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Vehicle storage at The Weirs scuttled again

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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County comes close to denying workers their paychecks over procedure questions

By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Belknap County workers will receive their holiday paychecks following a reversal of a 4-3 vote of the Belknap County Delegation's Executive Committee Tuesday morning against a $84,492 budge transfer sought by Belknap County Commissioners.

"Gentlemen, we have a problem. We have people who have to be paid," said Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), immediately after the vote. Following a short discussion of the impact of the vote, Rep. David Huot (R-Laconia) said that the Executive Committee had just voted "not to pay its help at Christmas."

When Executive Committee Chairman Michael Sylvia (R-Belmont) objected to Huot's comment and attempted to make a change to it, Huot said "Don't try to correct my statement. I made it for the record and it stands." Sylvia said he disagreed with the statement and the impact of the vote.

Voting with Sylvia to deny the transfer request were Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), chairman of the delegation, Rep. Marc Abear (R-Meredith) and Rep. Peter Spanos (R-Laconia). Voting with Huot to grant the request were Rep. Glenn Aldrich (R-Gilford) and Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton).

Sylvia said that the timing of the transfer request coming so late in the year and the fact that it never even came before the County Delegation until last week were concerns for the legislators that needed to be dealt with. Abear said it appears that there is a problem with the county's basic accounting procedures and that they would vote yes to the transfer in order to pay county workers, but first "We need to come to an understanding on how to handle this."

DeVoy said the commissioners have come to the delegation as soon as they are aware there is a problem and that the payroll issue was the result of a miscalculation of the number off payrolls left in the year. After the committee completed action on other transfer requests, Sylvia asked if anyone who had voted in the majority wanted to reconsider the action. Vadney moved to reconsider, but said "We need to receive this information in a more timely manner." Last week Vadney had expressed surprise that about the request, noting that commissioners and Belknap County Administrator Debra Shackett had told the delegation until just recently that there were no pending transfer requests.

Shackett said the auditors had credited most of the first payroll checks of 2016 back to the 2015 and she had thought until recently that there were four pay periods left in the year 2016 when there were actually five. Last week the commissioners had asked for a $52,739 request and this week that had grown by over $32,000.

Vadney said that he was concerned over the new, higher number and asked "How did that happen overnight?"

Huot said that while it is important that the county get a handle on how to do its business "It's not the time on Dec. 20 to say you screwed up," and that making the transfer now and holding discussions early next year would be the best way to go. He said the committee should be concerned with two issues: whether the transfers were appropriate and whether there were funds to make the transfers.

The vote to reconsider the action and grant the transfer request was 5-2, with only Sylvia and Abear voting no.

The nearly two-hour long session began with the election of officers, with Sylvia elected as chairman, Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton) as vice chairman and Rep. Abear as clerk. Howard said he was uneasy with the budget transfer requests and why the budget is so far off from what was originally approved. He said that he did not think it was done ''legally or properly" while Sylvia, who said that he would not vote to approve the transfer of any funds to a line which had already been overspent, which he said is a violation of state law, questioned why he delegation hadn't been informed in July that another budget line was going to end the year needing a transfer.

He was referring to $6,131,166 Department of Health and Human Services line in the budget, which represents the amount paid to the state for Belknap County residents in private nursing homes. The commissioners requested a $47,385 transfer to pay the remainder of this year's bill. Shackett said she knew in July, when the state's fiscal year ends, that the county would likely see an increase but didn't know until recently how much revenue it would receive to offset the increase. That transfer was later approved.

Sylvia said he sees the problem of receiving timely information on transfers as a management issue and asked how management is addressing the problems with department heads in keeping track of the budget.

DeVoy pointed out that there were over 400 line items in the budget and that some of the department heads are elected officials, like the sheriff and register of deeds. "We're going to do our best to work with the new sheriff on his budget."

When considering the first budget transfer request, $600 for advertising to fill positions at the nursing home, Abear said he hadn't been given enough information on the past actions with regard to the $1,500 account to make a decision on the request. He said he wanted to know the history of previous transfers for the account and asked that such information be included with all transfer requests.

Huot noted that the delegation doesn't have the authority to "nitpick every expenditure" and said it is important to be able to advertise to fill nursing positions, noting that the county is competing with places like Grafton County, which provides $1,000 incentives for new nurses.

Vadney said that the action taken by County Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) in paying for two ads in The Laconia Daily Sun for nursing positions was questionable, maintaining that under state law the county can't spend private money without first having an appropriation from the delegation.

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Belmont neighborhood watch leads to heroin arrest

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

BELMONT — A neighborhood watch set up between the residents and police in the general area of Arlene Drive led to a felony heroin arrest in late November.

According to police affidavits, a person who participates in the neighborhood watch noticed two people with backpacks leaving 24 Arlene Drive, the site of an October shooting and a home that neighbors say has a lot of in-and-out traffic.

Police responded at 8:47 p.m. and started taking to the two people, including Alea Webster, 20, of 86 Sherwood Forest Drive in Gilford, who were on Arlene Drive.

One of the officers noticed a a hypodermic needle had been dropped right next to the other officer's cruiser. He ordered Webster to keep her hands out of her pockets.

According to affidavits, when the other officer asked Webster if she had anything in her pockets that could possible hurt him and if she would be willing to empty them, she "willingly" complied, removing a knife, a hair clip and a small plastic bag that had some off-white powder in it.

The substance field-tested positive for heroin so Webster faces one felony count of possession of heroin.

According to Detective Eliza Gustafson, she and Officer Kris Kloetz have been participating in the neighborhood watch for a while. She said they meet with the neighbors of this particular neighborhood, usually in their homes, a talk to them about what is happening in their neighborhood.

"It's good for the neighborhoods to know us and to trust us," she said.

Gustafson said the program started with six neighborhood watches with two officers assigned to each. She said that not all of the groups are as active as the one she and Kloetz assist, but that at least one other in Belmont is working well and the other four operate in spits and sputters.

She encouraged any Belmont neighborhood resident groups who want to participate to call the police department at 267-8350. Gustafson added that even if a person is not in a specific neighborhood watch program, he or she should report to police any suspicious people or activity they see.

She said the goal of the program is to make people feel safe and comfortable in their own homes and neighborhoods and to better foster good neighborhood relationships between the police and the people they serve.

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