70 residents answer call to discuss & debate future of Belmont Mill

BELMONT — Some new faces joined with some familiar ones Monday night for a facilitated discussion about the future of the Belmont Mill. About 70 people attended the meeting at the High School.

The facilitator, Michael Castagna, was involved in both planning charrettes for the first renovation of the mill in the 1990s and the village redesign that was completed last year. He was paid by the town for his services.

While every participant had something a little different to say, the overall trends could be broken down into two categories, those, representing a minority and identifying themselves primarily as new to Belmont, who wanted to tear down the mill and those, who were in the majority, who wanted to save it.

"It's a health hazard," said one man named Joe who suggested giving it to the Fire Department and letting them "burn it to the ground."

"The mill is the gem of Belmont Village," countered Donna Hepp, a vocal proponent of saving it but an equally vocal opponent of converting in to town offices in one fell swoop. She thinks the restoration could be done over phases, an idea many liked.

What nobody can agree on is exactly what to do with the building, when it should be done, and how much should be spent to do it.

The discussion was prompted by the nearly 4-to-1 defeat of a warrant article that proposed spending $3.4-million, with 2.9-million to be borrowed, for the restoration of the mill and its conversion to town offices.

Few in the crowd Monday supported that option, though a number of people thought that the Department of Recreation could expand some of its activities to additional space in the mill.

One new idea that came to the fore was the possibility of a public-private partnership with many suggesting LRGHealthcare of Laconia as the likely partner.

The third floor is entirely occupied by the hospital company-owned Belknap Family Health Care which, according to statements made by unsubstantiated sources, wants to stay in Belmont but is looking for additional space.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin acknowledged at selectman's meeting earlier this spring that there have been very informal and non-committal discussions between her and LRGHealthcare. At the time, a spokeswoman from the hospital declined to confirm them saying only that it was looking at a number of options for Belknap Family Health Care.

All agreed Monday night that it would be sad if the doctor's offices left Belmont Village.

Although the mill was supposed to be the only topic, many saw the discussion as a way to talk about all of the town buildings in the immediate village area, including the former Northway Bank and the current town hall.

Current town hall, according to many town employees, has its challenges, including a partial dirt cellar, its small size, and an second floor that is unusable because of a lack of elevator required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Many of those who spoke were under the impression the bank was purchased for town offices although history, including prior news articles and selectmen minutes, indicated the town wanted it because it felt it was a key piece of property located in an important section of town.

Former Selectmen Donna Cilley pointed out that there never was any intent to move the town offices there because it is too small.

Others pointed out that although the fourth floor of the mill is unusable, the remainder of the building is structurally sound, though the "envelope" or the exterior needs some brick work.

Castagna drew the conclusion that people didn't have enough information when they went to the polls in March and defeated the article converting the mill to town offices.

Castagna plans on returning with some conclusions, however what Selectman Jon Pike said he's like to see is more townspeople being involved during the next round of planning so there is some consensus and more widely known and understood plans before voters go to the polls the next time.

Brush fire off Mile Hill Road contained

LACONIA — Firefighters, assisted by crews from Belmont and Gilford, spent two hours quelling a brush fire in a wooded area off Mile Hill Road early Monday afternoon.

Originally Belmont firefighters were dispatched to investigate reports of smoke seen from multiple fire towers. At 12:46 p.m. Laconia firefighters were called to an outside fire, which proved to be the source of the smoke reported from the towers. Firefighters found a fast moving fire in wooded terrain that posed no immediate threat to buildings Crews from Laconia, Belmont and Gilford brought the fire after it burnt between two and three acres.

Drug arrest results from DWI stop

SANBORNTON — Police have charged a Nashua man with driving while intoxicated, possession of controlled drugs, possession of drugs in a motor vehicle and possession of a loaded firearm in a vehicle — all after a traffic stop Saturday night.

Chief Stephen Hankard said Stephen West, 60, was driving a 2014 GMC pickup on Route 127 near Burleigh Hill Road when he was stopped by an officer on patrol who suspected West was driving under the influence of alcohol.

After his arrest, an inventory search was conducted prior to towing of West's truck and the officer allegedly found a glass pipe consistent with one typically used to smoke crack cocaine.

The search was stopped, the vehicle impounded and a warrant was obtained to continue the search, during which police found hypodermic needles, narcotic prescription drugs, more drug paraphernalia and a loaded .22 magnum revolver.

West has been released on personal recognizance bail and is scheduled to appear in the 6th Circuit Court, Franklin Division on May 18.

Hankard said the Tilton police assisted Sanbornton with the arrest and the investigation is ongoing.

Former New Hampton daycare owner pleads 'no contest' to reckless conduct charge

NEW HAMPTON — A former daycare owner pleaded nolo contendre (no contest) yesterday in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division to one count of misdemeanor reckless conduct.

Ann Mitchell, the former owner of Annie's Place-Children's Learning Center was found guilty by Judge Jim Carroll and sentenced to one year of probation. She was fined $2,000 — all of which was suspended for two years pending good behavior. Mitchell was also ordered to complete 30 hours of community service within three months.

In March of 2014, and during an unannounced visit by the N.H. Child Care Licensing Unit, inspectors found children as young as 8-months-old placed in cribs under four-corner fitted sheets to get them to sleep at nap time.

One 12-month old was placed in a "pack and play" so tightly one the top of her head was showing.

After an investigation, Mitchell was charged with one felony count of child endangerment but she agreed to plead "nolo" to a reduced charge of reckless conduct for her action of placing a fitted sheet over one child.

A nolo contendre plea means the accused chooses not to contest the charges. If accepted by a judge, those pleas are typically used instead of guilty pleas if there collateral issues like a potential civil suit.

In Mitchell's case, Carroll accepted the plea without much enthusiasm, but said he understood.

Annie's Place was closed by the licensing board and Carroll also ordered Mitchell to obey any restrictions placed on her by it. She is also ordered to stay away from five of her name victims and their families who will not be identified by The Daily Sun.