Lawsuit against Bradford, employees could take some time

PHOTO: The former Candlelight Inn in Bradford village has reopened as the Bradford Village Inn, but it cannot operate legally as a lodging establishment until a lawsuit filed by the owner against the town is resolved. (Ray Carbone/photo)

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – A local innkeeper’s lawsuit against the town and two local officials may not be resolved for more than a year, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Concord.

In March, Joseph Torro, the owner of the historic Bradford Country Inn on Greenhouse Lane, sued the Town of Bradford, as well as Mark Goldberg, chief of the fire-rescue department, and Marilyn Gordon, the town treasurer, for allegedly conspiring against his efforts to re-open the 121-year-old lodging facility after he purchased in August 2014. Court papers filed in July indicate that a jury trial would likely last about three or four days’ but a tentative start date is still about one year away, on August 20, 1019.

In separate documents, both (employees) deny all charges of illegal or improper behavior.

Earlier this month, Judge Andrea K. Johnstone, who is presiding over the case, asked the two sides to consider mediation to resolve their dispute. “By April 1, 2019, the parties shall inform the court whether they intend to mediate,” she wrote.

Rick Lehmann, the attorney representing Torro, said he’s preparing for a trial by jury but he’s open to discussions with lawyers representing the other sides. “If they want to talk, we’ll talk,” he said.

Torro claims that Goldberg and Gordon, who were romantically involved, used their political influence to create unfair roadblocks to operating the lodging business, including conspiring with the selectmen to withhold property tax abatements and trying to unfairly enforce fire safety/safety codes. He’s asking for $2 million in monetary damages as well as an indeterminate amount of punitive damages.

In court paperwork filed earlier this summer, the attorneys representing the town and the two employees disputed the innkeeper’s claims.

In separate documents, both Goldberg and Gordon deny all charges of illegal or improper behavior.

“(Goldberg) denies that he attempted to destroy (Torro’s) business prospect,” the fire chief’s document reads. “(Goldberg) notes that he never ran the Candlelight Inn (the former name of the property),” as charged by the current property owner.

In her court response, Gordon refutes Torro’s claim that she had to sell the Candlelight Inn because she was not a successful business owner, and that she and Goldberg wanted Torro to also fail in the hopes of her eventually regaining the property.

In the town’s court paperwork, officials deny that their employees treated Torro differently than other property owners regarding his request for a fire permit and tax abatements. “The abatement application could not be granted for the 2014 tax year because the application was filed too late,” the town attorneys claim. “An abatement could not be granted (for the 2015 tax year) because the application was submitted too early.”

The town’s legal response also questions Torro’s arguments regarding the reasons for any alleged unfair treatment by Goldberg and Gordon. “While the town notes that it lacks information regarding the alleged subjective motivation of Goldberg and Gordon describe, it disputes the characterization of their actions as well was (Torro’s) allegation that there was a conspiracy, discrimination and/or abuse of government power and influence.”

This story first ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on August 28, 2018.

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Vail to take over New Hampshire resort

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY, N.H. – The public meeting held at the Sunapee Lodge on the Mount Sunapee Resort property last week was much less contentious than a similar one held in the same building last year.

At the earlier gathering, more than 100 people came to the state’s Department of National and Cultural Resources (DNCR) meeting to voice their opposition to the transfer of the resort’s recreational lease to Och-Ziff Real Estate. The multi-national alternative asset management firm had recently paid the federal government $413 million in fines, and supporters of the local resort were concerned that the organization would not manage the local property appropriately.

Things were much different last Wednesday, July 25, when an even larger crowd came together to voice their support to Sarah Stuart, the DNCR’s commissioner, for a proposal to turn Mount Sunapee’s lease and operating agreements over to Vail Resorts, operators of the famous Vail Mountain Resort in Colorado.

‘Candidly, Vail is a dream partner.’

Hessler Gates, Sunapee resident

The deal is part of an $82 million sales agreement that will also add Vermont’s Okemo Mountain resort and the Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado to the Vail, Colorado company. (Vail Resorts also owns/manages Stowe in Vermont; Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area; Wilmot in Wisconsin; After Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan; Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia; and Perisher in Australia.)

Tim and Diane Mueller, owners of the companies that have managed the local resort since 1998, told the crowd that if they could have chosen an organization to take over their enterprises, it would be the Vail group.

“Vail is clearly the leading ski operating company in the country, if not the world,” Tim Muerller said. “I’m glad we’re turning it over to them.”

The audience gave the Muellers an appreciative round of applause.

