Planning Board chairman says Laconia leading region in development activity by wide margin

LACONIA — Planning Board Chairman Warren Hutchins says that Laconia has much to be proud of when it comes to positive growth in the city in recent years.
''There's more development in the city of Laconia than in the rest of the Lakes Region combined,'' Hutchins, who also chairs the board of directors off the Lakes Region Planning Commission, told his fellow board members Tuesday night.
Hutchins said that the amount of development taking place is ''truly amazing'' and seems to get lost as the news media focuses on drug problems and crime.
''We need to communicate the positive things which are going on in terms of the development and the improvements to the city's infrastructure,'' said Hutchins.
He cited numerous examples from all parts of the city in his presentation, saying that he developments ranged from those being undertaken by large corporations to individuals and included both commercial and residential elements.
He praised his fellow board members for their hard work, noting that very few applications have been denied in recent years and that there is a willingness to work with developers to get projects moving.
Hutchins said that the projects include:
— The Lilac Valley residential development off from Rte. 107 — which will see 55 units of affordable housing constructed.
— Two 45-unit apartment buildings which are being constructed off from Mile Hill Road, one of which will provide off-campus housing for students from Lakes Region Community College.
— The groundbreaking for a $3.3 million automotive program at LRCC, as well as the recent completion of an advanced manufacturing and health care program building at the college.
— A project on Beacon Street West by Chinburg Builders which will see 40 new apartments being made available.
— The Main Street Bridge project, the city Riverwalk and the WOW trail.
— The Laconia Area Land Trust's 35 apartment Riveredge project in downtown Lacuna.
— LRGHealthcare's recent addition and its proposed expansion of the emergency room and imaging department.
— The Huot Center addition at Laconia High School along with the new football stadium and playing field.
— The Holy Grail Irish pub which is rapidly nearing completion in downtown Laconia and the Congregational Church project next door.
— The Linny Lane project which has added 20 homes in Lakeport and the Nature's View project near Paugus Bay which will add 50 homes.
— The addition and renovations at Fratello's restaurant in Lakeport.
— The Laconia Fire Station addition on North Main Street.
— Titeleflex Aerospace building a 48,000-square-foot addition in the O'Shea Industrial Park.
— A new Taco Bell restaurant building replacing the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Union Avenue.
— Watermark Construction moving into its new building on Paugus Bay and the Paugus Bay Marina now occupying an adjacent building as a showroom.
— The Christmas Island condominium project, which is adding 18 units.
— The completion of the Weirs Community Park.
— A Scenic Road residential project which has seen 19 townhouses units built at the Weirs.
Hutchins said that the state is repaving roads which are the gateway to the city, including Rte. 106, the Meredith Center Road, Rte. 3 at the Weirs and Rte. 11-B to Gilford.
He also said that the city Planning Department has received three grants, including $750,000 from the Department of Transportation for sidewalk improvements, $75,000 for repair to the storm water management system at the Weirs and $15,000 from the Department of Environmental Services for a Black Brook study.

City Council will hold public hearing on proposed Weirs zoning changes

LACONIA — The City Council will consider a significant and controversial proposal from the Planning Board to redraw the boundaries and change the uses of the Commercial Resort (CR) District, which includes most of the Weirs, when it meets on Monday, May 11. A public hearing is scheduled to begin shortly after 7 p.m.
Although a team sponsored by the United States Environmental Protection Agency recommended "refining" the zoning at the Weirs in 2007, this is the first specific proposal to address land-use issues in the community for many years. It originated last year after the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which earlier granted Benson Auto Company of Franklin a special exception to operate a dealership near the corner of Rte. 3 and Roller Coaster Road, refused to allow John Ganong to do the same on Weirs Boulevard, although both properties are within the CR district.

Troubled by the ZBA's decision, the City Council asked the Planning Board to review all possible land uses in the CR district and report any recommended changes to the council. The Planning Board delegated the task to the Zoning Task Force, which held a public hearing, and last month endorsed that committee's recommendations with a minimum of discussion.

