By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The Planning Board will urge the City Council not to take steps to sell property on Davis Place owned by the city to abutting private landowners.
In response to offers to purchase portions of two lots, the council will hold a public hearing during its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Feb. 8, to determine whether to declare to declare any or all of the property "surplus," which would represent the first step in the divestiture process.
When the Planning Board met this week it board voted 8 to 1 to authorize Warren Hutchins, the chairman, to advise the council against declaring the lots surplus. City Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2), the council's liaison to the board, cast the lone dissenting vote.
Harry Bean seeks to purchase portions of 9,810 square feet of untended woodland straddling Jewett Brook, which adjoins the 0.13-acre house lot he owns at 32 Davis Place. Most of this land lies within a sprawling 1.67-acre lot owned by the city that fronts on Davis Place, stretches along the north bank of the Jewett Brook to the Winnipesaukee River and includes a sliver of land reaching from the south bank of the brook to Howard Street. Bean also seeks to acquire a strip of land, approximately 10 feet by 131 feet along the east side of a 0.15-acre lot, also owned by the city, that lies within the larger lot, which he would attach to the larger parcel.
Bean told the councilors he is rehabilitating the house at 32 Davis Place, where he expects his granddaughter to live. The land next door, he said, has been neglected and become a dumping ground strewn with televisions, shopping carts, mattresses and a place where people loiter. He stressed that he has no intention of developing the property, but wants only to clean it up and "just make it look nice."
Meanwhile, Lloyd Wylie, who owns the 1-acre lot at the far end of Davis Place that houses an apartment building, has made two offers to purchase portions of the 1.67-acre lot, which abuts his property to the east and south. One offer would include the portion of the lot abutting his lot to the south and fronting the Winnipesaukee River and Jewett Brook. Alternatively, he has offered to acquire the entire lot, except for the portion Bean has requested and the stretch on the south bank of Jewett Brook leading to Howard Street.
Both Bean and Wylie have agreed to pay the costs of surveying and conveying the property. the property, Like Bean, Wylie said that he wished only to maintain "a clean and safe environment for the community" by landscaping and policing the property as well as address a drainage problem without developing the lot.
City Manager Scott Myers said that Wylie indicated that if he acquired the property, he would be unwilling to grant the city an easement to extend the riverwalk along the Winnipesaukee River. Nor would he add significantly to the tax base by developing the property.
Hutchins became concerned when he read the legal notice of the public hearing, which indicated the council would consider declaring "all or a portion" of both lots as surplus property. When the board met this week, he asked for authority to speak in opposition to declaring the lots as surplus at the public hearing. He read a letter drafted to the City Council saying it would be "premature to divest a major piece of real estate in the downtown area" while the Master Plan was in the process of being updated. Moreover, he suggested several public uses for the land, including an extension of the riverwalk, a city park, a parking lot or a park and ride facility and closed by urging the council against declaring the lots surplus.
Bownes, whose ward includes the property in question, objected.
"What are you doing this for?" he asked. "This really sort of mucks up the works."
He said that the council had "multiple offers" for portions of both lots, but would not proceed without an appraisal of the market value of the properties involved.
"It's just premature," he insisted. "There's not going to be a wholesale sell-off of Davis Place."
When Hamilton McLean of the Planning Board suggested advising the council to delay a decision until the Master Plan is adopted, Bownes replied that "there is not a whole lot of warm and fuzzy feelings about the Master Plan at this point on the City Council." Asking for delay, he continued, "is not going to get you any traction with the City Council."
Hutchins insisted that for the Planning Board to offer its opinion would be "a very responsible thing to do." He said yesterday that "until there is an understanding of what to do with the whole property, don't cut it up."