Iconic South Sutton Meetinghouse repairs put on hold

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – The Sutton Historical Society has decided to withdraw its request for a grant that would have helped fund repairs to the classic New England church steeple of the South Sutton Meetinghouse.

Don Davis, vice-president of the society, said last week that the local nonprofit organization had planned to request a grant of about $20,000 from the NH Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), but decided recently to hold off for at least one year. (LCHIP is an independent state authority that matches grants to NH communities and nonprofits to conserve and preserve the state’s natural, cultural and historic resources. )

Davis and his colleagues became aware of the possibility of structural problems at the meetinghouse last year, he said. “The steeple, or the tower, needs some repairs,” he explained.

‘The steeple, or the tower, needs some repairs. (The building is) not in bad shape.’

Don Davis of the Sutton Historical Society

The group originally received estimates of about $20,000 for the repair work but they later met with Richard Mecke of Historic Homes, Inc., of Salisbury. “He really specializes in historic buildings,” Davis said. “He pointed out that we may need something done that we couldn’t see, and that he’d look at the building as a whole.”

Getting a complete building evaluation is a one of the requirements for getting an LCHIP grant, the vice-president said. “its not in bad shape,” Davis reported, referring to the 2,000-square-foot structure, “but there are things that we’d like to be aware of,” so the society can develop a long-range maintenance plan.

The old wooden meetinghouse, which sits on a grassy hill overlooking the town green, is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Constructed in 1839, it is a prime example of a classic Greek Revival New England Meetinghouse that was once common throughout the region. The local building is especially remarkable because it remains virtually unchanged since it was first built; its only minor alterations occurred after it was struck by lightning in 1898.

Behind the meetinghouse is another historic structure that the society owns and manages: the South Village (District 9) Schoolhouse, a former one-room school building. The nearby Azariah Cressy House, which is also owned and managed by the society, is used as the its headquarters. The local nonprofit also manages the town-owned Old Store Museum, nearby the meetinghouse property.

At a recent meeting with the board of selectmen, Davis discussed the LCHIP grant proposal and received the board’s support for its work. (The society later withdrew the application after learning about the need for a full-structure study.)

In addition, Davis told the selectboard about a recent conversation he’d had Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Historic Preservation Alliance. Cushing noted that the town could possibly taking over ownership of the three society buildings, which would mitigate some of the ongoing preservation costs (including insurance) and ensure that the structures would remain part of the town’s heritage even if the society dissolved.

The selectmen suggested that Davis and his fellow society member research the idea more thoroughly and, if they’d like the community to move forward with the plan, they draft a petition warrant article so that voters could consider it at the annual town meeting in March.

The historical society has established a fund to help defray the cost of restoration and repair work on the meetinghouse. The estimated price of doing the complete evaluation should be about $2,000, Davis said and while that’s too low to qualify for a LCHIP grant, the society does have some of the money it needs and other resources may be available.

The society hopes to have the meetinghouse evaluation done later this summer or early fall.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The following week, Don Davis of the SHD submitted this letter to the newspaper, which was published on July 3, 2018.

The Sutton Historical Society had submitted an intent to apply for a historic resource grant with LCHIP.

A planning study is required before applying for a historic resource grant if the total project exceeds $50,000. It also requires that work done must meet the standards established by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

After submitting our intent to apply we had the meetinghouse looked at by a contractor who is familiar with the standards. It became apparent that while we did not have a proposal for the project or an estimate, the project cost could exceed $50,000. The board of directors decided we should have a resource assessment done and that we would apply for a LCHIP planning study grant instead of the historic resource grant.

While in the process of preparing the application, we received the proposal for the assessment study, which is $2,000. LCHIP has a $5,000 minimum for planning studies to qualify for a grant. We did not meet the minimum and could not apply for a LCHIP grant.

We will still do the study this year and explore other funding options. The results of the study can and will be used for a LCHIP Historic Resource Grant application in 2019. The assessment study will address the immediate needs of the building focusing on the steeple and will provide the SHS with data that will help the society establish a long-range maintenance plan for the building. The SHS will be conducting fundraising campaigns this year for the historic resource project (repair of the steeple).

Andrew Cushing of the New Hampshire Historic Preservation Alliance, during a visit of our buildings, told us it was unusual for a historical society of our size to own so many buildings. In many towns the historic buildings were owed by the town with the local historical society managing them. In most cases the arrangement proved to be an advantage for both the town and historical society. We asked the selectmen if they would object to that arrangement in Sutton. They explained it would be up to the voters of Sutton and that we should research it thoroughly and prepare a petition warrant article if we wanted to go forward

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Bradford, NH, residents imagine their future

By Ray Carbone

 

BRADFORD – A crowd of about 50 residents gathered at Kearsarge Regional Elementary School last week to discuss what they’d like to see when the planning board updates the town’s master plan later this year.

