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Town will work toward un-merging policy


March 17, 2010
Town appraiser Wil Corcoran strongly urged the Board of Selectmen Wednesday to create a policy pertaining to land "mergers," or two "non-conforming" merged into one lot, after voters approved a petitioned warrant article Tuesday that gives landowners the right to unmerge their properties.

Although some taxpayers may not want to "unmerge" their potentially involuntarily merged lots because of increased assessment risks, for those who do want to sell lots, their properties must first be unmerged.

Barbara Aichinger of Governor's Island faced this challenge. She said her two houses were involuntarily merged as one lot by the town, making it impossible for her to sell one of her properties. Aichinger took it upon herself to submit a petitioned warrant article, which passed ballot vote on Election Day. The article passed and gives landowners the right to unmerge their "involuntary" or "forced" non-conforming merged lots. Corcoran said the town must now find a standard, organized way to deal with these requests for those who want to sell their property.

"The town has spoken clearly, asking to seek direction in these matters," said Corcoran. "I hope a policy will be in place to guide our decisions in the matter and that we can develop a procedure."

Corcoran offered to start working on the policy himself, and how to tackle the situation at hand, to find some order to these multiple, inconsistent merging occurrences.

"This is not a new occurrence. Sometimes they were asked to merge, and sometimes they were forced, yet we are not sure where these (properties) all are," said Corcoran. "How are we going to handle these things, unless we have the correct information to put out there?"

Board Chair Gus Benavides asked how involved the selectmen would be with the development of this policy, and with taxpayers who come forth to unmerge their lots.

"This is a major undertaking, and we want to make sure we are doing things right," said Benavides. "This will affect people's lives."

Corcoran said the policy itself would most likely involve everyone in his department, and if the Town Administrator Scott Dunn asked him, he would "draw out a procedure" that the board could review.

"I will provide suggested ways that we can proceed, and I prefer to do this in house. When I come out with findings, then we can figure out what to do, check legal background, and work on the policies," said Corcoran, who stressed the need of consistency in the town's next few steps, before the policy could be publicized.

He added that he could also provide the board with history, to further understand the issue at hand, and how it came to be back in the 1930s.

As of right not, Corcoran said Gilford has about 6,850 parcels, and after the merged lots are identified, he said there should be about 7,000 parcels.

To keep things simple, Selectman Kevin Hayes suggested that the policy begins on an as needed basis.

"Unless someone comes in and requests a lot to be unmerged, (for now) keep it the way it is," said Hayes.

Corcoran agreed, and said if the lots were forcefully merged, that the lots can be unmerged on a case-to-case basis, yet that all should be made aware of their options when the policy is solidified.

Selectman John O'Brien pointed out that the board would not receive a significant amount of requests, since the splitting of smaller lots may not be desirable for all landowners in this situation.

For now, merged lots will be unmerged upon request, or by "fair assessment by volunteering," said Corcoran, who added that a more "professional process" will eventually replace this procedure. Corcoran said that he would strongly encourage identifying all merged lots, even if the property owners do not wish to unmerge their lots.

Corcoran also presented an Appraisal Department update to the board, and said 132 residential properties are now on the market in Gilford, and that a substantial inventory has come in. Between the months of January and February, Corcoran said there were 33 property transfers, verse the 22 transfers last year, a 40 percent increase compared to activity last January and February.

Although sales have not been nearly as high this year and the market is "softening," Corcoran said he could sense a change, perhaps for the better in the market, and added that he is not sure what this change is yet exactly, or why it is occurring.

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