Speaking for the new managers, Pat Campbell, president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division, said her company is excited about its first business foray into New Hampshire and that it remains “incredibly passionate” about creating memorable resort experiences for visitors.

In addition, the company’s Epic Pass, which allows for unlimited skiing at all of its 14 resorts, will be available at Sunapee. (Vail owns and/or operates resorts throughout North America and Australia.)

Addressing concerns that Vail would push for more development at and around the Sunapee resort, Campbell said that her company has been divesting itself of properties that are primarily real estate and that it has no plans to move forward with either the West Bowl Expansion or any other development project in the area.

“Candidly, Vail is a dream partner,” Hessler Gates of Sunapee said in the public commentary portion of the meeting. “For the decision-makers, this should be an easy decision and I urge you to do it promptly.”

The majority of the speakers were in agreement with Gates, urging Commissioner Stuart and others involved in the transfer to approve it as quickly as possible.

Campbell said she’s hoping the transfer will be completed by Labor Day.

But some did express concerns.

A member of the New Hampshire Sierra Club repeated an earlier call for an independent audit of the resort’s finances, and encouraged the Vail team to maintain the four non-skiing trails on Mount Sunapee.

Another speaker asked how the Vail proposal had come forward so quickly and whether there is an appeal process if the state turns down its proposal.

Will Abbott of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests said Vail Resorts could prove its intent to stay focused on recreation, rather than development, by permanently conserving 600 acres of land located in Goshen. The idea was heartily applauded by the audience.

Holly Flanders, a two-time Olympic and three-time World Cup alpine racer who grew up skiing and racing at Sunapee, said that from her current home in Park City, Utah, she’s become familiar with how the Vail company operates.

“Vail is a great ski operator, they invest in improvements,” she told the crowd.

“I tell you want I’ve seen,” she added. “Many local businesses are making more money. Property values are going up. The ski area is more crowded, so the roads are more crowded. And everything is more expensive – the hotels and restaurants.”

 

Photo: Breath -taking view of Lake Sunapee from the Mount Sunapee Resort, by Garrett Evans. Courtesy of Vail Resorts.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 31, 2018.

Plans to abandon Wild Goose move ahead

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – State officials met with members of the public last week to hear their concerns about the recommendations of the Lake Sunapee Boat Access Development Commission announced earlier this year.

The commission’s final report suggests that the state abandon its long-delayed plan to create a state-owned and operated deep-water lake access facility at the former Wild Goose campground in Newbury, and look for alternative sites. It also recommends that parking at the Lake Sunapee State Beach be increased to allow for more use of the smaller, shallower launch there.

‘The issue is not public access. The issue is (the need for) increased parking.’

– June Fichter of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association

Last week’s hearing, held in Department of Revenue Administration building on Pleasant Street, was held before the Council on Resources and Development (CORD, part of the planning division of the state’s Office of Strategic Initiatives). CORD consists of 12 department heads who are charged with facilitating interagency communications and cooperation relating to environmental, natural resources and growth management issues. The commission’s report involves the fish and game department, which currently has jurisdiction over Wild Goose land, as well as the state’s division of parks that would take over the property and develop it for other recreational purposes.

About 20 people spoke to the council, and the arguments were familiar.

Opponents of the commission’s recommendations said that Wild Goose is the only viable site for a deep-water boat launch on the lake. Supporters point to serious traffic problems that would develop in Newbury.

June Fichter, the executive director of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, said her organization supports the commission’s recommendations because it puts the focus in the right place. “The issue is not public access,” she said, adding that boat traffic on Sunapee has increased about 270-percent over the last 16 years. “The issue is (the need for) increased parking.”

Gene Porter, a member of the state’s public water access advisory board and a representative of the state motorized boating population, said the commission’s report was “weakly reasoned.”

“These boaters, fishermen and water skiers want first-class access to Sunapee just as they have on Winnipesaukee and Squam,” he said.

CORD will hold its next meeting on September 13 when it will begins considering whether or not to accept the access commission’s recommendations.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in North Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, July 17, 2018.

 

 

 

Lake Sunapee access will be focus of hearing in Concord this week

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – The NH Office of Strategic Initiatives’ (OSI) Council on Resources and Development (CORD; part of OSI’s energy planning division) is scheduled to hold a public hearing this Thursday addressing the long-debated issue of public access to Lake Sunapee.

The CORD agenda lists “public comment” as its first item.

The council will be discussing the recent report of the Lake Sunapee Public Boat Access Development Commission issued in the spring. The 15-member commission, which was appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu, recommended that the state abandon its original plans to build a mandated deep-water state-owned and managed public boat launch at the former Wild Goose campground area in Newbury. The report suggests that the 3-acre property be considered for other recreational uses, but made no specific recommendation about an alternative site for the boat launch.

