By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — In a decision that highlighted an anomaly in the zoning ordinance, the Zoning Board of Adjustment scuttled a proposal to build a heated indoor storage facility holding automobiles, recreational vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, trailers and watercraft on Watson Road near its intersection with US Route 3 at The Weirs.
Charlie Morgan, the owner of Vault Motor Storage of Merrimack, proposed constructing an 80,500-square-foot building on five acres of the 6.55-acre lot that houses the Boot Hill Saloon, which would remain on the western portion of the property. The property lies within the Commercial Resort District where the zoning ordinance allows commercial boat storage, self-storage units, outdoor storage, commercial parking lots and even sexually oriented businesses, but prohibits the commercial storage of vehicles. Consequently, Morgan required a variance to house vehicles in the proposed storage facility.
Eric Mitchell of Mitchell Engineering explained the the facility would be built parallel to Watson Road on land sloping to the northwest. With a peaked roof, the building would be 26 feet high at the front and, with the slope of the land, 40 feet high the rear, well within the maximum height allowance of 60 feet.
"We are very mindful of the view of the building," he noted.
He said that everything would be taken in and out of the building by an employee and nothing would be stored outside the building. Traffic in and out of the facility, he said, would be heaviest for several weeks in fall and spring and otherwise minimal.
"It's a warehouse," said Elizabeth Stone, "and it doesn't belong in our neighborhood. It belongs in an industrial park." A former member of the Conservation Commission, Stone said that the removal of trees would increase storm water run-off on the sloping land, where the water table is high. She also warned against the adverse effects of light pollution and increased traffic.
"I can't see how this would enhance our neighborhood," said Stone. She described Watson Road as "a pristine area with spectacular views" that would be marred by a "highly visible building."
Stone was echoed by a number of other residents, all of whom said the facility would be an inappropriate use for the property, and that it would have adverse impacts on the natural environment and impair the values of nearby properties. In addition, another eight property owners, most from Watson Road and Scenic Road, wrote letters to the board in opposition to the proposal.
Russ Poirier, a real estate agent representing the owner of the property, reminded the members of the ZBA that a number of other uses, all of which would have the same or similar effects that neighboring property owners feared, would be permitted on the property as a matter of right, with no requirement for a variance or special exception. At the same time, he said that there are similar buildings in the vicinity, including strip malls on US Route 3 and Funspot.
Board members were not persuaded, but instead found the proposal contrary to the public interest and the spirit of the ordinance. Moreover, the board ruled that there is no reason to suppose the project would not impair the value of neighboring properties or impose a hardship on the applicant since there are other suitable sites for an indoor storage facility in the city.
Originally Morgan sought to build a 140,000-square-foot tiered indoor storage facility on the 11.3-acre property that was once home to Surf Coaster USA, which closed a decade ago. However, he abandoned the project even before seeking the required variance when it met with stiff opposition from residents and business owners at The Weirs.
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