Plans for $42-million senior housing project in small NH town moving forward

By Ray Carbone

NEW LONDON – New London Hospital’s plans to bring a new senior living community to the region are moving forward, the project’s developers told the board of selectmen last week.

At the group’s meeting in town hall on Monday, August 6, Joe F. Hogan, manager with Continuum Health Services/Development, LLC, of Lewiston, Maine, showed the board an artist’s rendering of the projected $42-million project, which would be located on 50-plus acres adjacent to the hospital grounds. The new facility, called New London Place, would combine independent living cottages, one-bedroom independent living apartments, and assisted living quarters, as well as extended care and memory care services, he said.

If everything moves forward in a timely manner, Continuum hopes to break ground on New London Place some time next year with the goal of finishing the initial construction within 18 months.

“Our primary core business is that we take care of elderly people,” Hogan said of Continuum, citing the company’s four current developments in Maine, including Sentry Hill in York Harbor.

Speaking by phone from her Maine office later in the week, Sarah Adams of Continuum said the business “provides housing, healthcare and hospitality services for (over-55) communities that we design, develop, own and manage.”

New London Hospital invited Continuum to come to town, she said. “New London Place is an ongoing project that New London Hospital has wanted to do for 17 years,” she explained.

The hospital does not have a financial stake in the senior housing development, Adams said, both Bruce King, its president and CEO, and Douglas Lyon, chairman of its board of trustees, have been consulting with Continuum’s staff to insure that the design and functionality of New London Place is suitable for the local community.

“New London Hospital is very keen to have additional senior living options for the residents of town because so many of them now leave (for other facilities),” she explained. “And because it’s adjacent to the hospital, you can keep your same physicians.”

The scope of care at new New London Place will allow residents to “age in place,” which research indicates is the best option for aging people, Adams noted.

The first phase of the project will be construction of the four-level central building called The Lodge. Adams said it will be “the size of two football fields” and contain both rental and condominium units; the rental units will include 47 assisted living units, 26 independent living condominium units, 20 units for memory care and five independent living units. The Lodge will also include dining facilities, libraries, a spa, a theater, arts and crafts space, and offices with “lots of amenities that one would expect to find in a premier retirement community,” Adams said.

In addition, the facility will house a medical staff and a working relationship with New London Hospital’s physicians. “We’ll be hiring registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing aides,” she noted. “They’ll be available 24 hours a day for all the residents.”

Once the first phase is completed, plans should move forward for constructing 33 3-bedroom cottage homes on the grounds, each measuring approximately 1,500-1,700 square-feet, Adams said.

Both the independent living apartments and the cottages will be available for sale or rent; construction on the cottages will move forward as the market dictates, she added.

Before any facilities are built, New London Place must be approved by both local and state authorities. Earlier this year, the town zoning board of adjustment approved two requests for minor zoning variances, and the planning board is currently reviewing the proposal.

If everything moves forward in a timely manner, Continuum hopes to break ground on New London Place some time next year with the goal of finishing the initial construction within 18 months.

At the selectmen’s meeting, Hogan indicated that Continuum is planning to open a sales office in the area sometime after the first of the year.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on August 14, 2018.

 

 

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Nothing new on this New Hampshire lake – every 5 years

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – Sometime next month, Bruce Ellsworth will head out to the ancient dam at the southern end of Blaisdell Lake and remove a few boards to allow the water to rush through a little more rapidly. Then in early December, he’ll go back and reinstall the boards, significantly dropping the flow of water.

It’s a task that Ellsworth has been doing for about 40 years now. Every five years, the dam is opened up to allow the 153-acre lake level to drop about 4½-feet. That allows the 80-plus property owners on the lake the opportunity to do any deck or other lakefront work they need.

But before that happens, state regulations require a public hearing before the board of selectmen. That hearing was held last month, and no one who was not required to be there attended, Ellsworth reported.

He wasn’t surprised.

“I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years and never had anyone shown up,” he said.

Blaisdell Lake in South Sutton is what Ellsworth calls a “family lake.”

‘My great, great-grandfather had a place here in 1900. Before that, I don’t know.’

Bruce Ellswoth, Sutton resident

“It’s a very quiet lake,” he explained. “There are family activities but we’re not a society-driven (community)… There are many, many families that have been here for generations. It’s not unusual for one generations of families to return here and take over (the property) for the previous one.”

Ellsworth has never had to do that because his family has been on Blaisdell for more than 100 years, he said. “My folks built a camp here in 1936 but I was born here in 1938,” he said. “And my great, great-grandfather had a place here in 1900. Before that, I don’t know.”

The 80-year-old resident also doesn’t know when the dam was built. “It’s a stone dam with a concrete face,” he explained. “I know it goes back to the 1800s. Its purpose at one time was to maintain a good level, just like now.

