Bradford working to ‘button-up’ old Town Hall

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – In the two months since town meeting voters rejected a proposal to spend $1.3 million to continue renovation and restoration work at the old Town Hall, the selectmen have been working to “button up” the project for at least five years, according to Jim Bibbo, the chairman of the select board.

It’s not what Bibbo wanted, he admitted last week, but he and his fellow board members are complying with the town’s decisions, which includes spending $170,000 to secure and protect the property for the foreseeable future.

The original estimate was less than $1 million but it’s now closer to $3 million.

“It doesn’t matter what I want,” Bibbo said. “It’s what the town wants.”

In recent weeks, the board has discussed several ways to move the “buttoning-up” process forward, including adding granite to the historic building’s foundation as well as providing both a heating and a fire alarm system.

Bibbo said the selectmen have estimates for both a furnace and the alarm system, but recently opted to put the projects out for new bids.

“The board felt it could be done cheaper,” he explained, especially after one business unofficially indicated that it would do some work at a much lower price. “We were going to be short a couple of thousand in the budget, so we felt we’d look to see if it could be done cheaper.

“We have time to bid it out, and if the bids come back and they’re not cheaper we can always still go back to the (original) contractors,” he commented.

The board has about five weeks before work begins on the heating and fire alarm systems because the granite foundation project is an “expensive, long process,” Bibbo explained. The new stone will be attached directly to the building’s concrete foundation, which will both add to the structure’s stability and restore some its original historic look.

“It will actually sit on the granite, it’s not just for looks,” Bibbo said.

The on-site cutting is already underway, but it will be more than a month before the local masonry work can be completed, the chairman noted.

“Then they’ll do all the rest of the stuff,” Bibbo said.

At the board’s May 14 meeting, the three-member board publically thanked the local Rural Heritage Connection organization for a recent $7,500 donation that will help defray the costs of adding structural steel reinforcement to the old town hall.

“The structural part of the original building was not good, but nobody realized it was so bad,” Bibbo said last week. “It was totally unanticipated, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. The front of building was built in 1863 and the back stage in 1906, and when they did that (newer section) they cut out some of the structural beams.”

The recent structural renovations added a “couple of tons of steel” to the old municipal meeting hall because “the back of the building was falling down,” according to Bibbo.

Bibbo noted that the controversial restoration project has been plagued with cost-related challenges from its inception. The original estimate approved by voters several years ago was less than $1-million, but it’s now closer to $3-million, and putting the work off for a few years may only increase the bottom-line, he suggested.

“I’ve talked to people in other towns and when you plan something for several years out, it’s going to end up costing more,” he suggested.

His professional experience working as an administrator of several significant building projects also led him to think that the town would be wise moving forward with the restoration work.

“But that’s not what the town believes,” he added. “And the town is my boss.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, May 28, 2018.

 

 

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Historic New England inn owner sues hometown, fire chief & treasurer

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Joseph Torro, the owner of the historic Bradford Country Inn on Greenhouse Lane and a longtime resident, has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Concord against his hometown and two local town officials.

In the court papers filed in March, Torro charges that Mark Goldberg, the chief of Bradford’s fire-rescue department, and Marilyn Gordon, the town treasurer, have conspired against him in his efforts to operate the 121-year-old lodging facility that was formerly owned by Gordon. Specifically, it claims that the officials have used their political influence to create unfair roadblocks to operating the lodging business, including conspiring with the board of selectmen to withhold a property tax abatement and trying to unfairly enforce fire safety/safety codes. The town is charged because Goldberg and Gordon are municipal employees.

Joe Torro claims that two selectmen, as well as the town’s code enforcement officer, indicated that there would be no problems reopening as a bed-and-breakfast.

Neither Goldberg or Gordon responded to requests for comment last week, but in a recent story in the Concord Monitor Goldberg said that Torro is at fault for not exercising “due diligence” before purchasing the property last August.

Torro is asking the court for $2 million in monetary damages as well as an indeterminate amount of punitive damages but, sitting on the inn’s spacious wooden desk last Friday afternoon, he said he filed the suit only after numerous attempts to work out a resolution with the town failed. “The two million dollars, that was just like, ‘pay attention,’” he said. “I don’t want to sue my own town, I just want to operate a business.”

On Saturday, Karen Hambleton, Bradford’s town administrator, said that the town has no response to the lawsuit at this time.

According to the court papers, Gordon owned the building, then called the Candlelite Inn, for more than a decade before trying to sell it as either a lodging facility or a private residence sometime in 2010. At some point during that time, she became romantically involved with Goldberg and he began staying on the property.

In August 2014, Torro offered to buy the inn from Gordon, first for $175,000 and then $195,000. Both offers were turned down, but not long afterwards the facility was up for auction.

Torro made the winning bid, paying $258,000. He said that he soon began making improvements and renovations to the old building that eventually totaled over $250,000.

In his court papers, Torro claims that two selectmen, as well as Walter Royal, the town’s code enforcement officer, indicated to him that there would be no problems reopening the six-bedroom building as a bed-and-breakfast.

