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Big Island girl's camp shot down by Laconia ZBA

Union Leader Correspondent

November 21. 2017 4:04PM
Big Island in Paugus Bay. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

LACONIA — Plans to build a seasonal camp for underprivileged girls on Big Island in Paugus Bay were scuttled by the city's zoning board.

The board's 4-0 vote against a special exception was greeted by sustained applause from more than two dozen people crowded into the City Council chambers at Laconia City Hall Monday night.

Scott Everett, who proposed the camp as a way of giving back to the community, grew up in Gilford and owns a mortgage origination company in Dallas. He could not be reached for comment.

Everett had already installed water and sewer service to the island and has been acquiring additional properties on North Street.

Board member Susan Perley made the motion to deny the special exception.

She said a camp would be out of character with the residential neighborhood and a potential safety concern.

Paugus Bay is home to five marinas plus the South Down Shores development, Perley said, and that much boat traffic is not a good mix for a girls' camp and related water activities.

Trash removal from the island and the response time of local fire and police personnel were also concerns for Perley.

"This island is so special and so tiny and has a lot of wetlands," she said.

Board member Roland Maheu also spoke to the unique nature of Paugus Park Road, the residential neighborhood abutting the island on the mainland. It has no outlet and dead ends, he explained.

"I can see no way I can vote to support this on this island," Maheu said. "I'm sorry."

Andover Place resident Margery Shulz said she spent much of her life teaching swimming and couldn't think of a more dangerous place to put young people in the water due to huge swells generated by boat traffic in Paugus Bay.

Ben Gamache, of Paugus Park Road, said he has worked in real estate for 40 years and has seen how mixing residential and commercial can sharply drop property values.

Attorney William Gannon of Manchester, who said he represents Gamache and other abutters, claimed the proposal is simply not permitted under town zoning rules.

Gannon characterized Everett's plan for a conference center as way to "get the camel's nose under the tent" for the "laudable goal" of building a girls' camp, as a conference center is a permitted use by special exception.

"The fact that Mr. Everett is a wonderful man and has wonderful goals does not change the law," the lawyer said.

John Arnold of Manchester, Everett's attorney, said the city's zoning ordinance says a conference center is a permissible use and that a summer camp is an acceptable accessory use.

Similar conference center camps are common and several already exist in the Lakes Region.

"There is no effort to hide the ball. The most appropriate application was for a conference center and in good faith we felt it was the best approach," Arnold said.

City assessing records show Everett or Big Island Company buying shorefront property on North Street. In August, Everett purchased 5.1 acres of vacant land at 290 North St. for $74,533. In Sept. 2016, Big Island Company paid $500,000 to purchase 9 North St. and 17 North St.

Environment Outdoors Politics On the Water Laconia

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