CORD, which consists of representatives from 12 state agencies, was formed to provide a forum for interagency cooperation regarding environmental, natural resources and growth management issues and policies. The group is required to adhere to the state’s Smart Growth Policy, outlined in the 2016 Smart Growth Report.

Thursday’s hearing will be the first since the commission wrapped up its work several months ago. The CORD agenda lists “public comment” as its first item; anyone wishing to present written comment must notify the OSI by emailing Michael A. Klass (michael.klass@osi.nh.gov) OSI’s principal planner, on or before Wednesday, July 11, at 4:30 p.m.

Klass, who joined the state agency in November, has worked as an private attorney dealing with land use, real estate development, property disputes and related litigation.

The meeting will take place in the NH Department of Revenue Administration’s training room at 109 Pleasant Street (Medical & Surgical Building) in Concord, Thursday at 1 p.m. The building is handicap accessible and, for security reasons, everyone attending must sign in and show a valid photo I.D. Driving directions are available at https://www.revenue.nh.gov/contact-us/documents/campus-map.pdf

More information about the hearing is available at https://www.nh.gov/osi/planning/programs/cord/index.htm, and questions can be addressed to Klass at 271-6651 or Micheel.klass@ois.nh.gov

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 10, 2018.

 

Recreational rail trail could link Kearsarge-Sunapee towns to Concord

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – If Tim Blagden has his way, you may someday be able to walk or bike with your family from Concord to Newbury Harbor on a scenic trail that passes through some of the best towns in the state.

Blagden is the president of the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail board, a nonprofit group that wants to create a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly facility would connect the towns of Newbury (the southern tip of Lake Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the Capital City. It will be “spectacular,” Blagden says.

‘The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor.’

Tim Blagden, Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail

 

The Pumpkin Hill Road resident first got interested in public biking/walking spaces about five years ago. “Back in 2013 my kids wanted to go for a bike ride so I want looking for a rail trail online,” he recalled. “I found the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire and noticed that they were looking for an executive director. So I found a trail and ended up sending in my resume.”

Blagden had experience in sales and business development, and he ended up getting the job. Soon he was connecting with scores of outdoor enthusiasts, from ardent bicyclists and public health officials, to community planners and rail trail buffs. He was quickly convinced of both the health-related and economic benefits of providing alternatives to automobile traffic.

Then in 2014, Blagden noticed that the alliance and two rail trail groups that it supported might, in effect, end wind up competing with each other for the same grant money. So, for the sake of all of three organizations, he decided to separate the two trail programs from the alliance and take on the job of moving local project forward.

It’s a challenging endeavor, he admitted.

“The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor,” he said.

The problem is that, unlike other rail lines in New Hampshire, the state government doesn’t own the former railroad company property. About half of the proposed 34-mile trek is already operating as trails, including the Stevens trail in Contoocook, the town-owned Tilley Wheeler Trail in Bradford, and the Warner and Newbury rail trails.

But they’re all separated from one another in “little pieces, here and there,” Blagden noted.

In addition, there are 95 private and 47 public (e.g., town governments and state agencies) landowners that control the rest of the former railroad property. That means the Friends have to get easements from each one in order to build and maintain each section of the proposed trail.

“It looks impossible,” Blagden admitted, “but if you give people the opportunity to say yes, people are taking advantage of that opportunity. You tell them, we will turn this into a beautiful rail trail. That we’ll provide the service, we’ll raise the money for maintaining the trail, we’ll take care of it and you don’t have to deal with it. And you get a beautiful trail. And people are saying, yeah, that’s cool.”

It helps that property that connects with a public trail can increase in value by as much as $9,000, the Friends president noted.

In addition, a state study estimates that while completing the entire trail would cost about $4 million, it would have a true economic impact from out of state visitors of approximately $900,000 annually.

But Bladgen’s organization is moving slowly and respectfully, simply trying to raise awareness about the trail proposal.

“We are at the tipping point,” he said. “So we want to put something down that’s visible but not too costly in as many communities as possible, and let people experience it.”

This year, the group is adding two miles of trail linking Hopkinton to the Davisville State Forest in Warner. (A shorter Warner trail between Depot St. and Joppa Rd. was completed last fall.) In addition, a recreational trail program grant has been approved to put a new three-quarters mile trail linking the famous Appleseed Restaurant to the Pizza Chef in Bradford.

For more information about the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, see concordlakesunapeerailtrail.com

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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