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Council declares Lakeport Landing lot to be surplus property but it's only a first step

LACONIA — Following a public hearing this week the City Council voted unanimously to declare the strip of land along Union Avenue owned by the city and leased to Lakeport Landing marina surplus property and to weigh the future of the property at a workshop beginning at 6:30 p.m., prior to its next regularly scheduled meeting on March 9.

The property, 0.81 acre, lies between the roadway and railway and runs from Elm Street northward to halfway between Harrison Street and Walnut Street. The property was leased to Lakeport Landing in 1985 for 10 years with two 10-year renewal periods. The lease will expire on November 1, 2015 and cannot be extended further. In 1987 Lakeport Landing constructed a 9,840-square-foot building on the lot. The property has an assessed value of $389,600 of which the building represents $263,200. At the termination of the lease all buildings and improvements on the lot become the property of the city.

Last month Erica Blizard, who succeeded her father Paul as owner and operator of Lakeport Landing, offered to purchase the property for $331,400. Earlier she explained that the lot houses the firm's offices and showrooms and while the marina owns three other buildings on lower Paugus Bay, it could not offer boat sales at the location without the property.

The council has been advised that it cannot negotiate exclusively with Blizzard, but should it chose to sell or lease the property do so through an open, competitive process. However, City Manager Scott Myers told the councilors that the process need not take the form of auction that would lease or sell the property to the highest bidder. Instead, he suggested the city could set criteria for the development and use of the property so long as they applied equitably to all potential bidders and the responses to the criteria could then be weighed alongside the offering prices in awarding the bid.

Alternatively the council could do nothing, in which case ownership of the land and building would revert to the city when the lease expires. the council has considered subdividing the property and selling the portion where the building stands while retaining the remainder as a parking lot.

Attorney Rod Dyer, representing Blizzard, urged the council to declare the property surplus, explaining that it would then have the opportunity, but not the obligation, to lease or sell it. He said that no public need for the lot had been demonstrated in the past 30 years. Moreover, he claimed that access to the lot was not assured since the Bureau of Rails, a division of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, no longer grants easements to cross the tracks, but instead issues licenses that can be revoked.

Attorney Suzanne McKenna, representing neighboring Irwin Marine, asked if the property is declared surplus and offered it for lease or sale, there would be a competitive bidding process in accordance with the city ordinance (183-3), which applies to the sale of property acquired for unpaid real estate taxes.

Warren Hutchins, who said he was speaking as a private citizen and not as chairman of the Planning Board, advised the council "not to divest the land from the city inventory." He said that the future use of the adjacent lot where the former Lakeport Fire Station stands could determine the ultimate value and use of the lot. He noted that Union Avenue is a very narrow but heavily traveled roadway representing a "major safety area" and that the strip of land could be part of a solution. In addition, he said that the building at the southeast corner of Union Avenue and Clinton Street, which houses the Lakeport Opera House, is being sold, foreshadowing changes at this major intersection. With "many factors at play," Hutchins said the city should not relinquish the property.

"I have my wildcat scarf on," said Dorothy Duffy, who also asked the council to retain municipal ownership of the property, primarily to provide parking for local businesses. "Parking has always been an issue in Lakeport," she said, adding that the lot would provide addition spaces without demolishing more historic buildings.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 01:39

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Alton will consider going without school superintendent

ALTON — Following a 2 1/2 hour meeting with their attorney, the Alton Central School Board yesterday made no decisions and voted to seal the minutes, said Vice Chair Terri Noyes.

She said the board decided to discuss the type of administration they would like to have going forward and it will be one of the topics discussed at the March 2 board meeting.

Noyes said the board will take public input about how a future Alton Central School administration would be structured.

Alton Central — a K-8 school contained to one building — would not be the first school in Belknap County to investigate an alternative theory of administration.

Following the retirement of Gilford School District Superintendent Paul DiMinico, a non-binding referendum was petitioned on to the school district warrant and two-thirds of those who voted supported an administrative plan to be headed by a business manager instead of a superintendent.

The School Board disagreed and stayed with the traditional, superintendent model. A lawsuit was filed by three of the supporters of the business administrator approach but the school district prevailed when a Superior Court judge ruled that the School Board — the elected body — administers the school district.

Noyes said she has no idea what the board will decide but did say that this would not the first time the Alton Central School District has considered alternative administrative models.

As to the immediate issue of the school district contracting with a company formed by current Superintendent William Lander and former Curriculum Director Sydney Leggett — now principal of Gilford Middle School, Noyes said those discussions took place in non-public sessions with the attorney and, at this point in time, no additional information can be released.

At their last meeting, the board voted unanimously to reconsider the contract with Lander's company that was approved by three members in a non-public session held 10 minutes before the SB 2 deliberative session.

The March 2 School Board meeting will take place in the library of Alton Central School and begins at 5 p.m.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 01:34

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Council decides to hold its own hearing on pot dispensary ordinance

LACONIA — The City Council this week considered the zoning ordinance proposed by the Planning Baord to regulate the location and operation of medical marijuana dispensaries, but withheld its approval pending the outcome of a second public hearing before the council at its next regularly scheduled meeting on March 9.

