City seeks partner to fix parking garage, OKs $150,000 for repairs

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The City Council this week agreed to proceed with designing and engineering the structural repairs and improvements to the downtown parking garage at a cost of $150,000, without an assurance that the owner of the private section of the garage will bear the cost of repairing its share of the facility.

The ramps and north end of the second and third levels, including the northernmost stairwell, are owned by the city. The ground floor of the garage, except for the ramps, and the south end of the second and third levels, including the southernmost stairwell, along with seven commercial units on the ground level, are privately owned.

City officials have expressed their willingness to repair, even improve, the publicly owned section of the garage "in cooperation with a willing partner."

But, as yet, Downtown Crossing LLC, the current owner, and Genesis Behavioral Health, the prospective buyer, of the private portion of the garage have yet to reach an arrangement that would enable one or the other to bear the cost of repairing that section of the facility, which is estimated to be $290,000. City Manager Scott Myers projected the cost of repairing and improving the entire garage, including adding an elevator, at about $2.9 million.

"So we're spending $150,000 without knowing if the project will come to fruition?" asked Mayor Ed Engler.

If Downtown Crossing LLC and Genesis come to agreement and the property is sold, Genesis seeks to begin converting the space currently leased to the Grace Capital Church to house its administrative offices and clinical services in October. The acquisition and conversion of the property would be financed by a $5.5 million bond issued by the New Hampshire Health and Educational Facilities Authority. Maggie Pritchard, executive director of Genesis, explained that because the agency will be paying a higher rate of interest on the borrowing than the funds will earn on deposit, the project should be completed as soon as possible.

But, before work could begin on the privately owned section of the facility, some $600,000 worth of repairs to the city-owned section must be completed, which would require work to begin in July.

Bob Durfee of Dubois & King Inc. said that design and engineering would enable the city to put the project out to bid by April 1 in anticipation of starting work in July. The cost of designing and engineering the repairs to the portion of the garage owned by the city is $120,000 while the balance would apply to the privately owned share of the facility together with the planning required to install an elevator.

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Laconia considers requests to lease space to businesses at Weirs dock

LACONIA — Faced with two inquiries about leasing space on the municipal dock at The Weirs to operate marine enterprises, which is prohibited by city ordinance, the City Council this week referred the issue to its Government Operations and Ordinances Committee.

City Manager Scott Myers characterized the inquiries "more than tire kicking" and said one of the businesses asked about leasing a significant share of the dock to provide a secure area for managing passengers and storing equipment.

The ordinance stipulates that "operators of boats engaged in commercial enterprise shall not moor such boats at any public wharf" then allows two exceptions, one for the United States mail boat and another for the Queen of Winnipesaukee.

Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) suggested taking advantage of the opportunity to attract new offerings for tourists by lifting the prohibition.

The Government Operations and Ordinances Committee will consider the issue when it meets on Monday, March 3, at 6 p.m., before the next regularly scheduled meeting of the City Council.

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Davis Place land sold to Harry Bean

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The City Council this week agreed to sell a small patch untended woodland owned by the city on Davis Place to Harry Bean, but shunned offers from Lloyd Wylie to purchase larger expanses of city property adjoining his own lot on the street.

The Planning Board and Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Board advised the council against any sale, which they said would hinder public access to the Winnipesaukee River while the Conservation Commission said that any transaction should include a easement to protect the natural environment and ensure public access to the riverfront.

Bean will acquire 9,810 square feet of land straddling Jewett Brook, which abuts the house lot he owns at 32 Davis Place. Most of this land lies within a sprawling 1.67-acre lot owned by the city that fronts on Davis Place, stretches along the north bank of the Jewett Brook to the Winnipesaukee River and includes a sliver of land reaching from the south bank of the brook to Howard Street. The remainder consists of a strip of land, approximately 10 feet by 131 feet along the east side of a 0.15-acre lot, also owned by the city, that lies within the larger lot.

The land has become a dumping ground and gathering place where undesirable activities take place, which frequently require intervention by the police. Bean said he will attach the property to his house lot next door and maintain and police it.

City Manager Scott Myers told the council that Bean's proposal "will not impact any potential future City use for the Riverwalk or other access to the Winnipesaukee River." Nor, he continued, would the parcel qualify as a buildable lot. Almost all the property lies within the 75-foot wetland buffer along Jewett Brook where no vegetation can be removed or altered without a permit from the Planning Board.

Bean He will pay $6,500 for the parcel, which by including the cost of surveying and conveying the property not to exceed $5,000 ensures the city a return of $1,500. Adding the land to the abutting abutting house lot will increase the assessed value of that property by $10,800.

Myers said that along with the sale, the city will merge the 0.15-acre lot into the 1.67-acre lot surrounding it

Only Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) opposed the sale, calling it "premature" and insisting "this is not the way the city should be doing business."

After the sale to Bean was approved, Councilor Brenda Baer (Ward 4) proposed considering Wylie's two offers to purchase portions of the 1.67acre lot, which abuts his property to the east and south. He offered $3,500 for the portion of the lot abutting his property to the south and fronting the Winnipesaukee River and Jewett Brook, an area of 0.40 acres.. Alternatively, he offered $20,000 for the entire lot excluding the parcel Bean purchased and the stretch on the south bank of Jewett Brook leading to Howard Street, an area of 1.43 acres.

Myers noted that the lot is a building lot with approximately 200 feet of frontage on the Winnipesaukee River and is assessed at $60,500. He suggested that if the council accepted either of Wylie's offers, the transaction should include an easement to provide public access to the riverfront.

Baer's motion, seconded by Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) to accept Wylie's first offered failed by a four-to-two vote and her motion to accept his second offer failed for want of a second.

"This is valuable riverfront property," said Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5). "We should not be in rush to sell this property."

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