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Lawyers advise Gilmanton that despite errors, votes on historic district still fail

GILMANTON – Town attorneys have advised the selectmen that even though each of the two property owners who wanted to secede from the historic district received a majority of the votes cast at last month's SB-2 voting session, the two should remain in the district because of the protest petitions filed by abutters.

The protest petitions stem from a little-known property statute in state law that says if a person petitions the town government to leave a historic district, abutters can file a protest petition to increase the number of votes needed to win from a simple majority to a two-thirds super majority.

Attorneys said the town got three protest petitions from abutters – three who own 42.21 percent of the land across the street from Craig Gardner and one from people who own a total of 45.51 percent of the land abutting Roland Huber.

Attorney Laura Spector-Morgan said that since all of the protest petitioners met the minimum land ownership requirement of RSA 675:5 of 20 percent, their protests were valid and since neither request to leave the district passed by a super-majority, the properties will stay in the historic district.

Gardner and Huber had both argued that the historic district rules were inconsistently applied and their enforcement is dependent on who was sitting of the board at the time.

Gardner complained when the district objected to a while vinyl fence off of his garage so he keep his dogs penned it. His contention was the fence was the same color of the house, was neat and clean, and was consistent with other materials used to build his house in 1977.

Huber's primary complaint is that any time he tries do make improvements, the historical district gets injunctions for stop-work orders. He said he had tried to put siding on his home but because it was not wood siding consistent with the period, he was told to stop.

Huber said the same thing happened when he wanted to replace his doors and windows with something more energy efficient and made from materials he could afford.

Not a man of means, Huber said he is frustrated because he feels those who run the district are trying to make him spend money he doesn't really have to make his property look good. His property has been in his wife's family for 150 years.

One of the protest petitioners who owns land abutting both properties said the historic district would be more than willing to work with Huber and Gardner, but its members are upset because neither party came to the board with a plan or tried to talk to the members about their plans.

Spector-Morgan also said that while the protest petitions should have been noticed and publicized, she didn't think the court would overturn the two-thirds majority requirement because of a "minor procedural error."

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 11:45

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Marijuana growing charges dropped against Laconia man

LACONIA – After losing a motion to suppress all the evidence due to an illegal search, the Belknap County Attorney's office has decided not to prosecute a man accused for growing marijuana in his back yard.

Klifford Owens, 51, of 64 Grant St. had been charged with one count of manufacturing marijuana after a sheriff's deputy who was serving some papers to his next-door neighbor at 68 Grant St. noticed a single plant in a planter on Owens' property.

In his affidavits, the deputy said he was knocking on the door of 68 Grant St. and got no answer. He said he walked down a shared driveway between the two homes and ended up in the backyard of 68 Grant St. and noticed the marijuana plant that was on Owens' next door property next to his greenhouse.

The sheriff said he went up to the greenhouse and found the man who he was trying to serve in the greenhouse with Owens. The sheriff interrogated both men and got incriminating statements from Owens.

Owens' attorney, Mark Sisti, said the entry that afforded the sheriff a view of Owen's was unlawful.

Sisti successfully argued that a person has a right to enter onto someone's property for legitimate business but "(a police officer) has no greater right to intrude onto a person's property than any other stranger would have."

While established case law says that a driveway "invites" people to use it, in this case the driveway extended only to one-third of the length of the houses. Therefore, Sisti argued, when the deputy walked beyond the driveway and traversed onto 20 feet of private property he violated the Fourth Amendment protections of Owens' neighbor against an unlawful search.

Once it was established the entry into Owens' neighbor's property was illegal, Sisti said any statements made by Owens to him and any evidence obtained through the search warrant that came later should be suppressed.

He also argued that the "plain view" exceptions were also violated because the sheriff saw what he saw from a place where he was not supposed to be.

Belknap County Superior Court Judge James O'Neill agreed and the evidence was eliminated.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 11:41

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Epidemic: Treatment is key to addressing substance abuse, officials tell Sen. Shaheen

LACONIA — "I'm really here to listen," United States Senator Jeanne Shaheen told more than two dozen law enforcement officers and substance abuse practitioners who crowded into the community room of the Laconia Police Station yesterday for a roundtable to address the scourge of opiate abuse that the senator called "an epidemic."

Last year at least 300 men and women in New Hampshire died from overdoses of opiates — 10 of them in Laconia. Perhaps even more telling, Narcan, the medication used to counter the effects of opiates, was administered to 3,275 people who overdosed.

Despite the presence of law enforcement, the discussion turned more on the prevention and treatment of substance abuse than on interdicting the traffic in illicit drugs, especially heroin.

"We don't believe we can arrest our way out of this issue," said Captain Mark Armaganian, who heads the Investigative Services Bureau of the New Hampshire State Police, which includes the narcotics unit.

Shaheen began by asking Eric Adams, the PET (prevention, enforcement, treatment) officer in the Laconia Police Department, to describe what she said was "a model I haven't heard about." He explained that he responded to all overdoses to support the individuals and their families and worked closely New Horizons Counseling Center to steer addicts toward treatment and recovery. "I'm not a counselor," he said. "I don't have the education for that, but one thing I do have is compassion." Police Chief Chris Adams added, "It's more about treatment than going out and making arrests."