Although only one person spoke before a small gathering at the public hearing held by the Planning Board earlier in the month, Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) asked the council to hold second public hearing before putting the proposal to a vote and his colleagues, led by Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) agreed.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will select, license and regulate the nonprofit corporations owning and operating the ATCs. DHHS has received 14 applications to operate ATCs in four geographic zones, one of which consists of Belknap, Strafford and Rockingham counties. At least one application has been received for each of the four geographic areas, but DHHS has declined to specify either how many applications were submitted for each area or where within each area applicants propose to operate. However, where such facilities operate are questions for municipalities to address through their zoning ordinances.
Rather than propose different zoning regulations for dispensing, cultivating and processing, the Planning Board chose to to apply the same regulation to all three. The ordinance would confine ATCs to the Industrial Park, Industrial and Airport Industrial districts and prohibit them elsewhere. The Industrial Park District refers to the O'Shea Industrial Park on Lexington Drive. There two Industrial Districts downtown — at the west end of Watrer Street and west end of Court Street — two in the south end on Province Street (NH Route 107) either side of the bypass— and another on Blaisdell Avenue. The Airport Industrial District lies on Artisan Court, east of White Oaks Road bordering the Gilford town line, and is reached by Lily Pond Road.
ATCs would be prohibited in residential districts and within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers and places of worship. The dispensaries would be allowed to operate between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. All facilities must be fitted with security alarms and cameras, operating around the clock and connected to the Police Department and an alarm monitoring company.
Corporations seeking to operate in the city would require a conditional use permit as well as an approved site plan. A conditional use permit requires an applicant to demonstrate that the use will not endanger the health or safety of the public, substantially diminish the value of nearby properties, adversely impact vehicular or pedestrian safety, not impair natural resources or necessitate excessive public expenditures. The use must also be compatible with the neighborhood and the uses of adjacent properties. In addition, any signage must comply with the relevant regulations.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 01:29

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Parent sues officer over arrest at school board meeting

GILFORD — The man who objected to one of his 9th grade daughter's reading assignments at a School Board meeting last year is suing the local police lieutenant who arrested him and removed him from the meeting.

William Baer has filed a suit in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire seeking damages from Lt. James Leach for allegedly violating his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

"Had (Leach) of the Gilford Police Department not falsely arrested the plaintiff, without a warrant or probable cause, for exercising his right to free speech, the plaintiff would have been free from seizure, arrest, and criminal charges," wrote Concord attorney Charles Douglas in his pleading.

Baer was charged with three criminal complaints of disorderly conduct under three separate sections of the disorderly conduct law.

After a number of months, 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division Judge Jim Carroll dismissed the charges against Baer saying, among other things, that "the court questions the constitutionality of the state's action in the sequence as memorialized by the deposition."

Because of his arrest, Baer is seeking damages because he was humiliated in front of a room filled with people and the videos went viral. A YouTube video of the incident was viewed by at least one million times.

In addition, Baer's license to carry a concealed weapon in Maine was delayed and he was temporarily held at the Canadian border because of the arrest.

Baer's children attend Gilford Schools and he said they have suffered emotional repercussions as a result of his father's public arrest.

He is seeking a unknown amount of financial compensation and legal fees.

At a regularly scheduled Gilford School Board meeting on May 5, 2014 Baer and a number of other residents attending the meeting to voice their opinions on a reading assignment.

In Baer's opinion, the book, "Nineteen Minutes" by Jody Picoult, contained a sexually explicit section that he believed was inappropriate for a ninth grader. He had made his objections known through various outlets and because of the controversy, the meeting was packed with Baer supporters and detractors. At least three newspapers reporters were there as were two people operating video cameras.

Chair Sue Allen opened public comment and limited each speaker to two minutes and a single opportunity to speak. Leach was at the meeting, in uniform and initially standing off to one side.

Baer spoke for at least two minutes and, according to the lawsuit, was told by resident Joe Wernig that his time had ended. Baer finished his thought and sat down. Wernig lives in Gilford and is an educator in the Shaker Regional School District.

Two others spoke and were followed by Wernig who said Baer are others were trying to dictate what his kids can and cannot read. Without being recognized to speak again, Baer loudly reacted that Wernig's statement was ridiculous and was told by Allen to respect other speakers. But Baer kept talking.

After a nod from Allen and Superintendent Kent Hemingway, Leach approached Baer and told him he was being asked to leave. He gave him no prior warning and Baer said, "I guess you're gonna have to arrest me."

Leach removed Baer by grabbing his wrist and leading him from the meeting room. He was handcuffed outside the glass-walled room and arrested.

While the suit is filed against Leach as an individual, according to state law he is indemnified by state law — meaning he is not personally responsible for any financial awards should Baer prevail, but the town of Gilford is.

When contacted yesterday, Leach said he was not aware of the suit.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 01:22

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