LACONIA — Backers of redeveloping the former State School property said Wednesday work will continue despite Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of a bill that would have moved the process forward.
On Tuesday, the Republican governor rejected an omnibus bill, including legislation to establish the Lakes Region Development Authority, which would have had the power to sell state-owned land to foster a buildout of the property.
State Rep. Charlie St. Clair, D-Laconia, said the legislature will have the ability to try to override the veto by a two-thirds majority in September.
He said the project to repurpose the land needs to advance to improve the community and its tax base.
“Otherwise, the land just sits there,” he said.
The authority would have been the successor to the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission, which has been planning potential residential and commercial projects for about 200 acres at Meredith Center Road and North Main Street.
George Bald, chairman of the commission, said the vetoed legislation also would have provided $1 million to be matched with grant money to build infrastructure needed to develop the site.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “This will certainly slow things down, but the commission is in the middle of a number of projects. Our intention would be to continue to work on those projects and go forward with everything we’re doing.
“This doesn’t mean things are coming to a stop.
“I think the commission has a lot of talented people and I would hate to see that group disband.”
The omnibus bill lumped together a number of pieces of legislation. Bald said the governor told him that if he vetoed it, it wouldn’t be because of the bill affecting the State School property.
“Our intention is to work with the governor and legislators to come up with another proposal that stands by itself,” Bald said.
In his veto message, Sununu said he didn’t like the way 40 pieces of legislation were put into one bill and questioned whether they had received adequate public hearings.
Mayor Andrew Hosmer said this is another example of the state not doing the right thing for city residents with this property. The property formerly was used as a state facility for the developmentally disabled and later was used to house inmates.
“I’m very disappointed in the veto,” Hosmer said. “This was a bipartisan piece of legislation that passed overwhelmingly in both chambers."
He said there were adequate public hearings.
“This is once again another setback to the city of Laconia as we attempt to move this property from state control into private hands,” Hosmer said. “The commission has worked extraordinarily hard to put together a very thoughtful and responsible bill.
“The governor knew how important it was to the future of this city. My concern is that politics played a role in this.
“The governor was anxious to put his foot down and put his stamp on a veto. He’s becoming veto dependent and that’s hurting Laconia.”
Hosmer said it’s only right for the state to help get the property ready for development.
“They took it over, they polluted it and it is their obligation that it is cleaned up and prepared for the next use,” he said. “It’s high time for the state to step up and fulfill its obligations.”