Meredith Zoning Board cites reasons for denial of boat storage proposal

MEREDITH — The denial of Doug Frederick’s application for a special exception that would have allowed the storage of boats on property currently housing the American Police Motorcycle Museum was based on the opinion that it would be incompatible with the town’s zoning ordinances.
No one from the public offered any testimony against Frederick’s request to continue allowing Meredith Marina to store boats on the property. The marina wants to purchase the property and move its sales offices from Bayshore Drive to the 2.29-acre property at 194 Daniel Webster Highway.
Frederick had been allowing the marina to store boats at no charge, pending the sale, but code enforcement officer Scott Lecroix informed him that boat storage is not a permitted use in the Central Business District, so Frederick would need to seek a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Frederick appealed the administrative decision, but did not file the paperwork within the allotted time, and the Zoning Board voted not to accept the appeal at its Aug. 10 meeting.
The application for a variance included documents showing a history of using the property for boat storage. Prior to serving as home to the motorcycle museum, it had been the home of Burlwood Antiques.
In its notice of decision, the Zoning Board used the five criteria established through case law, which questions whether granting a variance will be contrary to the public interest; whether it serves the spirit of the ordinance; that granting it would provide “substantial justice”; that the values of surrounding properties would not be diminished; and that literal enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance would result in an unnecessary hardship.
The board concluded that literal enforcement would not create a hardship because there are no “special conditions” about the property that would warrant a variance; that boat storage would be unsightly to passers-by; that it would be contrary to the public interest because having vehicles pulling boats on trailers into traffic “would be problematic, and injurious to the public interest” and “create unnecessary traffic congestion and safety issues;” and that there would be adverse impacts on the character of the area because it would not support other businesses in the area.
“It’s the board’s position that boat storage is not similar to auto sales, service, and repair, and the other permitted uses in the Central Business District,” Chairman Jack Dever wrote. “Boat storage is not a retail operation on its own, and moreover has significant traffic impact potential due to the towing of trailers, which the other businesses do not have. Also, the Board maintains that the spirit of the ordinance is to restrict boat storage to marinas, which are restricted to the Shoreline District.”
Frederick has maintained that the tractor-trailers delivering furniture to Ippolito’s and food to McDonald’s are comparable to the boat traffic that the marina would generate, noting that most of the activity at the marina would be in the spring and fall when boats were going into or coming out of the water. Both of the neighboring businesses supported his application, he said.
Frederick said he intends to appeal the Zoning Board’s decision.

Fire guts building at Laconia Transfer Station


LACONIA — A stubborn fire gutted a large sheet metal building at a garbage transfer station Friday, sending up plumes of smoke visible for miles and keeping firefighters from multiple departments busy for hours.

There were no injuries.

Fire Chief Ken Erickson said a commercial trash hauler dropped off a load in the building at 385 Meredith Center Road and the rubbish quickly caught fire, which then spread to the building itself.

“Something came out of a truck,” Erickson said. “The guy said the next thing he knew there was a burst of flames. Obviously they picked something hot up on the route.”

Trash haulers will sometimes unknowingly collect something that is smoldering. The load is compressed in the truck and erupts in fire when it is dumped.

There was no working fire hydrant at the facility, so tanker trucks had to shuttle water from a mile away. One lane of traffic was closed on Elm Street so that tankers could take on water from hydrants.

After commercial trash haulers drop off loads at the transfer station building, other trucks pick up the material and take it off site for final disposal.

Public Works Director Wes Anderson said he would meet with the city's waste management contractor to discuss how the trash transfer process would be handled as the building was heavily damaged, perhaps beyond repair.

Anderson said an engineer would inspect the structure.

He also said he would investigate whether the contractor or the city owns the building and determine who holds the fire insurance.

Erickson said firefighters' jobs were complicated by the fact that a dry hydrant in the area didn't work. This type of hydrant amounts to an unpressurized pipe with one end in a water supply. Erickson said weeds can sometimes infiltrate such pipes, even when they are checked frequently.

DSC 0894 DS

Firefighters battle smoke and fire at the Laconia Transfer Station Friday. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

