Gilford farmers await judge's decision on events at Timber Hill

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — It's now up to a Belknap County Superior Court judge to determine if the Gilford Planning Board acted properly in giving a site plan approval to a family that wants to hold weddings and other outdoor events on their Gilford farm.

Attorneys for all three parties told Judge James O'Neill their side of the nearly year-long saga that has divided a neighborhood on Gunstock Hill Road, however in this particular case, he has to decide if the Planning Board acted "unreasonably or unlawfully" when it gave Andrew and Martina Howe permission to host their events.

Abutter Monique Twomey filed the suit against the town claiming that the Planning Board didn't take into consideration her rights to enjoy her property, the traffic hazards that she says will be created and the potential devaluation of her property.

Her attorney likened the proposal to putting a bar in a single-family-residential area with all of the baggage a bar brings, like noise, traffic, alcohol and drunken behavior.

Twomey said there was no way she could have anticipated the wedding events when she purchased her home and now must suffer the consequences because the Planning Board allowed what she thinks is a flawed, illegal and unreasonable use of it property.

The town claims the Planning Board considered all of the factors that went into the approval and discussed each condition, of which there are many, that are imposed on any future wedding or like events on Timber Hill Farm.

The town's attorney countered that the Planning Board found no quantified detriment to her claim that her property would be devalued. She noted that the Howes will be building a barn further away from her home to hold the events and that it will be enclosed on the side of the property that faces hers.

The Howes' attorney said the Planning Board did 15 hours of hearings and research that included two site visits. He agreed with the town that each condition of the approval was discussed separately and voted before the final 3 to 2 vote that granted the site plan.

The argument heard Monday referenced one of four lawsuits filed by Twomey against the town. One was dismissed as untimely and the other two are still pending.

Any wedding or other events on Timber Hill Farm cannot be held until Planning Board suit is litigated.

Local skateboarders rally to raise money to fix aging park

By ALANA PERSSON, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — With only two weathered wooden structures left standing at the Laconia Skate Park, local skateboarders are rallying  to find money to fix the dilapidated park.

The park, located next to the Laconia Police Department, has significantly deteriorated since its installation in 2010, pushing many elements beyond the point of repair. The original structures were primarily created out of wood, which do not hold up to repeated use or seasonal weather conditions. Thus, for safety and liability reasons, many of the ramps have been removed by the Parks and Recreation Department, leaving only the mini half-pipe available for skaters to use.

Tom Missert, a 2011 Laconia High School graduate said, "A new full size park could boost so much energy into the city, and even draw in people from neighboring towns, all the way down to Concord. It's such a positive way to bring so many kids and adults together, and I know others feel the same way."

Missert has already reached out to the local community for support in building a new park.

"I grew up at the skate park, and I grew up skating with Ben Emond, who the skate park was named after, so it broke my heart seeing it in such poor condition," said Missert, who went on to say that for him it was a "no-brainer" to take leadership of a park restoration initiative.

Presently, Missert has raised nearly $500 for a new park, through his recent Go Skate Day fundraiser and his GoFundMe account. Plans for future fundraisers and sponsorship are currently in the works, according to Missert, as he hopes local businesses will rally around the cause. Burrito Me, in downtown Laconia, and Irwin Motors are currently the only local businesses supporting the skate park fundraising endeavor.

The city is aware that the park needs help; however, the present city budget does not have the money available for a park restoration during the current fiscal year. Looking ahead to the 2017-2018 fiscal year, Kevin Dunleary, head of the Parks and Recreation Department, aims to go before Capital Improvement Committee to request approximately $70,000, which could be used for the replacement of the worn-out structures. With that money, more durable concrete structures that meet regulations for liability could be specifically made for the park.

This request for money is not due to go before the Laconia City Council or the Capital Improvement Committee until the end of the year. In the meantime, Dunleary hopes that private investors will come forward and partner with the city to back this endeavor.

"Any private investments or donations where a group partners with the city will validate the request for funds even more," said Dunleary, who went on to say, "Public-private partnerships make it easier for the city to justify allocating funds to the capital improvement committee, as was seen before with the WOW Trail initiative."

Chief Chris Adams of the Laconia Police Department, echoed Missert's sentiment, saying he is also in full support of having a new skate park built, as it is an activity that keeps kids out of trouble and helps people stay physically active. In contrast to the negative stereotypes that often surround skate parks, Adams said he sees few problems with the kids at the Laconia Skate Park, with littering as the most pressing issue they run into.

Local skater Michael O'Brien agreed.

"Skating can have a bad image," he said, "but it's not all like that. I see it is a recreational sport that keeps people fit and builds a positive community, and I know this is how other Laconia skaters feel too. I really hope the community starts to see the benefits of the Laconia Skate Park so we can have a new one built soon."

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The wooden structures at the city’s skate park have deteriorated to the point that they are too dangerous to use. Efforts are being made to replace the wooden ramps and half-pipe with concrete structures. (Alana Persson/Laconia Daily Sun)

Despite little benefit to city, Laconia keeps impact fees in place

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The City Council this week unanimously agreed to make no changes to the administration of impact fees, despite Mayor Ed Engler's suggestion that perhaps the program should be scuttled altogether.

Impact fees are one-time charges, collected when a certificate of occupancy is issued, levied on new development to fund either investment in municipal capital projects serving the development or to recoup past investment in expanded facilities that accommodate it. The city applies the proceeds from impact fees to the school district, police department, fire department, recreational facilities, streets and library.

The fee schedule represents a proportionate share of investment in additional capacity required to accommodate the different types of residential and commercial development. The fees themselves reflect a reasonable relationship between the amount of the fee and the demand on the facility or service. The city assesses the fees at 25 percent of their full rate. For instance, the full rate for a single-family home is $7,630, but only a quarter, or $1,907, is assessed. The proceeds from impact fees must be expended within six years of being assessed and collected or otherwise refunded.

Critics of impact fees, particularly developers, claim that they simply add to the relatively high cost of housing, which many consider is a hindrance to first-time home buyers and young families settling in the community.

When the city introduced impact fees in 2011, it stipulated that they could be reviewed at any time, but must be reviewed no later than July 1, 2016.

Since the program began revenues have amounted to $72,354, $1,440 in 2012, $552 in 2013, $12,250 in 2014, $45,350 in 2015 and $12,761 in 2016.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) immediately proposed making no changes to the program. "This is the wrong time to increase the fees," he said. Although he appeared to appreciate the effect of impact fees on the price of homes, he said that impact fees are a means of distributing some of the cost of expanded infrastructure to future residents who also share its benefit.

Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) said that a vote to make no changes would be "premature" and urged the council to refer the matter to the Planning Board.

Then Engler asked "Why in the world would we have an impact fee at all? We should consider eliminating it."

When no one took the bait, the council voted to leave the program unchanged and seek the opinion of the Planning Board.

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