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Historic preservation easement granted to state would constrain new owner of Belknap Mill

LACONIA — As the Belknap Mill Society seeks a new owner for the historic building its efforts will be constrained, perhaps severely, by a Term Historic Preservation Easement it granted to the state in 2004 in the course of securing a grant from the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.

In November, Christine Santaniello, president of the society, which acquired the mill in 1974, announced that it no longer has the financial capacity to own and maintain the building. The board of trustees offered the building to the city for an undisclosed price, on the understanding that under municipal ownership it would remain open to both the public and the society. Without expressly declining or accepting the offer to purchase the building, the majority of the City Council asked the trustees to court a private purchaser.

However, the restrictions and obligations the easement places on the owner of the mill, especially a prohibition against operating it for private profit, represent strong disincentives for any private party other than a philanthropist to invest in the property.

The easement, granted for a term of 50 years, is intended "to ensure that the architectural, historical, and cultural features" of the mill are sustained and "to prevent any use or change of the property" that would "impair or interfere" with this purpose. The easement provides that if the society divests itself of all or part of the building, its "restrictions, stipulations, and covenants" shall bind the new owner.

The easement obliges the owner of the mill to maintain it in "the same or better condition and state of repair" as that on the date of the easement and prescribes that work shall be undertaken in accord with standards specified for historic buildings by the United States Secretary of the Interior. An "annual stewardship report," detailing all work on the both the exterior and interior" of the building must be submitted to the LCHIP.

The owner must make both the first floor, which in 2004 housed the gallery, museum and gift shop, and the meeting room on the third floor "accessible to the public during regular operating hours." In other words, the easement appears to designate these two floors as public space, which could be hired for meetings and events, but not leased for extended periods. Likewise, the uses of the mill as a gallery, museum, gift shop and rented offices, cannot be changed unless the Department of Cultural Resources finds that the proposed uses do not "impair the preservation values" of the building and do not conflict with the purposes of the easement.

The easement provides that no alterations to the dimensions or exterior of the building, including any changes to the materials or finishes, can be undertaken with the express approval of the Department of Cultural Resources. Moreover, the profile of the building cannot be obscured by plantings, utility lines or equipment like satellite dishes. Signage is explicitly restricted to a nine-by-eleven inch plaque stating the significance of the building and the easement, a sign bearing the address, and temporary signs advertising a special event or space for rent. The owner is bound to insure the building for its "full replacement value."

If necessary, the terms of the easement may be amended by the mutual consent of the Belknap Mill Society, Department of Cultural Resources and Land and Community Heritage Authority. However, amendments must be consistent with the purpose of the original easement and not affect its duration. Above all, the easement cannot be amended to "permit any private inurement to any person or entity," which ensures that the building cannot be operated for private profit.

Meanwhile, when the City Council hosted a public meeting on the future of the mill earlier this week, George Roberts of Gilmanton, a former president of the Belknap Mill Society, voiced concern that the trustees approached city officials without convening a meeting of the members of the society to inform them of the situation. Later Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) suggested the defer further discussion of the issue until the trustees met with their membership.

Mayor Ed Engler said yesterday that the council will return to the issue at some future date, "probably at first in a non-public session, since we will be discussing the transfer of real estate and talking about specific figures." Noting that selling the property to the city is the first option of the trustees, he explained "we must tell them whether or not that is going to happen in a relatively timely manner so they can move on." For the moment, Engler said that the council would await the next step taken by the trustees, who he expects will be meeting this week.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 02:08

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Gilford man charged with May rape of female guest of local hotel

GILFORD — Police have charged a Lake Street man breaking into a woman's hotel room in May and forcibly raping her.

Douglas Fisher, 54, of 15 Lake Street, Apt A. is charged with one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault (forcible rape), one count of burglary, and one count of robbery.

Gilford Police said Fisher was taken into custody without incident. He is being held on $100,000 cash bail after appearing yesterday in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division. He is scheduled for a probable cause hearing on December 15.

Police said they received a call from a woman in the early morning hours of May 7 who reported being attacked and sexually assaulted at The Margate Resort by a male assailant.

During the investigation, police collected evidence that included DNA from the victim. The DNA was identified as Fisher's based on a matching sample already entered into the National DNA (CODIS) database.

"We're glad to have him in custody," said Lt. Kris Kelley who noted the detailed investigation done by Det. Sgt. Chris Jacques and Det. Denise Parker.

In December of 2013, Fisher was charged with driving while intoxicated and one count of driving after revocation after he backed into a Laconia Police cruiser that was driving down Lake Street while he plowing at the hotel.

Gilford Police investigated the accident and said the truck Fisher was driving was registered to Plymeg Hotel Management.

At the time of the accident, Fisher's record indicates he had one previous driving while intoxicated charge from 2012.

Yesterday Kelley said Fisher has a criminal record but not for sexual assault. He declined to say anything further.

The affidavits supporting Fisher's arrest have been sealed for 30 days by the court and police are not releasing any more details at this time.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 02:03

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Nedeau says he can't work with new commissioners, will resign

LACONIA — Belknap District 3 County Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith), citing differences with newly-elected members of the commission, resigned effective January 1 at a meeting of the commission last night at the Belknap County complex.
Nedeau, who was first elected to the commission for a two-year term in 2010 and elected to a four-year term in 2012, had two years left in his current term.
He said that he couldn't see himself being able to work with new commissioners Dick Burchell (R-Gilmanton) and Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) who will take office on January 2.
''They (Burchell and DeVoy) don't even speak to me,'' said Nedeau, who was closely aligned on policy issues with the two outgoing commissioners Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) and John Thomas (R-Belmont). Thomas was defeated by Burchell in the Republican primary in September.
At last week's commission meeting held in response to the county Executive Committee's decision not to grant the commission's request for a transfer of funds to pay $24,000 in legal bills Nedeau told fellow commissioner Philpot that ''it was amazing to sit there and listen to our next commissioner basically swear at me.''
He said that he didn't think it was possible for him to work with the new commissioners and didn't want to place himself in the position of always being the minority member and unable to accomplish any of the goals of the current commission.
''Belknap Couunty will survive these guys.'' said Nedeau.

