12-foot-strip of land between commercial & residential zones at issue in Laconia

LACONIA — A proposal by Steve and Kara Olson, owners of Laconia Refrigeration on Walker Street, to ease congestion in the neighborhood just north of the High School by designating a loading zone for tractor trailers around the corner on Butler Street met with opposition from nearby property owners when it was presented to the Zoning Board of Adjustment earlier this month.

Laconia Refrigeration operates at 11 Walker Street, the the commercial district, while Butler Street marks the boundary between the commercial and residential single family districts. The zoning ordinance stipulates that "no loading space or bay in a nonresidential district shall be located within 50 feet of a residential district boundary or within 50 feet of the lot line of an abutting residential use within a residential district." Consequently, the Olsons required a variance to place a loading zone on Butler Street.

There is a 12-foot-wide strip of unpaved land on the the west side of Butler Street, which borders a side of the property at 11 Walker Street, then a row of shrubs screening the parking lot of Laconia Regrigeration. Steve Olson told the ZBA that the tractor trailers could unload on the dirt strip without the fork lift truck encroaching on the pavement, then proceed south on Butler Street and reach Union Avenue by way of Lyman Street.

Suzanne Perley of the ZBA asked who owned the unpaved strip and Olson volunteered that he thought it was city property. Matt Lahey, a resident of Cottonwood Avenue, claimed that strip was part of the 50-foot municipal right-of-way and owned by city. He asked the ZBA not to proceed further because the Olsons were seeking to use property they did not own.

Lahey emphasized that the overriding issue is that two businesses — Laconia Regrigeration and Lake City Auto Body — which both generate significant vehicle traffic, were operating on a small lot. The coming, going and parking of large trucks, cars and fork lift trucks created congestion and posed risks. He said the situation would not be improved by allowing tractor trailers to idle on city property in front of a residence. He urged the board to deny the variance.

Lahey was echoed was echoed by several residents, including a grandmother who feared for the safety of her grandchildren who ride their bicycles in the neighborhood. Etta Wheeler of 4 Butler Street said her home would directly across the street from the proposed loading zone. She expressed concern for the value of her property as well as for the safety of children, the impact of noise and the increased traffic on a residential street.

Steve Bogert, who chairs the ZBA, said before proceeding the board should determine the ownership of the unpaved strip of land on Butler Street. If the Olsons own the land, they could could apply for a variance, but if the land belongs to the city, it could not be used as a loading zone. At the same time, Olson was asked to explore alternatives means of loading and unloading large trucks, including using the firm's parking lot where he feared losing required parking spaces to provide sufficient turning space. He remarked fixing one problem could cause other problems.

Supreme Court justice will attend Belknap jail planning session

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners will hold a meeting Monday morning in which they will seek input from all parts of the county's criminal justice system on the kinds of programs which will be needed at a proposed new community corrections facility.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that the meeting will get underway at 8 a.m. and may last as long as three hours.
Among those who have accepted invitations to take part in the meeting is New Hampshire Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau, who is expected to talk about changes in the state's criminal justice system which will see felony cases go directly to Superior Court, bypassing Circuit Courts, as well as other changes designed to bring cases to resolution more quickly.
DeVoy said that Kevin Warwick and Ross Cunningham of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc. who have developed a plan for community corrections facility for the county, will take part in the discussions. They have been retained by the commissioners to work with the county in developing a schematic design for a  64-bed community facility.
Preliminary estimates place the cost, as well as renovations to the existing Belknap County Jail, at around $7 million. The facility would have 30 treatment beds, 20 for men and 10 for women, and 34 work release beds, 24 for men and 10 for women.
The new facility would be built next to the current jail and connected to it through a newly created control room. It would contain 22,327-square-feet and a suggested addition which would include a small 2,500-square-foot gym, 1,500-square-feet of administrative space — all of which would bring the total space to just over 27,000-square-feet.
DeVoy said that after the morning session the commission will take a lunch break and then hold a regular commission meeting in the afternoon at which they will open bids from two architectural firms for a schematic design for the proposed facility.
DeVoy has said that he hopes to bring a bond issue for around $7 million to the Belknap County Convention for approval before the year ends in order to build the new facility, which is modeled on a similar one built in Sullivan County (Claremont) in 2008.
DeVoy said that the yearly payment on a bond issue of that size would be around $550,000, which the county could handle without a tax increase as bonds which are currently costing $600,000 a year in principal and interest payments will be retired in the near future.
One of the key elements of the community corrections plan is the creation of programs to help ease the transition back into the community of released inmates and the involvement of all elements of the criminal justice system in that process says DeVoy.
He says that he is hoping to get all those involved in law enforcement and the county criminal justice system on the same page when it comes to the programs which will be created at the new facility.