City Council has the final say in determining zoning regulations.
The CR District now begins on Lake Street, just south of its junction with White Oaks Road, extends northward along Weirs Boulevard, includes the center of the Weirs and runs either side of Rte. 3 to the Meredith town line. It also includes property along both sides of Route 11-B east of the roundabout to just beyond the Weirs Community Center. The zoning ordinance describes the district as intended to accommodate dining, lodging and recreation entities for both occasional tourists and seasonal residents as well as apartments and condominiums.
The proposal recommends rezoning two areas. First, the southernmost reach of the CR District, from The Margate Resort to the junction of Weirs Boulevard and White Oaks Road, would be added to the commercial district that extends southward along Union Avenue.
Second, the eastern shore of Paugus Bay, from the junction of Weirs Boulevard and White Oaks Road, northward as far as the southern edge of the Naswa Resort would be removed from the CR District and added to the Shorefront Residential (SFR) District. The remaining boundaries of the CR District would remain unchanged.
The task force also recommended changing 10 uses in the Commercial Resort District. Accessory apartments and greenhouses, which are not permitted, would be permitted, but would require a conditional use permit (CUP).
CUPs are granted by the Planning Board, which must find that the use will not endanger public health or safety, adversely affect the value of abutting properties, conform to the neighborhood and nearby uses and will not impair either vehicular or pedestrian safety or natural resources.
Storage of trailers, campers and boats on residential properties, sexually oriented businesses, car washes and detailing, nightclubs and dance halls and agricultural uses, all of which are currently permitted by right, would require a special exception.
Special exceptions must be granted by the ZBA, which must find that the use is suited to the location and consistent with the Master Plan and will not create traffic congestion or impair pedestrian safety, overburden water, sewer or drainage systems, generate excessive demand for emergency or disposal services, or pose hazards to public health, safety and welfare,
Bed and breakfast establishments, which currently require a conditional use permit, would be permitted by right in the CR district. Indoor self-storage, which is currently permitted, would no longer be permitted. Automobile sales and service, which is permitted by special exception, would also be prohibited.

Planning Board contends Weirs Blvd. has transitioned to a residential area & should be zoned that way

LACONIA — The recommendation to rezone about 2 1/2 miles of Weirs Boulevard from the Commercial Resort (CR) district to the Shorefront Residential (SFR) district has rankled a number of Weirs business owners, who will urge the City Council to ask the Planning Board to reconsider the proposal.

The proposal, prepared by the Zoning Task Force and endorsed by the Planning Board, will be presented to the City Council when it meets on Monday, May 11 at 7 p.m.

Attorney Paul Fitzgerald yesterday confirmed that he represents the Naswa Resort and will address the City Council on behalf of the Makris family, who he said are "seriously concerned about the impacts of creating a predominantly residential zone compared to what has been allowed and encourage up and down the boulevard in the past. " He said that the owners of other business entities share these concerns and he expected they would express them to the council..

Fitzgerald said that the rezoning, along with several changes in the uses permitted in the CR zone, appear "at variance with discussions with property owners at the Weirs during the past 20 years in so far as they are more, not less, restrictive."

The proposal would designate the length of Weirs Boulevard from just south of the Naswa to the junction with White Oaks Road, which is currently in the CR district, as SFR. The change would alter the mix of permitted and prohibited uses significantly.

Properties sharing residential and commercial uses, which are permitted in the CR zone would not be permitted in the SFR zone. Likewise, a number of commercial uses permitted in the CR district — restaurants, flea markets, retail outlets, sexually oriented businesses, shopping centers, appliance repair, banks, laundromats, personal services, professional offices — would also be prohibited. Entertainment and recreational uses permitted in the CR district — arcades, amusement parks, art centers, movie theaters and nightclubs — would not be permitted in the SFR district. Car washes, taxi services, auto dealerships and fueling station, permitted in the CR district, would be prohibited in the SFR district.

