In-law units will require city OK

Laconia City Council revises zoning rules in response to state law


LACONIA — A new state law intended to make it easier to build an in-law apartment is having the unintended consequence of making the process harder in some cases.

Those wishing to build these accessory dwelling units will need to seek approval of the Zoning Board of Adjustment under an ordinance approved by the City Council on Monday night.

Existing requirements had previously allowed this construction in many Laconia residential zones without the need to go before a city board.

A state law going into effect June 1 presented council members with a dilemma.

They could either allow these units with little restriction, or they could allow them with some conditions in a process requiring the applicant to come before the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a "special exception," which requires an application, notice to abutters and a public hearing.

The council chose the latter, opting for placing conditions on these dwellings including that the property owner must occupy either the primary residence or the new unit. Another condition is that the new unit have self-sufficient living quarters.

The unit shall not be less than 300 square feet or more than 750 square feet in most cases. It can exceed 750 square feet if its size is no more than 25 percent of the main dwelling.

Mayor Ed Engler said the involvement of the Zoning Board of Adjustment adds a complication for those wishing to build an in-law apartment.

"It's not a huge deal," Engler said. "But it's another layer of bureaucracy, an extra hoop they have to jump through."

The new state law grew out of a study by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, finding that there is demand for such housing, as people want smaller homes with a more urban feel.
Such units can also offer older people greater opportunities to "age in place" without the need to move to senior housing.
City Planning Director Dean Trefethen said the new ordinance can help the city ensure these units are used as intended. The city has an interest, for example, in making sure the property owner doesn't rent out both the main residence and the accessory dwelling.

"The ordinance has a little more teeth and gives us something to fall back on," he said.

A primary purpose of the new state law is to prohibit communities from bans on accessory dwelling units altogether, as some do.

As of June 1, municipalities must allow the units in every zone where single family housing is now permitted, although conditions can be placed governing factors such as size, access points and parking requirements.



Avoiding tax cap override?

State funding of kindergarten could avert city budget showdown


LACONIA — A possible infusion of state money could help fund a newly negotiated teachers' contract without the need for the City Council to take the controversial step of overriding the property tax cap.
Funding included in Senate Bill 191 for full-day kindergarten would free up $400,000 in local money now being used to provide this program in the district, Laconia School Superintendent Dr. Brendan Minnihan said.
Gov. Chris Sununu backs the bill, which has passed the Senate, won support in a House vote Thursday, and is now pending in the House Finance Committee.
The School Board and the Laconia Education Association have approved a five-year contract that would put salaries at or above most other districts in the area. The pact would require a yearly budget increase of $850,000.
The catch is: The school district doesn't have enough room under the tax cap to fund that increase. Even after making significant spending cuts, the district finds the cap stops it about $300,000 short of funding the cost of the contract in the new fiscal year. 

That's where the new state money, if it develops, could make the new contract work.
"It would certainly have the ability to help in that regard," Minnihan said.
City Council member Henry Lipman also said the state money could assist in funding the contract.
"It kind of makes it a lot easier to find a path forward," he said.
The City Council has to agree to fund the contract before it can take effect.
By a two-thirds vote, the City Council could override the tax cap, but this would be politically difficult, particularly during an election year. The council could also schedule a city charter amendment vote in November to modify the cap for the future.
Lipman and Councilor Brenda Baer have expressed a preference for living within the existing cap, rather than modifying it. Other councilors have held off on commenting on the contract pending a May 22 school district budget presentation.
Lipman said the district is facing challenges in making its teacher salaries competitive with nearby towns, but local residents also have an interest in limiting increases in property taxes.
"We have to thread the needle on the interests of the current population and the growth everybody needs to happen," he said.
The tax cap, approved by voters in November 2005, limits increases in property tax collections for the city, school and county budgets based on a formula tied to changes in the Federal National Consumer Price Index (urban) and new building permits less demolitions.

Under the tentative contract, teachers at all experience steps are to get a $700 salary increase in the first year of the contract. Teachers at the top step are to receive an additional $1,000, resulting in a total increase of $1,700 for teachers in this category in the first year.
In the second year, all steps are to be given a $1,200 increase. Teachers in the top step would receive an additional $1,300.
The contract uses Gilford teacher salaries as a reference point.
More than 60 percent of Laconia teachers are four steps behind their proper steps because of step freezes in prior years.
"A teacher with a bachelor's degree and 12 years of experience earns $3,447 less than their proper step and $9,419 less than a Gilford teacher with the same experience," School Board member Mike Persson said a presentation to the school board.
Yearly teacher pay in the Laconia School District now ranges from $36,412 for a first-step teacher with a bachelor's degree to $73,250 for a teacher in the 18th step and with a master's degree plus 30 credits.

Milfoil herbicide to be applied in Paugus Bay after Labor Day


LACONIA — Application of a powerful herbicide in Paugus Bay will be limited to areas away from the intake pipes for the city's drinking water, Laconia Water Superintendent Seth Nuttelman said Monday.

The herbicide 2,4-D will be applied to control milfoil, a non-native, green, slimy plant that chokes shallow water, crowds out native plants, damages habitat, snags fishing lures and clogs boat engines.

Its application will be limited to two areas. One is in the northernmost part of the bay near the Weirs Bridge and Thurston's Marina. The other is to the south, near Lakeport Landing Marina, which is downstream of the city's water intake.

"These are areas where the milfoil has thrived over the years," Nuttelman said.

He said that testing during previous applications failed to detect any evidence that the herbicide was getting into the city's drinking water.

"I've got a comfort level we won't see anything at all this time either," Nuttelman said.

The herbicide will be applied in September after Labor Day. Divers using suction hoses will also be part of the weed-removal effort. 

The city has $46,000 to fund the milfoil control program, including almost $14,000 in state funds.

Nuttelman said that ultimately it would be good to do a study to better understand water flow patterns in Paugus Bay. Information from such a study could be used to guide future herbicide applications.

City Manager Scott Myers said such a study would cost $170,000 and funding has not been identified to do this.

05-08 milfoil sign