Proposed community center in Moultonborough hotly debated

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MOULTONBOROUGH — As Town Meeting approaches, voters remain sharply divided over a proposal to build a community center at a cost of $6.5 million, which is recommended by majorities of four-to-one by both the Board of Selectmen and Budget Committee.

The 20,000-square-foot facility would be built on a lot in the center of the village adjacent to Moultonborough Academy, known as the Adele Taylor property, which is owned by the town and school district. The building would include an 11,000-square-foot gymnasium, commercial kitchen and multipurpose rooms to serve the social, educational and recreational interests of residents, both year-round and seasonal, of all ages. The annual cost of operating the facility is estimated at $162,050.

Although there has been consistent support for the project among younger residents, most of them with children, it has met with stiff opposition from those who insist that the scope and cost of the project is unwarranted in a town where the general population is aging and the school enrollment is declining. Opponents claim that the demographics of the town render a community center unnecessary while supporters counter that investing in the amenity will draw younger residents and foster a more balanced demographic.

"If we want to attract new residents, young families," wrote John Malm, "then we need to build and promote certain amenities that appeal to that group."

The prospect of constructing a community center has been on the agenda for years, but gathered momentum in 2013 when the Blue Ribbon Commission on Community Facilities and Services recommended "development of a facility that includes an indoor gymnasium, Recreation Department office, program and storage space" on or near school property. At Town Meeting that same year, 65 percent of voters endorsed the recommendation and the next year an appropriation of $17,500 for a site study was approved by a majority of 61 percent.

The Capital Improvement Program Committee rejected the the recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Commission in 2014, concluding that had been overtaken by the aging and shrinking demographic of the town.

That same year, a team from the University of New Hampshire completed a feasibility study intended "to settle the issue," which recommended that the town work closely with the school district, nearby towns and private organizations to expand recreational opportunities and sustain social programs, but also draft a warrant article to develop an indoor recreation facility and gymnasium.

Selectmen Paul Punturieri, who chaired the UNH Feasibility Study Committee and supports the project, described the community center as a multi-generational facility with space for programs for senior citizens, like Senior Meals, Women's Club and Men's Breakfast as well as summer day camps after-school programs for children and adolescents.

At the same time, Punturieri said the project would further the aim of the Village Vision Committee to foster economic development by "the adaptive reuse or repurposing of existing historic structures and the addition of compatible new structures in order to create a diverse offering of quality retail and housing options, public gathering places, and municipal services." The town hall, schools, library and community center all in close proximity would resemble the "vital town center" envisioned by the committee's report, which was endorsed by Town Meeting last year.

Finally, the gymnasium would overcome a lack of indoor recreation space identified by three studies in the past five years that found that the two gymnasiums at Moultonborough Academy and Moultonborough Central School are used to capacity by the schools and Recreation Department.

Alan Ballard, who serves on the Advisory Budget Committee and the Capital Improvements Program Committee, is far from convinced. He said that the proposal reflects a "build it and they will come fantasy," which is belied by the town's aging population and diminishing school enrollment, and foresees the community center will become a "white elephant."

Challenging the assumption that the school gymnasiums are used to capacity, Ballard said that with some modifications to the multi-purpose room at Moultonborough Academy and more efficient scheduling there would be sufficient gymnasium space at appropriate times to meet the demand.

"Scheduling is a disaster," he said flatly.

Noting that the gymnasium will include a walkway around the playing surface, he doubted it would be much used since only a handful of seniors regularly walk together.

Ballard questioned whether less expensive alternatives have been thoroughly considered. Dismissing the need for another gymnasium, he suggested that the space required for social and educational activities, especially those intended for senior citizens, could be provided at the site of the Lions Club on Old Route 109. He said that if the existing facility could not be renovated, it could be demolished and a new building constructed for much less than the estimated cost of the community center.

Ballard, whose professional career includes banking and real estate, discounted the notion that development of a community center would affect the demographic profile of the town.

"People looking at homes want to know two things," he said, "that the schools are good and the taxes are law. They don't move to Moultonborough to be near an indoor recreation center."

The warrant article proposes borrowing $6,491,000 for the project. The debt service would add an estimated 16 to 29 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to the property tax rate annually depending on the term of the bond. The annual operating cost of the facility would add another 6 cents to the property tax rate. As a bond issue, the article will be voted by secret ballot and require a two-thirds majority to succeed. The vote will be taken by Town Meeting at Moultonborough Academy on Saturday, March 12, beginning with the School District meeting at 9 a.m.

Blueberry Hill Road could lose its scenic road status

BY MICHAEL KITCH LACONIA DAILY SUN

MEREDITH — While Fats Domino found his thrill on Blueberry Hill, residents of Blueberry Hill Road are more likely to find fallen limbs, even trees, on their mile-long dead-end road, which in 2007 was designated by the the town as a "scenic road."

This year, residents have submitted a petitioned warrant article that would rescind the designation, which hinders the Department of Public Works and New Hampshire Electric Cooperative from lopping limbs and felling trees that litter the roadway and encroach on the power lines.

