Camp Not-so-fast

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Neighbors prevail against Big Island camp plans

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Facing a packed chamber of angry neighbors, the Zoning Board of Adjustment voted, 4-0, Monday night against a plan to build a girls camp and conference center on Paugus Bay’s Big Island.
The board denied the request by Scott Everett, owner of the 2.2-acre island, for a special exception to allow this use in a residential area. Board members cited concerns over safety, boat traffic, wetlands impacts, light pollution and strain on city services.
The overflow audience cheered when the proposal was rejected. They jeered and talked out of turn earlier in the meeting when backers of the project spoke.  
Neighbors mentioned the potential for noise, traffic and a loss of home values. They expressed concerns about public safety and the viability of loons that nest there. They questioned whether a nearby waste treatment center could effectively handle the extra load. They wondered whether Everett, who owns several other properties in the area, had a secret agenda.
The island, now home to a single residence, is about 400 yards east of the marina at South Down Shores and some 1,500 feet north of Paugus Park Road.
A planner, an acoustics consultant and an attorney, all part of the team hired by Everett, testified on behalf of the project.
They said any effects associated with the camp and conference center, which would be used only part of the year, would be less than if several homes are built there as residential zoning permits.
They pointed to noise tests showing the sounds from 40 summer campers would not exceed existing background levels and that there would be no amplified sounds. Conference activities would be indoors.
Tim James, Scott Everett’s brother, was at the meeting but did not speak publicly. He has said his brother has spent $2 million on the proposal so far, including piping utilities underground to the island.
Everett, who lives in Dallas and runs a nationwide mortgage company, said in a phone interview Friday that he has no ulterior motive, but merely wants to give back to the community where he grew up. He has a 10-year-old daughter and a wish that girls, including the underprivileged, could learn about the outdoors and have a chance to enjoy the lake.
Rosi Dennett, the private planner, asked to introduce plans for homes that could be built on the island if the camp/conference center was rejected.
Board member Suzanne Perley, who conducted the meeting in the absence of Chairman Steven Bogert, rejected that request.
She said the camp proposal is ill-conceived. This is its third iteration and neighbors have opposed it at every turn.
A variance was sought in 2014 to create a campground use. The applicant withdrew the request under strong opposition from neighbors.
In September 2016, a request was made of the City Council to rezone the property from residential to commercial. The council denied the request after neighbors complained.
The current request sought to allay some of the neighborhood concerns by maintaining residential zoning and being more specific in how the property would be used. It would host a girls camp during the summer. For part of the year, before and after the summer, small conferences could be held.
Perley said her opposition was based in part on boating safety.
“You’re putting a whole bunch of kayaks on the lake,” Perley said. “For the boaters going in and out, it’s really hard to see these kayakers most of the time. There’s just a huge safety issue there.”
She said first responders would be hard pressed to get to a camper or convention attendee having a medical crisis.
“You’re talking about kids, or grown ups at the conference center could have a heart attack,” Perley said. “You can’t just throw them on a barge and bring them to shore. It doesn’t work that way. This would create a burden on life safety services.”
She also said that since the cabins envisioned under the plans do not have bathrooms, the island would have to be lit at night so campers could find their way to the toilets.
She said this is not an appropriate location for a camp or conference center and that other such facilities in the area are on much larger parcels of land.
“That island is so special,” Perley said. “It’s a tiny little island. It’s not like the other islands on Lake Winnipesaukee that are all so much bigger and can handle a lot of issues.”
Guests, deliveries and most staff would arrive by boat from the Paugus Bay Marina. A 20-person pontoon boat would be used to transport campers to the marina for occasional day trips.
Boat traffic around that marina is so intense on some summer days that it could be problematic to use it to service the island, Perley said.
After the meeting, James said he wasn’t sure what his brother’s next step would be, but that residential development was an option given the investment that has already been made.