Commissioners Philpot and Thomas praised Nedeau for his work on behalf of the county as a commissioner and his previous 10 years as a county legislator, as well as his service as deputy sheriff for the county.. Thomas noted that he and Nedeau had worked together for many years as legislators and also as deputy sheriffs for the county and said that his service will be sorely missed.
Philpot noted that the current commissioners had set an example of working together which shows that ''we all don't have to agree but we always need to talk.''
Nedeau had served as chairman of the county convention when it hired Craig Wiggin as sheriff in 2007 to replace Dan Collis. The procedure was challenged by activists Doug Lambert and Tom Tardif because the votes were not taken in public and they won a court decision which forced the county to have recorded public votes by commission members.
Choice of Nedeau's successor will be up to Belknap County Convention, which under state law 661, section 661:9, is empowered to fill vacancies on county commissions.
The law reads: II. (a) If a vacancy occurs in the office of a county commissioner, the members of the county convention shall fill the vacancy by majority vote until the next biennial election of county officers. If the term filled is less than the unexpired term, then notwithstanding any provisions of RSA 653:1, VI, the commissioner district filled pursuant to this paragraph shall be added to the next biennial election ballot to be chosen by the voters of the county for a 2-year term.
The procedure used by the convention will be required to meet the public vote standard set by the state Supreme Court in the Lambert-Tardif ruling.
The commission also heard from County Administrator Debra Shackett that more budget transfers will be needed before the end of the year and will be presented to the convention's Executive Committee on Tuesday, December 16 at a meeting whose time has yet to be determined.
Shackett said that the nursing home needs transfers between Medicare A and Medicare B accounts and that trying to keep track of fund balances in order to meet the court ruling obtained by the county convention which prohibits transfers of more than $300 without Executive Committee approval has become onerous and very time intensive.
''I have the director of nursing keeping track of spending every day. Things change so rapidly on a daily basis that we have to review spending in quarter hour increments,'' said Shackett.
''This shows why the court order is wrong. It's completely unworkable and unmanageable. I don't think this was clearly articulated in court and the result is this situation,'' said Philpot.
Shackett said that the situation is going to get far worse next year and that there will be a significant need for transfers which will have to be dealt with.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 03:18

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Courthouse heating unit not pulling weight

LACONIA — The Belknap County Executive Committee Monday night approved a $2,000 transfer of funds into the county maintenance department budget in order to have a contractor look at a malfunctioning heating unit on the roof of the Belknap County Courthouse.
''They're unable to get the temperature in one of the courtrooms to over 60 degrees,'' said Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), newly elected chairman of the Belknap County Convention, who said that county officials told the seven-member Executive Committee Monday night that the unit is about two years old but the warranty has expired.
''They needed a transfer because the funds in the maintenance line for the courthouse were exhausted,'' said Tilton.
Tilton, who chaired the Executive Committee for the last two years, said that the committee will soon decide whether to name a chairman or continue with the same structure of previous years, in which the committee has the same officers as the County Convention, which would mean that he and convention vice chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) and clerk Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton), who are already members of the committee, would be the presiding officers.
The Executive Committee met to hear the request following a public hearing Monday night by the Belknap County Convention on the county's proposed $27,330,778 budget for 2015, up by 6.8 percent, which calls for an increase of 10 percent in the amount to be raised by property taxes. The tax bill would go from $13,663,314 in 2014 to $15,034,757 next year.
Tilton was critical of the numbers used by the county commissioners regarding the percentage increase from previous years, saying that a $533,000 appropriation made in previous years for Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid which is no longer part of the county budget, would have to be factored in and wasn't.
He also maintains that the commissioners' claim that two positions that the convention funded last year went unfilled because the benefits for those positions were not funded is not accurate. He said the commission, which is asking that those positions be filled in the upcoming budget, decided instead to use the funds for other purposes.
During Monday night's hearing, Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who is stepping down after two terms on the commission and will be replaced after the first of the year by Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), likened the county to a $60 million a year business which is managed by the commissioners as the board of directors, with the county administrator serving as CEO.
''We run several major businesses, a nursing home with 94 residents and 105 full-time and 37 part-time employees, a corrections department with 100 inmates and 30 full-time and 24 part-time employees, as well as sheriff's department with 19 full-time and 29 part-time employees as well as a law firm, the county attorney's office, a maintenance department and a registry of deeds.'' said Philpot.
He said that labor is the biggest part of the county's costs, followed by operating expenses and health insurance costs.
The county has four collective bargaining units (unions) he said, all of whom are covered by the status quo doctrine which means all conditions of employment, including health insurance benefits, remain the same until a new collective bargaining agreement is agreed to.
County Attorney Melissa C. Guldbrandsen told members of the newly-elected convention that it is ''really important to keep in mind the importance of county government, which is often ignored, and keep in mind all the things we do,'' as they consider the new budget request.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 December 2014 12:40

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