Blueberry Hill Road rises steeply to the east from Meredith Center Road just south of its intersection with the Pleasant Street then flattens out before bending at nearly a right angle to the south and resuming its climb for another half mile before reaching a dead end atop the ridge. Throughout its length, the road is lined on both sides with oak, maple and pine trees, both young saplings and mature trees, some dead and many infirm. There are also a number of stone walls flanking the road. There are some two dozen residences on the road. The elevation of the road offers some splendid views, especially to the west.But, because the road is not a through road, its scenic quality is compromised.

Ann Marie Beauchemin, who initiated the petition, said that after heavy storms with high winds "the road looks like a war zone." Frequently, she added, her husband must remove limbs from roadway when leaving for work early in the morning.

State law stipulates that along a scenic road trees 15 inches or more around at a point 4 feet from the ground cannot be cut, damaged or removed in order to maintain poles, conduits, cables, wires or other structures without the consent of the local planning board after holding a duly advertised public hearing. However, the same statute authorizes "a road agent or his designee" with the permission of the selectmen to fell or trim trees that "pose an imminent threat to safety or property." Likewise, a public utility may do what is necessary to restore service in an emergency arising from fallen limbs or trees without the prior permission of the selectmen.

Beauchemin said that the Department of Public Works has trimmed the trees along the road, but stopped short of removing dead trees because the road is designated as "scenic." Without the designation, she said that both the town and the utility "can be proactive in maintaining the trees and keeping the road safe without having to go through hoops to cut dead trees."

Town Manager Phil Warren said that "it's a not a big deal to hold the public hearings," noting that the Planning Board as well as the utility companies are familiar with the process. He said that on Blueberry Hill Road it has not been determined which trees stand within the town's right of way, explaining that trees on private property that pose a risk to persons or property are the responsibility of the landowner.

The road was designated as scenic in 2007 at the initiative of The Wilds Christian Association Inc. of Brevard, North Carolina, which owned the 567-acre tract nearby, which became the Page Pond and Forest. The association sought to develop a summer camp and conference center on the property, considered the single most important watershed on the north shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. When the association encountered stiff opposition to developing the property, it sold it to the town, which placed the entire tract under a conversation easement in perpetuity.

The designation can be lifted as it was imposed by a majority vote of Town Meeting, which will held on Wednesday, March 9 in the gymnasium of Inter-Lakes High School beginning at 7 p.m.

Residents of Blueberry Hill Road on Meredith Neck have petitioned the town to lift its designation as “scenic,” which they believe hinders the trimming and removal of trees that encroach on the roadway and power lines. (Michael Kitch/The Laconia Daily Sun)

Blueberry Hill Road on Meredith Neck is designated a scenic road, but residents have petitioned to rescind the designation to facilitate the trimming and removal of the trees that line and sometimes litter the road. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

Meredith to decide Motorcycle Week change and more at Town Meeting

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MEREDITH — A proposal to charge itinerant vendors plying their trades during Motorcycle Week is among eight articles on the warrant for Town Meeting on Wednesday.

Despite misgivings expressed by the owners of both Laconia Harley-Davidson and Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant, who together host vendors during the rally, the Board of Selectmen unanimously recommended introducing a licensing fee.

Mirroring the precedent of Laconia, the ordinance would require all transient vendors, other than nonprofit organizations soliciting donations toward a charitable purpose, to be licensed by the town at a fee of $450 and $500 for food services, which would entitle them to operate from noon on the first Friday until midnight on the last Sunday of the rally. Vendors operating without a license could be fined up to $500 for each day of unlawful operation. The licensing fee would first be charged in 2017.

The licensing fee is intended to defray the cost of municipal services incurred during the rally. Town Manager Phil Warren said that in 2015 expenses were $18,017, which consisted of $7,149 for police overtime, $5,868 for fire service and $5,000 in dues for the town's membership in the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. Revenues amounted to $660 from special use permits issued to Laconia Harley-Davidson and Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant at $330 apiece.

Anne Deli, the owner of Laconia Harley-Davidson, has repeatedly warned the selectmen against imposing the licensing fees, which she believes will deter vendors from operating at the rally. When the licensing fee was first proposed, she asked "Does Meredith rally want to put one more nail in the coffin of Motorcycle Week?"

Russ Hart of Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant told the board the proposal was "not welcoming" and said "we don't need anything to diminish Motorcyle Week."

A petitioned warrant article to rescind the designation of Blueberry Hill Road on Meredith Neck as a scenic road may also spark some discussion.

Other articles on the warrant include the 2016 town budget of $13.7 million, which represents an increase of less than 1 percent, and four warrant articles which together would add $460,000 in expenditures. One would raise $300,000 for the fund to replace equipment of the Department of Public Work's, another would raise $100,000 for the fund to replace vehicles of the Fire Department and the last would raise $60,000 for the fund to replace the solid waste trailer. By accruing these expendable trust funds the town the town can apply cash to all or part of the price of expensive equipment and vehicles and eliminate or reduce the cost of borrowing.