Strong show of support for police station location
Some continue to oppose land trust exchange
October 20, 2010
CENTER HARBOR — Residents packed the Center Harbor fire station Thursday night for their chance to speak for or against a proposal to utilize part of a land trust on Route 25B for a police station, adding land from other properties to that trust in exchange.
Morrill Park sits beside the town owned Brooks property, land that proponents feel is an ideal site for a new police department in Center Harbor. Designs to use the Brooks property, however, would require part of the neighboring park to be used, mainly for parking, due to the narrow road frontage. Voters defeated a warrant article on the proposal last March, 110 to 63, just shy of the 66 percent majority vote needed. Because of that small margin, selectmen resurrected the proposal, hoping to better explain their intent in using Morrill Park and what they would do in exchange for 7,182.1 square feet, or 0.16 acres of the park.
Selectmen were first required to go through Probate Court to gain a release for that property from the charitable trust under which it is held. Technicalities in the notification of a previous hearing on the matter, however, led selectmen to withdraw their petition and start the process over.
"This hearing will now satisfy these legal requirements. We are proposing a better and larger park in memory of Dr. Morrill," said Chairman Richard Drenkhahn as he opened the hearing.
Drenkhahn said the realignment of the park as proposed will add 5,345 square feet of the adjoining Brooks property to Morrill Park along Chase Circle. They would also assign land where the town bandstand now sits to the charitable trust, adding an additional acre to the park. In the end, he said, the park would actually be slightly bigger than it is today.
Nat Dane, a descendant of Dr. Morrill, began public comment by saying he was not in favor of using the park for a police station. While it might be convenient for the town to use the property in this manner, he felt it was going too far.
"Once you start, are you going to start taking other land, too, because it's convenient?" he asked.
Former Selectman Chuck Burns agreed, saying the Dane family trusted the town to properly execute the use of the land donated in Dr. Morrill's name. Burns said taking that land for another use was an "immoral breach of that trust."
Residents along Chase Circle questioned the use of the Brooks property, which runs along one side of the circle, for a municipal building, stating their deeds did not allow for anything but single family residences. Selectmen stated that was not a stipulation of the Brooks property deed.
David Hughes of Bean Road said he grew up on Chase Circle beside the park. While some in attendance said the land was nothing more than a field and rarely used, Hughes said the town should have made improvements to the property.
"The town should have been stepping up. Keep it a park, make it a park," he said.
Steve Contigiani was one of many who spoke in favor of the proposed land swap to create both a police station and an improved park. He said while it was an emotional issue for many, he felt the selectmen had done their research and listened to the residents. The park, he said, was given to Center Harbor to service the town.
"I can't imagine he (Dr. Morrill) would be upset to see 16-18 percent of his land being given over in service to his town," said Contigiani.
Ann Edwards, director of the Attorney General's Division of Charitable Trusts, was present to explain the trust's position on the transfer of land within the Morrill charitable trust. She said her role was to meet the purpose of the trust and uphold the desire behind its formation. Listening closely to all that residents had said over the course of the hearing, Edwards said she was still in favor of the change to the trust as selectmen have proposed.
"I believe the end product of this proposal is more of a tribute to Dr. Morrill. I've been listening to everything but haven't heard anything to change our decision, because we've worked very closely with the town on this," she said.
Selectmen noted they had also received support from the library, zoning and planning boards for both the police department and the land exchange.
Mark Hildebrand said he had initially come to the hearing opposed to using the park property. As a 32-year resident of the town, Hildebrand said he never knew the land was anything other than an open field. After hearing both sides, he said he saw the proposal as a benefit to the town.
"This is a win-win situation. We need a police station and we need to improve the park. I stand in favor of it now," said Hildebrand as supporters applauded.
The town will move forward with a second petition to the Probate Court to release the 0.16 acres from the trust should it be approved by voters next March. Edwards and the select board told residents that should the warrant fail once again, the park and charitable trust would remain as it is today.