Unwelcome Matt put out for Tilton cop

TILTON — At least two area police departments have sent identical letters to this town's police chief, Robert Cormier, informing him that Patrol Officer Mathew Dawson's authority under inter-town law enforcement authority agreements will be limited in their own communities, The Daily Sun has learned.

The letter, dated May 1, 2014, was made available to The Daily Sun by a high-ranking member of a police department and was authenticated by a high-ranking member of a second department, was sent to Tilton Police after Dawson was reinstated as a patrol officer (he was a detective corporal) following a six-month period of paid administrative leave. During his leave, Dawson's possible role in brokering a stolen credit card was being investigated by the Merrimack County Sheriff's Department.

Tilton Police Chief Robert Cormier said yesterday he couldn't comment on the matter because it is a personnel issue.

"Officer Dawson will only be called on to respond into the town of (deleted) for cases of extreme emergency. This call can only come from the highest ranking officer on duty and will be requested over the radio, so it may be recorded and documented by the dispatch of jurisdiction. Once the emergency situation has cleared, Officer Dawson will be sent back to his own jurisdiction immediately," the letter reads.

The letter also said the departments involved would continue to respond to Tilton. However, in cases where Dawson is the only officer involved, the responding department will do so only as long as any safety to the public or Dawson exists and then will return immediately to their own jurisdiction.

"In conclusion, the (deleted) department will continue to work closely with your agency with the listed changes involving ... Dawson. When she returns to the area, (Belknap) County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen will be asked to review this document as she did the original extended authority agreement," the letter continues.

The Daily Sun also obtained a template copy of an addendum to the "Extended Authority Agreement" that states in part that "the requesting agency has determined Officer Mat Dawson of the Tilton Police Department does not meet said agencies standards for qualification to serve or perform law enforcement functions within its jurisdiction."

When contacted earlier this week, Guldbrandsen acknowledged writing a comparable document as a template but said she didn't specifically include Dawson's name nor does she know how many, if any, police agencies signed it.

Dawson was not criminally charged following the credit card use investigation, however two other men were, Richard Minor who pleaded guilty to stealing the card from a Tilton homeowner in whose home he was working and Richard McNeil, a former Laconia man who was indicted for one count of receiving stolen property. Both indictments were handled by the Grafton County Attorneys Office but were or are being tried in the Belknap County Superior Court.

The investigation into Dawson centered on his role in allegedly arranging for the sale of the card to his uncle, Ted Dawson, who allegedly used it at Lowe's Home Improvement Stores in Gilford and Tilton. The card was worth $2,000 in merchandise and, according to the Merrimack County Sheriff's investigation, was allegedly sold to Ted Dawson for $400.

McNeil's trial is scheduled for July. Last month, he failed to appear in court for his pre-trial hearing and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was located in Manchester and is being held in the N.H. State Prison for Men for a parole violation.

Both Dawsons are scheduled to appear as defense witnesses in McNeil's trial.