However, hotels, motels and inns as well as neighborhood stores are permitted in both the CR and SFR zones.

Don Richards, a resident of the Weirs and longtime member of the Planning Board, said the proposal recognizes that Weirs Boulevard has become a predominantly residential neighborhood and future development is likely to increase the number of residential units. He noted that Brady Sullivan seeks to build some 300 residential units at Langley Cove while "no new commercial projects are planned on the boulevard".

The owners of these residential units, Richards described as seasonal and weekend residents, who "pay heavy taxes, use few services, have few if any children in the schools. " He said because they are occasional residents "they don't have a voice here. They want to sleep when they want to sleep," he continued. "And they don't want loud outdoor music screaming at them when they're trying to sleep."

Richards was echoed by Warren Hutchins, the chairman of the Planning Board, who also lives at the Weirs. The proposal, he said, "recognizes what has taken place and reflects what it is. You have to respect that Weirs Boulevard is a residential zone and one of the most scenic roads in the city." Hutchins described the proposal as "a very pro-property owner change" that provide predictability to owners of residential units.

There are 10 businesses operating now or opening soon in the affected area of the boulevard: four motels, two restaurants, an ice cream shop, security firm, insurance agency and real estate office. Richards stressed that the existing businesses would be "grandfathered" and insisted that the proposed change "does not effect anybody on Weirs Boulevard in business who wants to stay in the business they're in. Nobody should have an issue."

However, Fitzgerald suggested that because a variance or special exception would be required to change the existing use of a commercial property, the encumbrance could impair its value.

John Ganong, who has operated several businesses on the boulevard over the years, declined to comment on the merits of the proposal, but said "my concern is the people who don't know what is going on. There are people returning from Florida," he continued, "who will ask 'what's going on here?' They should have been notified as property owners and property taxpayers."

Lakeside condo owners don't want 'commercial' zone

LACONIA — "It's the unknown that concerns us," said Fred Clausen, one of 22 homeowners at Eastern Shore Condominiums on Lake Street, at the foot of Weirs Boulevard, whose properties the Planning Board recommends rezoning from Commercial Resort to Commercial.

Altogether the proposal would rezone a dozen acres fronting Paugus Bay which house the Margate Resort, Eastern Shores Condominiums, two single-family homes and Lake Street Home Services.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the issue — as well as on other Weirs-related zoning matters (see related stories in this issue) — shortly after 7 p.m. on Monday, May 11.

The proposal is the residue of the recommendation to remove the eastern shore of Paugus Bay along Weirs Boulevard south of the Naswa Resort from the Commercial Resort district and designate it Shorefront Residential. Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that rather than leave the small enclave in the Commercial Resort district, isolated from the the remainder of the district at the center of The Weirs, the decision was made to attach it to the Commercial district that extends along Union Avenue.

Clausen said that property owners were not notified of the proposal and only learned of it shortly before the Zoning Task Force presented its recommendations to the Planning Board. Several property owners at Eastern Shores Condominiums, including Clausen, expressed misgivings to the Planning Board and Saunders said other have raised questions directly with the Planning Department.

Although commercial uses are permitted in the Commercial Resort district, virtually all are associated with hospitality and recreation and compatible with waterfront property. Rezoning the properties would extend the number of permissible commercial uses to include vehicle sales, rentals and servicing, dry cleaning, fuel storage, packaging and processing, product assembly, warehousing and funeral services.

Noting that a number of commercial uses would be unsuited to the waterfront lots Clausen questioned the purpose of changing the zoning. In light of the Comprehensive Shoreland Protection Act, he asked "what could be built there?"

Saunders insisted that the site is suited to commercial uses, particularly since the opposite side of Lake Street, which lies in Gilford, is lined with businesses. She described the site as an extension the commercial district, consisting of lots fronting on to Union Avenue and backing on to Paugus Bay.