It's a seller's market – Local real estate market is hopping

DSC 0856 DS

Meredith residents learned this week that their property assessments have risen by an average of 9 percent, with lakefront properties seeing double-digit increases. That is no aberration, say Lakes Region real estate professionals.
“We still haven’t caught up with the southern part of the state,” said Roy Sanborn of Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty, “but it’s definitely a sellers’ market.”
Frank Roche of Roche Realty Group agreed, saying the real estate market has jumped 10 percent in value.
Assessors determine the taxable value of property by reviewing recent sales, and what they are seeing is a rapid rise in price for lakefront property with other classes of property also selling at higher values. The exception is manufactured housing, which has waned.
“Properties that need work, where the owners have deferred maintenance, or if they need cosmetic work, are tough to sell,” Sanborn said. “People don’t want to come in and have to do work right away. Sometimes wallpaper is the kiss of death; people don’t want to have to strip it off.”
In contrast, “Developers are into some projects that focus more on vacation homes and high-end development, and that’s a good trend. We’re going to see more of that,” Sanborn said.
Statistics show that 60 percent of Moultonborough’s housing stock is in second homes, and that keeps the town’s tax rates low. Tuftonboro has 53 percent of its housing stock in second homes; Alton, 45 percent; and Laconia, 25 percent. Those numbers compare to 10.5 percent statewide.
“The state since 1940 has been transitioning to a much higher stock of secondary housing,” Roche said. “The highest concentration is in the Lakes Region — Carroll and Belknap counties. Combined, they have 72 percent of the second homes in the state.”
Nevertheless, Roche was surprised at how quickly the units at the former Christmas Island property sold.
“It was an antiquated motel that needed to be upgraded,” he said.
The duplex townhomes that replaced it were priced in the $600,000 range, with square footage ranging from 2,200 to 3,000.
“What’s happening is there are people who come, flush with capital, who are looking for property on the lake, or with a view of the lake, but are finding a shortage of inventory, which is causing prices to spike up,” Roche said.
Sanborn said, “It’s still very much a discretionary market, with a lot of vacation home buyers who don’t need to buy on layaway. There are a lot of people looking for a forever home, who are still working but are looking to retire in a couple of years. It’s a strong trend.”
Roche traces the trend back to the “artful execution of quality development” in South Down Shores and Long Bay.
South Down Shores is a private gated community with about 490 properties off Parade Road in Laconia, with single-family homes integrated with 19 condominium villages. The community has 4,000 feet of shoreline on Lake Winnipesaukee with sandy beaches, a beach house, two tennis courts, a basketball court, a sand volleyball court, a skating pond, cross-country ski trails, walking trails, and a children’s playground.
Long Bay is a newer development associated with South Down Shores, with single-family homes on 100 acres, with 1,500 feet of shorefront on Paugus Bay.
“It’s taken 30 years for the community to mature out,” Roche said. “The good news is that property generates $3.4-$3.5 million in revenue to the Laconia tax base, or 9 percent of Laconia’s tax value. Without that, Laconia would never have been able to do the new police station, fire station or middle school.”
He added, “These were all, for the most part, second-home owners without any impact on the school system or on the roads, which are privately maintained in the development.”
He said the residents there also contribute to the community through their dining and purchases, as well as contributing to cultural events.
Other high-end properties that contribute to the tax base are Broadview, Samoset, and Misty Harbor and Barefoot Beach Resort in Gilford, Land’s End, Jonathan’s Landing, and Windward Harbor in Moultonborough, and Meredith Bay in Laconia.
Despite all of that real estate, Roche said the lack of inventory to satisfy customers began last year and became obvious in 2017.
“Last year, we sold 13 units at Misty Harbor, and we sold the last one this year,” Roche said. “We’re riding high right now. We had our highest record of sales last year, and this year is going ahead of last year, but the question we all worry about is whether this could be a repeat of the past, where the economy soon tanked.”
Sanborn shares that view. “We have a good, strong market this year, and the trend will continue for the next few years. I don’t see that changing unless something happens with the economy.”
“This might have some legs different from other cycles,” Roche observed. “There’s not a lot of over-leveraging, banks are more conservative, and more cash is being invested in the transactions. There are safeguards from Dodd-Frank, but there are geopolitical risks ... something could could trigger a selloff in the stock market, and we have a record deficit. The economy has been on an upswing for nine years, and the question is, if we’re taking the child off the training wheels, are they going to function on their own or fall over?”
Sanborn says there is a good overall mix of properties, with well-maintained lower-end properties also selling very strongly. Those in the middle, he said, are selling better than they have in a long time.
“The local homeowner isn’t going to afford a $500,000-$600,000 condo,” Sanborn said. “There are nice properties in all price ranges that are going to sell.”
Roche said there is a strong demand for modest “semi-retirement” homes.
“That’s what families are looking for right now,” he said. “They’re easier to heat, and people feel they don’t need the big trophy homes with large lawns to mow.”
Nature’s View is such a development, with 51 homes off Massachusetts Avenue, Laconia. The property is surrounded by 18.3 acres of open space conservation land, and there are views of Lake Winnipesaukee, Paugus Bay, and Port Way.
Another is Willow Pond in Long Bay, with 38 lots bordering on all three of the Long Bay ponds.
Roche also noted that there are “decent values” on the smaller lakes where kayaks are popular.
Apart from the housing units themselves, Roche said people are looking for boat slips and beaches. That is what makes Weirs Beach a prime location for development, in his view.
“It has all the makings for not just honky-tonk establishments, but also a family fun gathering place,” he said.
He praised developer Al Mitchell for his foresight in buying and improving Weirs Beach properties, including the pending purchase of the Weirs Drive-In.
“I’m happy he’s buying into Weirs Beach,” Roche said. “He’s doing it right. He’s experienced in development and site work, and wants to make the place better. Enthusiasm is contagious, and when you’ve got somebody with an idea, others will follow,” he said.
Roche said Laconia’s investment in Lakeside Avenue “hit the ball out of the park” in terms of value for the dollar.
“I’m amazed at how many good comments are coming back from people down there,” he said, adding that families with children are going there to enjoy the beach, the boardwalk the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad, and the MS Mount Washington.
“The viewscapes are the best, and what Laconia has to realize is that the golden goose is in The Weirs, and not downtown. The city has finally stepped up and realized the potential to raise the assessment values there. The infrastructure is there, and they just need to enhance it,” he said. “The eyesores are being replaced.”
What Roche would like to see is a condominium-hotel similar to Misty Harbor that would allow people to buy units and rent them out when not in use. A reservation desk would handle the rentals, giving visitors a place to stay while in the area and providing the owners with money to help pay their taxes.
“It would be a win-win for The Weirs,” he said.
A mini-convention center and wedding venue that Mitchell is considering also would be a welcome addition to The Weirs, Roche said.
“It’s time to start building some new units. The housing stock in the Lakes Region is getting tired,” Roche said. “The buyers coming here want new appliances, granite counters, tiles and flooring, and architectural designs that have energy efficiency.”

DSC 0854 DS

DSC 0848 DS

Adam Drapcho photos/Laconia Daily Sun