Weirs Beach Drive-In faces final curtain

Weirs Drive in sold 8 23 17

The Weirs Drive-In Theatre is one of very few outdoor movie theaters left in the country. The property is expected to become a mix of commercial and condominiums if the agreement between owner Patricia Baldi and developer Al Mitchell goes through. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)


Sales agreement is reached on iconic property; multi-use development is planned



LACONIA — The owner of the iconic Weirs Drive-In has agreed to sell the 12-acre property for $2.5 million to a businessman who plans condominiums and commercial development.

Patricia Baldi, who has owned the outdoor theater since 1974, said the land is more valuable than the business, which is open about 12 weeks a year.

“I'm going to be 79 in one month,” she said Wednesday. “I've always worked extremely hard and it's time to take it easy.
“I had a chance to sell it at a good price and this is the time to sell it.”

Al Mitchell, the buyer, also owns a 1-acre parcel adjacent to the theater and another nine acres on nearby Tower Hill. He said his properties should complement each other and allow for as many as 80 condominium units, an event center, a hotel and other businesses.
“This should start bringing the Weirs up to another level,” he said.

His hope is to create the kind of attractive and successful commercial and tourism community that has taken shape in Meredith, which went through an economic renaissance in the 1980s.

“If I can replicate only a small part of what they did in Meredith, I will be happy,” Mitchell said.

The events center would host entertainment, and receive extensive use for Motorcycle Week activities.

The Weirs Drive-In has been a fixture in the community since it was built in 1948. It was one of the first drive-in movie theaters and is now one of the last few in New Hampshire.

Baldi said there is a certain amount of sadness in selling a property that she bought with her late husband, Lawrence.

“It's sad, but I can't go on forever,” she said. “We had a lot of good times. We had wonderful, dedicated customers and that will be the hardest part for me. Hopefully, some good will come of it.”

Mitchell had obtained first right of refusal on purchase of the property, which has been on the market for about a year. When another buyer came forward, Mitchell matched the offer, which included a provision that theater-related equipment is not part of the deal.

Baldi said her son, Larry, will take that equipment and intends to open another drive-in theater elsewhere.

Mayor Ed Engler said Mitchell's plans for the area present good opportunities for the city.

“I'm excited about the prospect of him owning the property,” Engler said. “He will develop it in a way that is not only appropriate and beneficial to himself but also to the city.”

City Councilor Ava Doyle, who owns a cottage community in the area, said many of her guests were excited that there was a drive-in theater nearby.

“The drive-in has gone the way of many things,” she said. “But it's exciting that somebody is going to be investing in the Weirs.”

Waterfront, luxury condominiums have been selling well in recent months, including a Christmas Island project where buyers snapped up units in the $600,000 range.

Mitchell said he envisions high-end condominiums and businesses that will make the city proud, including strong architectural elements and attractive features.

“I'm just looking to do a good job up there and basically put something up that a lot of people can enjoy,” he said.

  • Written by Rick Green
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Neighbors in Gilford cottage colonies battle over land use

GILFORD — Todd and Maureen Berkowitz are so fed up with their neighbors that they are willing risk having the Gilford Planning Board deny their application by barring the abutters from a site visit.

Rancor between the residents may derail an effort to improve the cottage colony off Scenic Drive and make it more compliant with land use regulations.

“If they set foot on our property, they will be arrested,” declared Todd Berkowitz during Monday night’s Planning Board meeting after planning and land use director John Ayer warned them that, while within their rights to say who is on their land, restricting the public from the site visit would give the Planning Board cause to reject their site plan application.

The Berkowitzes have hired Diversified Marine to redo the drainage on the property and relocate some buildings away from the water’s edge. Company representative Dave Farley said a lot of the buildings within the 50-foot restricted zone were in disrepair, and they would be removed when the staircase to the water was rebuilt. A new drainage system would be installed with permeable pavers to control surface and groundwater.
The biggest issue for the Planning Board was the plan to replace a pump house with an open-sided pavilion that would have more floor area than the building it replaces. The height of the pavilion cover also was a concern because zoning regulations allow a replacement structure to be no more than 1.5 times the height of the original building.
The pavilion, along with a fence between the properties, also was the concern of the neighbors, especially Vanessa Rose, whose cottage is only a few feet from the property line.
Rose told the board that she learned of the project when she found “a strange man digging three feet away.”
She said her family had put up the original fence, but took down three sections of it to give them a view of the lake. She did not want the Berkowitzes to rebuild the fence, saying it also would restrict the air flow to the cabin.
“Mr. Berkowitz said, ‘We spent an astronomical amount of money on this property, and we can do whatever we want with it,” she said. “Mrs. Berkowitz said they’re putting in a kitchen, and without the fence, smoke would be blowing into my camp.”
Rose also noted that while the Berkowitzes are presenting plans to the town now, they already have started the work.