In a series of discussions, the group talked about their hope for a business revival in the village, local business establishments taking advantage of the steady year-round road traffic on Route 103, and the continuation of the town’s focus on preserving and developing both its historic character and its agricultural economy.

The primary focus of the meeting was to review and discuss issues raised by more than 160 residents who had responded to a survey the planning board published last year. Pam Bruss, chairman of the board, told the meeting that the results generally mirrored trends that have been identified around the state in recent years, including a growing older population and the exodus of younger people from New Hampshire.

The large group then split into four sub-groups where specific areas of concern were addressed. A member of the planning board worked with a professional planner from the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission to help identify benefits and challenges that should be considered when plotting Bradford’s future.

‘I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford anyway unless we have a cell tower.’

One issue that came up several times was the need for increased commercial development, particularly in the village area. Several residents noted that there are some lots there where well water is at least partly polluted, while others pointed to some septic problems.

When Matt Monahan, one of the CNHPC planners, suggested that the town might consider some kind of well water and/or wastewater district, the residents reported that previous attempts in that direction had met with property tax-related resistance. “The attitude is, if those people (n the village) want it, let them pay for it,” one man said.

“I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford anyway unless we have a cell tower,” said another citizen, while others laughed in recognition.

Monahan said that poor cell phone and internet services present significant challenges for businesses.

He also suggested that successful business operations could be drawn to town by looking at national trends and reducing them for the town’s population. “For instance, healthcare. What does that mean for Bradford,” he asked rhetorically. “It’s not going to a hospital but it could mean a doctor.”

The remark led to a general discussion of desirable businesses for the town, including a CVS-like pharmacy/grocery store, eating establishments and additional agritourism operations, like the Sweet Beet Market. “But not a chain,” said one man, as others in the group nodded. “It should be homegrown, a mom-and-pop operation.”

In another corner of the room, Audrey V. Sylvester spoke with folks concerned about the town’s historic character. She quoted from a report written by Christopher W. Closs, a professional planner from Hopkinton: “As a corridor, West Main Street represents one of the better-preserved surviving 19th century village residential districts in rural New Hampshire.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Claire James, the planning board’s vice-chairman, announced that her group would review the participants’ comments and observations, then begin coordinating them with the survey results and other information. Then, the members would begin drafting the master plan. Portions of the document will be discussed at several public meetings and the final draft will be presented to at least one public hearing before it is offered to voters for their consideration

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

 

Sweet Beet Market ready to sprout again soon

Photo: The old Bradford Inn on West Main Street has been undergoing significant renovations this winter. Now, with a recent approval from the planning board, its primary tenant, the Sweet Beet Market, is planning to reopen in a few weeks. (Ray Carbone)

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Fans of the Sweet Beet Market, the community’s local natural foods outlet, will be glad to learn that the town’s planning board recently approved a change-of-use request from the owners of the former Bradford Inn. The official okay allows the nonprofit food organization to continue to operate and expand its services in the 120-year-old building.

According to the unapproved minutes from the planners’ May 22 meeting, the board unanimously approved a proposal that permits the inn’s owners, Unless, LLC, of Bradford, to move forward with renovating the aged three-story structure from a lodging establishment to a combination market-café-kitchen and office space facility.

Throughout the winter, members of the Kearsarge Food Hub, which manages Sweet Beet, have been working alongside Mike Bauer and his team from Bauer Construction of Bradford, as well as Mike James (who co-owns Unless, LLC, with Bauer) on renovations and restoration of the 10,000-square foot wooden structure. The market and a new independent on-site café are hoping to be open for business again around the July Fourth weekend.

Last week Bauer was calmly painting windowsills in the old hotel. His son, Garrett Bauer, a member of Sweet Beet’s board of directors, was frantically overseeing several budding projects: meeting with the new cafe’s managers about tables, talking with a plumber, and connecting with some possible new vendors. (The market has had more than 300 vendors since it opened in 2016; its motto, “30 Producers Within 30 Miles,” reflects its efforts to use virtually all-local suppliers.)

The groups crystalized a vision for the property: renovate and renew the building maintaining as much of its original character as possible, with the goal of creating a connection point for the community – a place to share local foods, ideas, arts and even businesses.

The Bauers have lived on the other side of West Main Street from the old Bradford Inn for more than 30 years. Over the years, Mike has often daydreamed about restoring and renovating the historic structure.