Shortly after the sale, Goldberg began indicating that there were major fire/safety code violations at the facility.

“It was fine when you were living here,” Torro said he responded to the fire chief’s complaints.

“If I was told up front about this by the town, that I would have to do a sprinkler system and fire alarms, things like that, I would have used some of my (repair) money for that,” Torro commented. Estimates for the work range between $75,000 and $100,000, he said.

Goldberg eventually recused himself from the inn’s safety inspection and passed the issue onto the state’s fire marshal, but that was only part of a “ruse,” the suit claims; the chief appeared uninvolved but he knew that the state’s safety regulations were more stringent than the town’s. That meant that Torro would be “subjected to different treatment than the former owner,” the legal paperwork reads.

Goldberg also remained involved in other ways as well, passing on information about the inn to the marshal’s office, according to the suit.

The suit points more directly at Gordon by asserting that she helped squash a possible property tax abatement for Torro in 2014. The select board had indicated to the owner that it would approve the option as a way of easing some of Torro’s financial stress but after a closed-door session with Gordon, the abatement prospect vanished, he said.

Although the suit was filed more than two months ago, neither the town nor the employees have made any legal response, said Rick Lehmann, the Manchester attorney working for Torro. “I am surprised,” he admitted.

Meanwhile, Torro is not legally allowed operate the Bradford Country Inn as a bed-and-breakfast; He does rents it out as a Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) property, mostly for reunions, wedding parties, etc., but that only brings in “quarters on the dollar” of what he could make as a bed-and-breakfast, he said. And although he’s invested a good amount of money into the property, he is unable to add any more. He said he’s also unable get a bank loan because of the unclear legal status of his operation.

“I’m at a standstill,” he said. But he can hold on because he has a good-paying fulltime job, he added.

“I’ve put my life savings into this,” Torro said. “And, I’m stubborn.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.

 

 

Warner tiny house project on hold as ZBA continues deliberations

Above: Joe Mendola of Warner, who wants to build a tiny house development in his hometown, already has a “tiny mansion” under construction on Poverty Plain Road.

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – A proposal to build the state’s first tiny house development on Schoodac Road has been set back for a least a few more weeks by the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA).

At a meeting in the town hall last week, the members decided to delay a final decision on a zoning variance that would allow Joe Mendola, a resident and realtor, to move forward with his plan to create a 13-unit tiny house park on 15 acres of property close to Interstate 89’s exit 8. The variance would permit Mendola to cluster the 13 lots into one area of the property, which he says will be both better for the environment and lower construction costs.

At the meeting, ZBA members expressed concerns, especially about the use of the term “tiny house.” Warner has no zoning regulations specifically for the unusual new mobile residences – nor does any other New Hampshire community – so Mendola wants his proposal to be considered under the town’s manufactured home parks ordinances.

“We understand that what you’re asking for is a manufactured housing park but the idea of a new tiny house is different from that,” said Sam Bower of the ZBA.

‘’We’re going to have these tiny houses and we’re satisfying a need for millennials.’’… That’s B.S. This is a trailer park, plain and simple.’

– Lucinda McQueen

Tiny houses are a relatively recent invention favored mostly by young people, especially millennials, who are either unable or unwilling to make a large down payment on a traditional house or to pay current high rents. The structures are typically 300-square-feet or smaller, which makes them very energy efficient; they’re built with conventional building materials on flatbed trailers that can easily be moved from place to place.

Many tiny houses are made by their owners and can cost as little as $10,000 to $25,000 but Mendola plans to have each of his 13 super-small structures built to specifications required by the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At 320-square feet each, they would meet the town’s manufactured home park ordinance.

Throughout the planning process that began in February, town officials have been debating about Mendola’s claim his facility can be both a tiny house and manufactured home park.

“If it’s a structure built to HUD standards then, by definition, it’s a manufactured home,” he said at the recent ZBA meeting, explaining his rationale.

Chairman Janice Loz was cautious. “I understand that’s how you interpret it,” she said. “But I do believe that it is good for the board members to question and try to get to bottom of what a manufactured home is (for zoning purposes.)

“The whole sticking point is that manufactured housing parks are tightly regulated,” she added. “What you really get to is the intent of the ordinance. And I wonder if the intent was for tiny houses since there wasn’t such things when they (ordinances) were drafted.”

Mendola said that tiny houses could help the state with its ongoing problem of attracting and keeping younger people in New Hampshire, but not everyone accepts that.

“The whole idea of tiny houses is just a little coy,” said Lucinda McQueen, another resident. “’We’re going to have these tiny houses and we’re satisfying a need for millennials.’… That’s B.S. This is a trailer park, plain and simple.”

The ZBA will resume its deliberations at its next meeting on Tuesday, May 29, at 7 p.m. at the town hall. If it does approve Mendola’s variance request, he will still need to win approval of the planning board before breaking ground on the tiny house project.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, May 15, 2018. 

 

Local sportsmen groups continue to fight for LakeSunapee access at Wild Goose

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – Despite two recent setbacks, the Sullivan County Sportsman Club, the NH Bass Federation and others are continuing their efforts to have the state move forward with its long-delayed plan to develop a public access boating facility on the Wild Goose property in town.