“The fence is already constructed, and the pump house has already come down. They ripped up the deck, and this morning they were spraying a chemical spray,” she said.
Farley said the work that has been done is part of the landscaping, with forms in place for the concrete that is part of the drainage system. He explained that all that work was included in the state permit approved by the state Department of Environmental Services, reflecting that agency’s recommendations.
Farley only became aware of the need for a revised site plan when the Roses complained about the fence. He said he was not aware that the property was considered a commercial cabin colony until he spoke with the town about their complaint.
“We got a state permit with notification to the town and the abutters,” he said, noting there had been no objection earlier. “I’m in the business of protecting water quality. When the issue came up because of the fence, we filed the appropriate paperwork with the town.”
Ayer confirmed that statement, saying the town initially got the call about the fence going up and realized when looking into it that there was a commercial site plan for the property.
“When the application came in, we realized there were other issues,” Ayer said, citing the town’s setback requirements, buffer zones, and building height limitations.
Todd Berkowitz said they do not intend to operate it as a commercial cabin colony, instead using it as a family compound that provides accommodations for his 40 family members. The outdoor pavilion would provide a place to prepare food under cover from the weather.
“We were not trying to create a nuisance,” he said. “We didn’t even think there would be an issue until we put up the fence, and our neighbors were coming over and trespassing. We’re going to comply with whatever the board requires.”
Maureen Berkowitz said past owners have rented the cabins with outside grills, so their plans would not change anything.
Planning Board members pointed out that the revised site plan does not include square footage and height information that they would need in order to make a decision, and several suggested doing a site visit to get a better idea of the layout of the property.
While they discussed asking the code enforcement officer to consider issuing a cease-and-desist order to stop work until the plan is approved, they concluded that the work that has been done is part of the drainage work approved by the DES and that removal of the forms for the concrete that already has been poured would not be a problem. Farley said nothing further could be done until the town approves the revised site plan.
The board tabled the application until next month to allow a site visit on Aug. 30 at 4 p.m.

8 23 110 Scenic 1

The property at 110 Scenic Drive in Gilford still has a sign advertising weekly rentals, though the property is no longer being operated as a commercial business. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

8 23 110 Scenic 2

The owners of 110 Scenic Drive in Gilford want to build a pavilion and other improvements on their property but the Planning Board wants to perform a site visit before deciding on the plan. However, acrimony between the owners and neighbors could sink the application. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)


  • Written by Tom Caldwell
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Meredith considers waterfront improvements


MEREDITH — Town Manager Phil Warren has presented preliminary cost estimates for future improvements to the town’s waterfront infrastructure, but he suggested engaging in a community visioning process and a feasibility study before doing any formal engineering work.

The $1,402,564 estimate includes work at the town docks downtown and at the public boat launch at Shep Brown’s Boat Yard on Lovejoy Sands Road.

Work at the town docks would include the docks, boardwalk, and gazebo, along with the stone walls from Hesky to Scenic Park.

Work at the Lovejoy Sands Road boat launch originally was to have included public restrooms but Warren said the new owners who purchased Shep Brown’s last week said they might provide restrooms in the buildings that are there.

“We may be able to work something out,” Warren told the Meredith Board of Selectmen at Monday’s work session.

In addition to replacing the boardwalk and docks, Warren said work would include repairing the bulkhead with sheet piling and installing restrooms by the downtown docks.

The total cost for the work is estimated at $1,068,620, with another $267,155 for design work and permitting, and $66,789 as a contingency.

Warren said those numbers can be used in the 2018 budget discussions in order to hire an engineer to develop plans that, if approved in the spring of 2019, would allow the town to go out to bid on that project at the same time the town is ready to move forward on a plan for the public library. That might allow for some economies of scale, he said.

He noted that the town already has set aside $67,830 for the Lovejoy Sands Road project and $96,000 for public works projects.

Selectmen agreed to move ahead with the planning.


  • Written by Tom Caldwell
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