Now, it’s finally happening, in ways he may have never imagined.

In 2016, Unless, LLC, bought the building and soon struck up a partnership with the Food Hub, which was then operating Sweet Beet as a seasonal farm stand. The groups crystalized a vision for the property: renovate and renew the building, while maintaining as much of its original character as possible, with the goal of creating a connection point for the community – a place for people to share local foods, ideas, arts and even businesses. “Unless feels strongly about sustainability and community wellness,” according to the Food Hub’s website.

Sweet Beet moved into the east side of the building’s first floor in 2016 and became a year-round market.

Last year, the community raised $30,000 to help the Food Hub pay for the creation of a 700-square-foot, shared-used commercial kitchen that will be located on the west side of the building. It will be used for making Sweet Beet’s baked goods as well as items that could be used in the bakery and/or for private enterprises, Garrett Bauer explained. The demise of several popular local bakeries, including German John’s in Hillsboro and Tart Café in Andover, made some excellent bakery equipment available at a reasonable price, he added.

This past winter, the market closed while important renovations in the building moved forward, including updating the heat and septic systems and re-designing the entire first floor, including the new kitchen.

The market will now include new shelving and expanded veggie display areas.

In the middle space, behind the inn’s original front door, two new rooms have been opened up. One will be the site of the new Main Street Café, while the large former dining room towards the front will be used for a variety of community events from meetings to performances to cooking classes.

It’s taken a while, but it looks like the Sweet Beet will soon start growing again – and the old Bradford Inn may soon bloom as well.

Note: Late last week, Sweet Beet announced it would participate in the Bradford Independence Day Celebration on Saturday, June 30. A special all-day program featuring music by Odd Bodkins, Kathy Lowe, the DoBros and more, as well as other artists, local foods, etc. will be at the old Bradford Inn, 11 West Main St., Bradford.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 12, 2018.

 

 

 

Warner group looking at ways town can grow

Photo: The view from the front porch at Schoodacs Coffee & Tea on Main Street in Warner can inspire hope for the town’s business growth. (Courtesy of Schoodacs)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Things can be tough economically for small New England towns these days.

Municipal costs of both materials and employment regularly increase while property owners consistently complain about rising property tax rates.

But Charlie Albano, chairman of the town’s economic development advisory committee, says his hometown has an advantage over other communities.

“We have a Main Street,” he smiled, looking out onto the street from Schoodacs Coffees & Teas’s front porch one hot day last week. “It’s small and vibrant. And lots of small towns don’t have that, do they?”

The committee is also updating the town website to emphasize economic development and tourism, and working on a new visitor brochure aimed at drawing more Interstate 89 drivers into the village.

Albano and his ten-member group, which was appointed by the board of selectmen two years ago, hope to build on that strength and other positive community attributes to spur economic growth, make the town more enjoyable, and temper the tax rate.

Albano says that a large part of the committee’s job is simply educating citizens about the advantages and ideas behind economic growth for Warner.

For instance, some have suggested that attracting a large business into the town would significantly lower their tax bills. “What do you think it would do if we brought in a big business that added a million dollars in tax revenue a year for the town of Warner,” Albano asked rhetorically.

“It would drop the property tax rate by about two-cents per thousands (dollar of property value,)” he reported, which is much less than what most people would expect.

Warner could benefit from some kind of bigger facility, the chairman explained, but it should be one that meets locally articulated needs, is environmentally responsible, fits the town’s aesthetics, and provides new tax revenue.

Those are the goals listed in the town’s master plan and the standards the committee is using, he said.

The group has just finished working a survey that will allow residents to identify how they would like to see Warner grow. It’s also involved with a redesign of the town website that will emphasize economic development and tourism, and its planning to distribute a new town-themed visitor brochure this fall aimed at drawing more Interstate 89 drivers into the village.

Previous surveys have helped, he noted. In the past, residents have used them to indicate their desire for increased dining options in town and a local pharmacy. Now, the popular eatery called The Local is celebrating its fifth anniversary and the nearby Warner Pharmacy is only about two yeas older. In addition, the new Warner Public Market on Main Street, scheduled to open this summer, will feature locally sourced goods, providing more healthy food options, the chairman noted.

The committee’s new survey, which should be available in print and online within the next few weeks, might indicate that residents want a local dental office and/or more daycare options. “So, maybe we (town officials) should go seek a dentist,” Albano suggested.

Warner has an uncommonly large percentage of home-based businesses and some of those owners could benefit from access to economic development support, the chairman said. “We could look at creating a business incubator where a small business could learn how to grow and expand, how to do a business plan, modern marketing techniques, and more.

