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HDC issues raised again


State plan to pave Center Street leads to proposed changes


January 14, 2010
WOLFEBORO — While their lengthy Jan. 6 meeting was largely occupied with warrant articles in general and town office discussions in particular, selectmen had some other thorny issues to deal with at that meeting.

Problem with the minutes

The meeting began with an unusual disagreement over meeting minutes. Meeting minutes are usually approved quickly, with minor changes of wording and the board did quickly dispose of the minutes for Dec. 2 and Dec. 16 in that manner but there were major changes proposed for the minutes of the special meeting on Dec. 7 (the meeting where the $4.5 million article for a new building on Lehner Street was proposed and a full member of the Historic District Commission [HDC] was appointed).

Selectman Linda Murray proposed a number of changes to clarify Selectman Kristi Ginter's statements about Charlene Seibel during the discussion of her candidacy for the HDC position, to rectify errors in statements made by Selectman Marge Webster about available parking on Lehner Street and the claim that the monitoring expenses for the Municipal Electric building would no longer be needed, and to ask that certain e-mails be included in the record. Ginter objected to the proposed changes in her remarks and the board agreed to put the Dec. 7 minutes aside and review them again after the requested changes were made.

HDC issues

During the first public input period, both Todd and Bruce Fichter addressed selectmen concerning the HDC. Bruce Fichter is chairman of the commission and Todd Fichter is an alternate.

Todd Fichter said he was there to follow up on his request at the last selectmen's meeting for the board to rescind its appointment of Jim Ladd as a full HDC member. He asserted that Ladd did not meet the basic requirements for appointment set forth in RSA 673:4 II and referred to the petition Ladd had circulated calling for the abolition of the HDC. He then objected to Ginter participating in the decision since her case against the town was still open on Dec. 7: she should have stepped down.

Ginter responded that she did not have a lawsuit ongoing at the time, since she had reached an agreement that was only awaiting a judge's approval. She also pointed out that consultant Bernard Waugh stated that "it's very difficult to remove an appointed member." Murray said she agreed with Ginter on the last point.

Bruce Fichter said he was following up on his request at the Dec. 16 meeting for the selectmen's conclusions after reading the "Waugh Report." Specifically he asked if selectmen agreed with any of the following statements (yes or no): 1) that the HDC was a "rogue board;" 2) that the HDC was "out of control;" 3) that the HDC has been "meeting in semi-secrecy;" 4) that the HDC has been "hijacked and is irreparably broken;" 5) that the HDC has been untimely in its decision process; 6) that any member of the HDC should be removed from the board; 7) that Attorney Waugh found any evidence that the actions of the current HDC are "overly restrictive and arbitrary, or capricious and disrespectful;" and 8) that Attorney Waugh or the selectmen themselves found that the current HDC are "Gestapo Nazis"?

Fichter said he agreed with a recent Granite State News editorial that bygones should be bygones on the HDC and the board should move ahead. He claimed that the "running battle" referred to in the editorial "is fueled by the minority portion of the current HDC that wishes to go back" to the old days of one-person decisions, verbal or phone approvals and ignoring the rights of abutters.

"It is imperative that the BOS answer my questions in the public forum, as these charges, accusations and threats were made in that forum," Fichter concluded. "The HDC has been tried in the court of public opinion and it is now necessary for the BOS to clarify and restore that public opinion."

There was no response from selectmen.

Paving plan issues

Public Works Director Dave Ford appeared before the board to discuss what he has done since learning of the NH Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to pave Center Street later this year from Pickering Corner (at Main Street) to where Route 109 goes east at the 7-11 store. This would present a problem since there are many issues with the road, sidewalks and drainage between Pickering Corner and Grove Street. The curbs along that section of the road are nearly flush with the road now and another inch of pavement would make them disappear. Also the drainage improvements under Center Street that were to be done when the GreatWaters Bank was completed will now not be done. Since the work to date on the GreatWaters site has not increased runoff and the bank has agreed to stabilize the site with loam and seed, the town cannot call the bond put in place to do the improvements, according to Ford. The town's engineers are currently evaluating the site.

Ford said he met with DOT District 3 engineers and he reported that DOT is willing to put the paving on hold and do the section at issue as a municipally-managed project. Under a municipally-managed project, the town would pay one-third of the cost of improvements and the state would pay two-thirds. Total project cost Ford estimated at $2 million, so the town would be liable for $667,000, not much more than the $600,000 that the town is prepared to spend correcting the drainage on Center Street under the warrant article now on the ballot. Ford would take the difference from road improvements to get the job done.

Ford also said he took to heart comments made by the Budget Committee's John Burt that it is better to do everything in one part of the Downtown Streets project rather than do the whole area in phases, resulting in multiple disturbances. So he proposed under the current $600,000 warrant article that he would complete work on Glendon and School Streets and part of Union Street, but not 500-600 feet of Lehner Street (he would limit Lehner Street to base paving only).

Town Manager Dave Owen informed selectmen that what Ford was proposing was within the scope set forth in the language of the existing warrant articles, so it was not necessary to change the wording, just the explanation of what will be done.

Other business

The board held a second hearing on a proposed deed restriction at the Abenaki Ski Area. A final vote will be taken at the Jan. 20 board meeting.

Owen reported that there have been no applicants for the advertised position of alternate on the HDC board.

Owen also reminded the board that there is a chain of command in town administration, and that board members should not approach town staff directly on issues instead of addressing those questions through the town manager.

This Friday, Jan. 15, is the due date for all departments for the annual town report.

In the public comment period at the end of the four-hour meeting, Bob Lemaire said he wished the board had come forward with the Bell Building proposal as a lease instead of a purchase. Town employees need to move somewhere when work is done at Brewster Hall. He hoped that the Friends would include relocation costs in the final professional quote they are working on.

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