Attorney W. Howard Dunn of Claremont, who is representing the organizations and some individuals, has filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the NH department of environmental services’ wetland board after a hearing officer overturned the board’s original decision to allow the sportsmen groups to have a say in the state’s recent relevant actions.

‘The state has an obligation under its statutes to provide access for the public, including (the groups), to Lake Sunapee.’

W. Howard Dunn, attorney

In his legal paperwork, Dunn argues that the officer erred when he disqualified the groups because the full board had earlier decided that the sportsmen organizations are legally recognized as “aggrieved” or “directly affected” parties.

“The state has an obligation under its statutes to provide access for the public, including (the groups), to Lake Sunapee on state-owned land without barrier or impediment,” he added, noting that the board’s recent decision to not apply for an extension of the site’s wetlands permit could “cause forfeit of the state’s only option to this mandate.”

In recent weeks, the Wild Goose plan has absorbed two major blows.

First, the 15-member Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu recommended that the NH fish and game department abandon the proposed site. Then the wetlands board decision disqualified the sportsmen groups’ interests.

Glen Normandeau, executive director of the department, said he’s ready to “move on” from the Wild Goose site project. “I’ve got too much on my plate to go walking around looking at lots along Lake Sunapee (for possible alternative launch sites) when I have no money (in the budget) to spend on it,” he said.

While Dunn’s appeal to the wetland board moves forward, the sportsmen groups still have a legal motion pending in Sullivan Superior Court that could force the state to develop Wild Goose. It claims that the state had already committed to the project and that recent actions by the governor, legislature and others do not supersede that decision.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on My 8, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny House project proposed for Warner

by Ray Carbone

WARNER – When Joe Mendola, a local resident and realtor, meets with the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) Wednesday night, he’s hoping to win a variance that could lead to the creation of the state’s first tiny house development in Warner.

Mendola wants to build the 13-pad tiny house project on 15 acres of land off Schoodac Road, near exit 8 off Interstate 89.

But that’s a challenge. No community in the state currently has zoning ordinances that specifically address tiny houses, he said. As a result, the local ZBA and planning boards have been wrestling with the development for months.

On a separate Poverty Plains Road lot, Joe Mendola is building a tiny house ‘mansion’ of 650-square-feet.

Mendola sees tiny houses as a way to keep and attract more young people to the Granite State. Recent college graduates with valuable skills often leave because they have significant student debt and can’t afford our high rents, he said. “I have (young) colleagues who do not live here because they’re millennials and they either think that New Hampshire is not cool enough or they’re not ready establish a residence.”

Younger people are attracted to tiny houses due to their low cost, their small carbon footprint and mobility, he said.

Tiny houses are a relatively recent development in the housing market but they’re gaining in popularity with several reality television programs, a booming social network and construction growing in places like Texas and the northwest. The structures are typically 300-square-feet or less, so their small space makes them very energy efficient. They’re usually built with conventional building materials on flatbed trailers that can be easily be moved from place to place.

While many tiny houses are made by their owners for as little as $10,000 to $25,000, there are companies that build them for people who cannot do that. Mendola wants to work with a company that would build tiny houses that conform to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) specifications at an estimated cost between $48,000 to $88,000.

(On a separate Poverty Plains Road lot, Mendola is building a “tiny house mansion” of 650-square-feet. While it will feature many of the same energy-saving aspects of tiny homes – no hall space, low heating/cooling costs, little storage, etc. – the structure is being built on a standard cement foundation.)

Warner’s planning officials first saw Mendola’s project in February. Since that time, both the planning and zoning boards have been trying to understand how it fits into Warner’s current zoning ordinances.

That’s not a surprise to Mendola, who is now eschewing the tiny house label and calling the project a “manufactured home park” for legal purposes. “I went from Warner, and I looked all the way to Portsmouth,” he laughed, recalling how he search to find a community with zoning regulations that might allow his groundbreaking development. “I found only three towns: Henniker, Goffstown and Warner – my hometown.”

A variance from the ZBA would allow the structures to be clustered together, which would make the development less expensive and more ecologically friendly, Mendola said. “It’s tough land (to build on),” he commented. “There’s wetlands, utility wires and 25-degree slopes. So I’m asking for a variance that would allow the town’s ‘open space’ or ‘cluster’ regulations to be applied.”

The realtor admitted that he’s not sure about his chances of winning a ZBA approval. And if he does, he will still need to get permission from the planning board.

If that doesn’t, he could appeal the decision, or look for another piece or property, either in Warner or one of the other two towns.

But he’s convinced that tiny homes could be a major economic benefit for the state by keeping younger people in New Hampshire.

“Here’s the brutal truth,” he commented. “When I moved here 25 years ago, I could buy a starter home. But there’s very little construction now. And people like me are retiring and scaling down,” which makes the first-time homeowner’s market even tighter. “We’re competitively moving these kids out of the starter home market,” he said. “We’ve got to keep these kids in the state,” he concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

 

 

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