“But Blaisdell Lake was only about half the size it is today. The southern part was called Great Pond, and it was a naturally formed lake, he added. “Than, probably, with the dam it grew to its current size. But, I don’t know for sure.”

Back in 1950, the Blaisdell Lake Property Owners Association, now called the Blaisdell Lake Protective Association, was formed. “And that was the result of the fact that the dam was in disrepair and it was causing some pretty significant changes in the elevation of the lake, depending on the weather,” Ellsworth said. “So, one of our bylaws was to maintain the dam because it was a concern of all the residents to maintain a stable level.”

The drawdown also allows the association to do needed maintenance on the dam, he noted. “We’ve found that pressure washing every five years and adding a protective coating is a good preventative maintenance,” he said. “It costs about $7,000. And it’s the most expensive item we have in our budget.”

Today, state laws require that the association work with the NH Department of Environmental Services to insure that the dam’s maintenance and lake operating plans are suitable to maintain Blaisdell’s ecological health. And as part of that responsibility, there is a public hearing before the drawdown every five years.

So, it’s held, even if no one shows up.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, August 7, 2018.

 

 

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.

Bradford is taking community approach to future economic development

Willie, West & McGinty, one of the most popular acts on vaudeville, arose from local performers who appeared on the second-floor stage at the old town hall in Bradford in the early 20th century. “The act was a carefully calibrated and timed ‘ballet’ of inept workers creating a shambles instead of the building they were supposed to construct,” according to one commentator. Selectman Jim Bibbo says the local stage helped develop scores of similarly talented people.

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – On the heels of the planning board’s recent “visioning” session that allowed residents to talk about how they’d like to see the town develop, Jim Bibbo, the chairman of the selectboard, is starting a Bradford economic development group.

Bibbo says he’s been interested in economic development on the state and regional levels for many years, and now wants to help the town develop its own ideas.

“We are just beginning to pull together to do this,” said Karen Hambleton, the town administrator. “We decided to call it ‘community development’ because we want to build community within the community (of the group).”

The new, unofficial committee, which has only met twice, currently numbers about 10 people, Bibbo said. The group is working with Jared Reynolds, a Merrimack County community and economic development specialist who works for the UNH’s Coop Extension.

“When it was a theater there were people who went on in their (theatrical) careers from Bradford,” Bibbo noted. “There was Willie, West & McGinty. They were a trio, like the Three Stooges… And there’s Will Cressy who was on vaudeville and wrote hundreds of skits for other performers.’

Selectman Jim Bibbo

Community planners have long advocated for sound economic development plans. A good one can help stabilize the town’s tax base while insuring growth that maintains the community character that residents enjoy.

“The town needs to grow,” Bibbo explained. “Our tax bases isn’t that large. There’s not a lot of business as compared to other towns.”

At the planning board’s visioning meeting last month, residents talked about their hopes for a business revival in the village with more tourism-related enterprises and other enterprises. Growing the town while maintain its rural and historic character was also discussed.

The meeting was aimed at providing input as the planning board begins updating the town’s Master Plan. The new unofficial community development group will also work with the town’s previous official functions, Bibbo said. “The committee is going to have to stay within the Master Plan,” he explained.

The selectman said he has no specific goals for the group, and that he wants it to chart its own course in the coming months. The members will begin working on a vision statement and goals as they move through the committee’s initial growth stages.

Bibbo expressed optimism about plans to continue developing the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail through Bradford, and would like to see repairs on some of the sidewalks on West Main Street.

In addition, he’s been a proponent for completing the improvements to the Old Town Hall, and confessed to being disappointed that town voters didn’t support the project moving forward at the annual March meeting. The historic structure can add to economic revival, particularly if the second floor theater is revived. “That would benefit not just Bradford but also surrounding communities,” he said.

“When it was a theater there were people from Bradford who went on in their (theatrical) careers from Bradford,” Bibbo noted. “There was Willie, West & McGinty, they were vaudeville stars. They were a trio, like the Three Stooges… And there’s Will Cressy who was on vaudeville and wrote hundreds of skits for other performers.”

Cressy has another connection to Bradford’s possible economic future, the selectman said. “He owned all the land in back of East Main Street where the community center is now,” he explained. “That’s one of the projects we’ve put in to the state, to put a road back there that would run parallel to Route 103.”

Right now that property is part of a Brownfield Project, which means it has pollution problems that need to be resolved before any construction project can be begin, Bibbo said.

Anyone interested in joining the new committee is encouraged to contact Bibbo or Hambleton, the town administrator, at (603) 938-5900 or administrator@bradfordnh.org

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

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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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