Additional fall-out from the investigation led Dawson to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to criminally implicate himself in the stolen credit card case rather than testify for the state in a rape case he investigated in 2013. On the stand his credibility could have been challenged on cross-examination.

Judge James O'Neill's decision to grant Dawson his Fifth Amendment protections came after a hearing where it was disclosed that he was the subject of a "Laurie order" or a determination by a judge that there is information in his personnel file that could cast credibility on his ability to testify truthfully in a court proceeding.

A jury acquitted the accused.

An extended authority agreement is a formal agreement between neighboring police agencies that allows cross-jurisdictional authority for on-duty officers. Agreements like these are common and are approved by department chiefs.


Better late than never: local GOP gets a look at Scott Walker

LACONIA — One of the eight Republicans who has announced his candidacy for the presidency — George Pataki, the former governor of New York — and a front runner for the GOP nomination in many of the early polls — Scott Walker, the sitting governor of Wisconsin— were guests of the Belknap County Republican Committee aboard M/S Mt. Washington last evening for the annual Lincoln Day cruise.

They were joined aboard by former governors Bob Ehrlich of Maryland and Jim Gilmore of Virginia, both of whom are contemplating entering the race for the GOP nomination.

The ship cast off shortly after six, without either Walker, who was behind schedule flying to Laconia Airport, or Shawn Jasper, the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, on board. Alan Glassman, who chairs the county committee, announced he considered taking vote of those on board o sail or stay, but instead compromised by sailing to Meredith Bay and then returning to The Weirs to collect the latecomers. Passengers lined the decks as Walker and his wife, Tonette, walked down the gangplank.

"Scott Walker has proven he won't miss the boat twice," one wag quipped.

Walker, likely the most conservative, and Pataki, perhaps the least conservative, among the prospective candidates, stand at opposite ends of the GOP field, which is expected to reach a score of declared candidates. They also rank at opposite ends of the current polls, with Walker topping the list of 15 likely candidates at 14.9 percent and Pataki failing to register in last place. Walker will speak at the home of New Hampshire Representative Brian Gallagher in Sanbornton this morning at 10 a.m.

An evangelical favored by the conservative base of the GOP for his uncompromising stance on social issues and for crippling the power of public employee unions, Walker touted his success with Independent voters, who may well decide the New Hampshire primary. He said he had won three of four elections in Wisconsin with 96 percent of the Republican vote while carrying the Independent vote by 12 percent.

Pataki, who favors a right to abortion, gun control and measures to address climate change, noted that Independents can vote in the primary, but was quick to add that in winning the governorship of New York three times he appealed to the base of the GOP and beyond. Although Pataki is reported to have described his candidacy as a longshot, he said he was "very upbeat" after the reception he received after announcing last week. "I intend to work hard, make the case, believe in the people and believe in myself," he said with the confidence of a man who has never lost an election.

The cruise was Ehrlich's 11th trip to New Hampshire. He said that the state reminded him of the congressional district he represented in Maryland prior to becoming governor in 2003. "We've made some friends here," he said, "and I've had opportunities to talk about the issues I want to talk about." In particular, he said that he has been asked to speak about what he called "the unfortunate chapter of Baltimore." Ehrlich , grew up where the violence erupted, said the addressing the challenge of dysfunctional schools, high employment, drug abuse and rampant crime plaguing the inner cities must be a national priority.

On his sixth visit to the state, Gilmore said he is "seriously considering" becoming a candidate. Apart from his executive experience as governor of Virginia from 1998 to 2002, he touted his experience as a counter-intelligence officer in the United States Army and chairman of a congressional panel assessing the capacity to counter domestic terrorism. He said that national security remained a high priority for the country and would be a major theme of his campaign. "Other candidates don't have my experience," he said. Gilmore announced his candidacy for the presidency in April, 2007, but abandoned his campaign less than three months later for want of sufficient funding.

Representative Frank Tilton of Laconia estimated that more than 500 tickets were sold for the cruise, the most in recent years.