“Or, If a business wanted to expand or come to Warner, can we create and institute a new or existing tax incentive program,” he asked rhetorically.

Albano also suggests that Warner could benefit from an increased emphasis on tourism. While the town is known for its local museums, visitors may also be interested in more than 15 other businesses and activities in the community. “Tourism dollars circulate throughout a community,” he noted, without adding significantly to the cost of town services.

While the economic development committee is looking forward to reviewing residents’ input from its survey results this fall, it has already identified some tentative goals.

One is to develop a plan to permanently staff the parks and recreation department to increase awareness of local recreational opportunities. Another is to improve walkability in Warner with improved signage and street/trail development. The committee also hopes to raise the profile of agritourism in town.

Right now, the group is continuing to seek input from local residents and businesses. It meets the third Wednesday of every month and the meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 20, from 6-8 p.m., in the town hall. (The meetings may soon be moving to a larger venue in the future so check the town website, http://www.warner.nh.us)

 

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

 

 

 

Tiny house developer will start looking elsewhere

Photo: Joe Mendola of Warner, who hoped to build the state’s first tiny house development in his hometown, is already building a 650-square-foot “tiny mansion” on Poverty Plain Road, pictured here. Unlike most “tiny houses,” it’s built on a traditional concrete foundation.

WARNER – At a town hall meeting last week, the five-member zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) turned down a request for a zoning variance that would have allowed a local resident and realtor to build the state’s first tiny house park on Schoodac Road.

In a 4-1 vote, the board rejected a request from Joe Mendola to utilize a cluster zone plan for his proposed 13-pad development on 15 acres of land near exit 8 off Interstate 89. Janice Loz, the ZBA’s chairman, said that grouping the small, mobile residences closer together than what was allowable under current regulations was “contrary to the public interests.”

“I was very disappointed because the whole issue is that that land is difficult to develop,” Mendola said after the meeting. “Doing it in a traditional grid system is going to be very, very expensive. (A cluster plan) would have lower environmental impact because it would not carve up the whole lot, so there would be more open space which would be keeping with the rural nature of the (building) zone.”

In previous discussions with the board, Mendola had indicated that he would move forward with the project even without the ZBA variance, but a few days after the ZBA’s decision, he said that he’s begun looking elsewhere.

“That (grid zoning) would just price us out of our market,” he remarked. “I’ll just find a better piece of land in town, one where I can go straight to work. In Warner, it’s very difficult to find. But I’m also pursuing things in other towns.” Mendola has indicted in the past that local zoning rules could be favorable for his project in Henniker and Goffstown.

It was apparent from the beginning that Mendola was going to have trouble with the zoning regulations for his tiny house proposal. Like every other municipality in the state, Warner does not have specific ordinances regarding the new small residences, which are typically less than 300-square-feet and built on movable trailers. So, the developer chose to present his project under the town’s mobile home park rules; that meant that the structures would be at least 320-square-feet and be constructed on mobile trailers according to federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requirements.

The zoning board was still hesitant about the idea, and asked at several recent meetings if Mendola would consider changing the name of the proposed development from “tiny house” to “manufactured homes.” He refused, maintaining that if the structures met the zoning requirements, the board should give its approval.

‘I’ll just find a better piece of land in town, one where I can go straight to work.’…  Mendola has indicted that local zoning rules could be favorable in Henniker and Goffstown.

At last week’s meeting, the ZBA members again expressed their concerns.

Barbara Marty said that she was hesitant to approve the variance because the application referred to the project as a “tiny home” park. “It’s as if we’re sanctioning this wording,” she said, adding that ruling on regulations about tiny houses was not the ZBA’s jurisdiction. “California has a five-page definition of what a tiny house is,” she said. “At some point, the state of New Hampshire will have to define what a tiny house is.”

“We’re in uncharted territory here, we all know that,” agreed Howard Kirchner, the ZBA’s vice-chairman.

The final vote focused on how close the small residences would be in a cluster zone plan. Marty said that some manufactured home residents enjoy the extra distance they’d have under current regulations.

But Kirchner, the only board member to vote in favor of the variance, said the issue was not significant enough to refuse the altered zoning request.

“Nobody is putting a gun to their heads, saying you have to live here,” he said, referring to prospective tenants.

After the meeting, Mendola said the board erred by making a value judgment based on their own ideas, rather than the project’s target market. Millennials, who favor tiny house, like their low cost, environmentally-friendly design and mobility – and typically seek a sense of community as part of their lifestyle, he added.

But the realtor is still hopeful about building the state’s first tiny house development. “We’re going to get it done,” he concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

 

 

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