Neighbors in Gilford cottage colonies battle over land use

GILFORD — Todd and Maureen Berkowitz are so fed up with their neighbors that they are willing risk having the Gilford Planning Board deny their application by barring the abutters from a site visit.

Rancor between the residents may derail an effort to improve the cottage colony off Scenic Drive and make it more compliant with land use regulations.

“If they set foot on our property, they will be arrested,” declared Todd Berkowitz during Monday night’s Planning Board meeting after planning and land use director John Ayer warned them that, while within their rights to say who is on their land, restricting the public from the site visit would give the Planning Board cause to reject their site plan application.

The Berkowitzes have hired Diversified Marine to redo the drainage on the property and relocate some buildings away from the water’s edge. Company representative Dave Farley said a lot of the buildings within the 50-foot restricted zone were in disrepair, and they would be removed when the staircase to the water was rebuilt. A new drainage system would be installed with permeable pavers to control surface and groundwater.
The biggest issue for the Planning Board was the plan to replace a pump house with an open-sided pavilion that would have more floor area than the building it replaces. The height of the pavilion cover also was a concern because zoning regulations allow a replacement structure to be no more than 1.5 times the height of the original building.
The pavilion, along with a fence between the properties, also was the concern of the neighbors, especially Vanessa Rose, whose cottage is only a few feet from the property line.
Rose told the board that she learned of the project when she found “a strange man digging three feet away.”
She said her family had put up the original fence, but took down three sections of it to give them a view of the lake. She did not want the Berkowitzes to rebuild the fence, saying it also would restrict the air flow to the cabin.
“Mr. Berkowitz said, ‘We spent an astronomical amount of money on this property, and we can do whatever we want with it,” she said. “Mrs. Berkowitz said they’re putting in a kitchen, and without the fence, smoke would be blowing into my camp.”
Rose also noted that while the Berkowitzes are presenting plans to the town now, they already have started the work.

“The fence is already constructed, and the pump house has already come down. They ripped up the deck, and this morning they were spraying a chemical spray,” she said.
Farley said the work that has been done is part of the landscaping, with forms in place for the concrete that is part of the drainage system. He explained that all that work was included in the state permit approved by the state Department of Environmental Services, reflecting that agency’s recommendations.
Farley only became aware of the need for a revised site plan when the Roses complained about the fence. He said he was not aware that the property was considered a commercial cabin colony until he spoke with the town about their complaint.
“We got a state permit with notification to the town and the abutters,” he said, noting there had been no objection earlier. “I’m in the business of protecting water quality. When the issue came up because of the fence, we filed the appropriate paperwork with the town.”
Ayer confirmed that statement, saying the town initially got the call about the fence going up and realized when looking into it that there was a commercial site plan for the property.
“When the application came in, we realized there were other issues,” Ayer said, citing the town’s setback requirements, buffer zones, and building height limitations.
Todd Berkowitz said they do not intend to operate it as a commercial cabin colony, instead using it as a family compound that provides accommodations for his 40 family members. The outdoor pavilion would provide a place to prepare food under cover from the weather.
“We were not trying to create a nuisance,” he said. “We didn’t even think there would be an issue until we put up the fence, and our neighbors were coming over and trespassing. We’re going to comply with whatever the board requires.”
Maureen Berkowitz said past owners have rented the cabins with outside grills, so their plans would not change anything.
Planning Board members pointed out that the revised site plan does not include square footage and height information that they would need in order to make a decision, and several suggested doing a site visit to get a better idea of the layout of the property.
While they discussed asking the code enforcement officer to consider issuing a cease-and-desist order to stop work until the plan is approved, they concluded that the work that has been done is part of the drainage work approved by the DES and that removal of the forms for the concrete that already has been poured would not be a problem. Farley said nothing further could be done until the town approves the revised site plan.
The board tabled the application until next month to allow a site visit on Aug. 30 at 4 p.m.

8 23 110 Scenic 1

The property at 110 Scenic Drive in Gilford still has a sign advertising weekly rentals, though the property is no longer being operated as a commercial business. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

8 23 110 Scenic 2

The owners of 110 Scenic Drive in Gilford want to build a pavilion and other improvements on their property but the Planning Board wants to perform a site visit before deciding on the plan. However, acrimony between the owners and neighbors could sink the application. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)


Meredith considers waterfront improvements


MEREDITH — Town Manager Phil Warren has presented preliminary cost estimates for future improvements to the town’s waterfront infrastructure, but he suggested engaging in a community visioning process and a feasibility study before doing any formal engineering work.

The $1,402,564 estimate includes work at the town docks downtown and at the public boat launch at Shep Brown’s Boat Yard on Lovejoy Sands Road.

Work at the town docks would include the docks, boardwalk, and gazebo, along with the stone walls from Hesky to Scenic Park.

Work at the Lovejoy Sands Road boat launch originally was to have included public restrooms but Warren said the new owners who purchased Shep Brown’s last week said they might provide restrooms in the buildings that are there.

“We may be able to work something out,” Warren told the Meredith Board of Selectmen at Monday’s work session.

In addition to replacing the boardwalk and docks, Warren said work would include repairing the bulkhead with sheet piling and installing restrooms by the downtown docks.

The total cost for the work is estimated at $1,068,620, with another $267,155 for design work and permitting, and $66,789 as a contingency.

Warren said those numbers can be used in the 2018 budget discussions in order to hire an engineer to develop plans that, if approved in the spring of 2019, would allow the town to go out to bid on that project at the same time the town is ready to move forward on a plan for the public library. That might allow for some economies of scale, he said.

He noted that the town already has set aside $67,830 for the Lovejoy Sands Road project and $96,000 for public works projects.

Selectmen agreed to move ahead with the planning.


Meredith board turns down boat storage plan at museum land

MEREDITH — Without discussion, the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Tuesday voted, 5-0, to deny a variance that would allow boat storage on the property currently housing the American Police Motorcycle Museum on Route 3.
Doug Frederick, owner of the museum, is looking to relocate, and the nearby Meredith Marina is interested in purchasing the property at 194 Daniel Webster Highway that formerly housed Burlwood Antiques. Frederick was allowing the marina to store boats on his property prior to the sale, but code enforcement officer Scott Lecroix said boat storage is not a permitted use in the Central Business District, and informed Frederick that he would need to seek a variance from the Zoning Board.
The board held a public hearing on the request and scheduled a followup session on Tuesday to deliberate and make a decision.
Zoning Clerk Chris Tivnan confirmed that board members denied the request, but said she had no further information about the decision.
Frederick said there was no deliberation; members read a staff report and then voted without discussion. He has not received a copy of the decision, he said.
No one offered objections during the public hearing and Frederick was expecting the board to approve his request for a variance.
“We were shocked, quite honestly,” Frederick said. “We’re simply trying to leave and relocate.”
He said the chairman would not allow him to ask any questions after the vote.
Frederick said he plans to appeal the decision.
The 2.29-acre property and circa 1850 barn-style building has municipal utilities and sewer, and was assessed for tax purposes at $422,600.