Mayor Ed Engler recalled a conversation with Adams, who told him that in speaking with addicts they were quick to recollect the trials of their upbringing and childhood, from which he concluded, "despair, hopelessness and poverty are at the root of this issue." Observing that heroin use is "certainly a crisis," he said that it is not unique to New Hampshire but common throughout the country. At the same time, he noted, "It is an issue that affects a very small percentage of our population. The aspect most interesting to me," he continued, "is prevention."

Dr. Paul Racicot of LRGHealthcare, who directs the Nathan Brody Chemical Dependency Program at New Horizons, agreed, stressing the importance of early intervention, including counseling elementary school pupils about the dangers of both prescription and illicit drugs.

He was echoed by Linda Paquette, executive director of New Futures, an advocacy organization, who said that primary care physicians are especially well positioned for "early detection and screening."

Deputy Fire Chief Shawn Riley said that his team of EMTs and paramedic administered Narcan to 41 patients in 2014 and are on track to treat more than 100 this year. "Once we save them," he remarked, "they are still addicted to opiates. A near-death experience is too often not enough to get them to seek treatment.

Paquette said that in New Hampshire there are an estimated 100,000 people in need of treatment, which is one of the highest incidences of substance abuse in the country. But statewide the capacity to treat case is only 6,000, the lowest of any state except Texas.

"We need more resources for prevention, treatment and recovery," she said, "otherwise this problem will grow." She said that New Hampshire is the only state in New England without recovery centers, noting that Vermont operates 11 with positive results.

Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen noted that a significant increase in property crime was associated with the rising incidence of substance abuse and prosecuting these offenses provided an opportunity to treat those responsible while they serve their sentences in county jail. Likewise, she stressed the role of the recovery court, in which 10 people are currently enrolled.

Racicot and Jacqui Abikoff of New Horizons both stressed the importance of "medically assisted treatment," by which recovering addicts are prescribed a maintenance drug such as suboxone or methadone. Abikoff explained that long-term opiate use causes brain damage, which renders recovering addicts unable to benefit from counseling. Administering suboxone, methadone or similar medications enables patients to shed their addiction in a controlled manner, she said.

"We're talking about medication," Abikoff emphasized, "not legal addiction." She noted that apart from a few physicians who prescribe suboxone, medically assisted treatment is not available in the Lakes Region. The nearest methadone clinics are in Concord and Somersworth. "There has not been a lot of support medically assisted treatment locally," she remarked.

Adams said that New Horizons is "overwhelmed" and the cost of other treatment and recovery programs is often an obstacle to addicts seeking help.

Shaheen reminded the group that both the Affordable Care Act and the expanded Medicaid program include a substance abuse benefit, which she expects will increase access to treatment programs.

"We can't forget about the enforcement side," insisted Police Chief Mark Lewandowski of Belmont. Without discounting the need for more capacity for treatment and recovery, he said, "If you don't stop the drugs coming, you're not accomplishing anything."

Shaheen agreed that additional resources are required for both enforcement and treatment, noting that Congress recently approved an appropriation of $7 million to curb substance abuse in northern New England.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 11:29

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4 candidates competing for 2 open seats on Meredith Selectboard

MEREDITH — With the deadline fast approaching, four candidates have applied for the two open seats on the Board of Selectmen, which the three elected selectmen will fill by appointment next month.

Three of the four applicants stood for election on March 10 — Michael Pelczar, Jonathan James and David Bennett — while the fourth, Alfio Torrisi, moved to town just over a year ago.

Pelczar polled 320 votes to finish in third place among the eight candidates vying for two seats. A fourth-generation contractor, he owns and operates Inter-Lakes Builders Inc., which constructs custom homes. Born and raised in Meredith, he described himself as "a regular Joe" who seeks to perpetuate the character of the community. "Change is not my favorite thing," he said, "but change is inevitable. The changes that have taken place have been good for the town and I want to keep change on that path."

James, whose 192 votes were the fifth most in March, came to Meredith as a 14-year-old. He served in the Coast Guard, worked as a home builder as well as a facilities manager at Freudenberg NOK and the Spaulding Youth Center, and most recently was director of buildings, grounds, housekeeping and security at the Tilton School. In Meredith he has served on the now defunct Water Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment as well as a trustee of the trust funds.

With 90 votes, Bennett finished seventh in the election. Like Pelczar, Bennett is a longtime resident of Meredith with deep roots in the town. A member of the first graduating class of the vocational technical center in Laconia, he has spent his life building, repairing and racing automobiles and motorcycles. He managed parts departments at local dealerships in the 1970s before opening his own garage and later worked at Meredith (now Laconia) Harley-Davidson. Although he considers himself "old school," he stressed, "I'm not totally conservative. I know that things have got to change, but Meredith should keep its rural values."

Torrisi, who recently moved to Meredith from Pelham, is an electrical inspector for the state of New Hampshire who applied in order to contribute to the civic life of his new community.

The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. on Monday, April 6. The Board of Selectmen will interview the candidates on Monday, April 13, when they are expected to make the appointments.

Town Manager Phil Warren said yesterday that the board is eager to fill the seats since with only three members it has proved difficult to corral all three required for a quorum on the same date.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 11:01

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