lorrain maintains a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/AtlanticTimeZoneForME, to promote the effort to move Maine into the Atlantic time zone, permanently implementing daylight saving time year round.
In an email, Lorrain explained that the Facebook page is a "side project" where he sponsors ads to gauge public interest and try "to get a pulse on how the public perceives our misfortune of being on the easternmost part of the Eastern Time Zone."
Lorrain reported, "The more I started digging into the topic, the more I started to realize that most people significantly are opposed to setting clocks back in the fall."
The feedback he has received is "encouraging," he reported.
The Maine bill creates a ballot question to be sent to the voters if the bill passes through the legislature.
"I think it's important to start the conversation, see what the benefits would be in having afternoon sunlight, as opposed to the morning and to find out where people stand. Also I believe it's important to make it clear that this will only put us on a separate time zone during the winter months, and then we'll be on the same time zone with Eastern during the summer. From a logical standpoint, the Atlantic time zone seems to be a much more appropriate fit for New England as a whole," Lorrain reported.
Lorrain expected to follow the progress made in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
According to the Boston Globe, "States can exempt themselves from daylight savings under the federal Uniform Time Act, but moving to a different time zone requires approval from Congress or the U.S. Department of Transportation, which must consider the effect on commerce."

 

Gilford battles over who determines the default budget for schools

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — In what appears to be a war of the petitioned warrant articles, a group of residents led by members of the Budget Committee and their families have filed an article for the School District warrant that would give the duties of preparing the School District default budget to them.

This has been done before and the petition is driven by members of the Budget Committee, led by Chairman Norman Silber, who think the School Board has been less than transparent in developing the default budget, although at at least this year, they have accepted the budget presented by the School Board.

Meanwhile, a second group of residents, led by former Budget Committee members Alan Voivod and Fred Butler have filed a warrant article for the town ballot that would prevent people who hold state or federal elective offices from serving on local board and committees. The purpose is to prevent concentrating power "in the hands of the few."

"What would be the point?" asked the Selectmen's Chairman Richard Grenier, referring to the elected leaders article. "Is this someone with an axe to grind?"

Silber is the only member of any of the elected board in Gilford who is also elected to the state legislature, and some people, including a few Budget Committee and School Board members, believe that his leadership style is somewhat heavy-handed.

Town Administrator Scott Dunn said he's not sure that the article would be legally binding if passed. Grenier and Selectmen Gus Benavides, who said he doesn't support its passage, asked Dunn to call the town attorney to find out.

During the public comment period of Wednesday night's meeting, School Board Chairman Karen Thurston, who represented the board on the most recent Budget Committee meeting, said she was disappointed that Grenier did not support the School Board's recommended budget. Grenier was the selectman's representative to the Budget Committee at Tuesday's meeting.

"We would have appreciated more support from the selectmen," she said.

In reply, Dunn told her that School Board member Chris McDonough, who is the primary board representative to the Budget Committee, was the member of the Budget Committee that is the primary opponent of Phase II Town Hall renovations, who price he said is the best price at $525,000.

"The Budget Committee is not supporting this," Dunn said.

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