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Island owner claims bias in Laconia ZBA refusal to allow controversial girls' camp to reopen

Union Leader Correspondent

January 16. 2018 9:32AM
Some mainland residents in Laconia remain opposed to plans to open a nonprofit girl's summer camp on Big Island in Paugus Bay, on Lake Winnipesaukee. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

LACONIA — A controversial proposal to open a girls’ camp on Big Island on Lake Winnipesaukee is slated to come back before the Zoning Board of Adjustment tonight.

The legal team representing island owner Scott Everett is challenging the Nov. 20, 4-0 vote denying the needed special exception for the project.

They claim comments acting chairman Suzanne Perley made after closing the public hearing shows she had “prejudged” the application. Everett is asking for another hearing and that an alternate be designated to sit in Perley’s place.

Attorney John Arnold asserts that Perley’s alleged comments triggered the needed “good reason” to hold another hearing on the proposal to develop the island that is located in the RS zone.

In a Dec. 19 letter to Laconia Planning Director Dean Trefethen, the lawyer argues that Perley should have been disqualified from acting on the application alleging her comments during the board’s deliberations shows she was not “indifferent in her review.”

Specifically, Arnold maintains that Perley failed to act in “good faith,” by recounting to fellow ZBA members that Everett had “misrepresented” to the Planning Board that the use of the island would remain residential, in connection with a separate application made nearly six months prior.

Whether Perley’s comments were accurate, Arnold asserts they biased the remainder of the board. A rehearing should be held and a designated alternate should sit in Perley’s place, Arnold said.

The lawyer further charges that the ZBA erred in concluding that the proposed project failed to meet any of the criteria needed to be granted a special exception. Lastly, Arnold claims the ZBA’s no vote is an unconstitutional taking.

The project, according to Arnold, is properly classified as a conference center under the city’s zoning ordinance, and summer camp programming is either within the board definition of that use, or an allowed accessory use.

Everett, who grew up in the Lakes Region, in a home of modest means, went on to found Supreme Lending, one of the largest mortgage origination company’s in the U.S. He purchased the island in 2012 for $725,000 and two years later, conveyed it to NH-Big Island Company with the intention of developing a seasonal summer camp, owned and operated by a charitable entity, which he would endow.

The 2.9-acre island, one of three in Paugus Bay, is located about 400 yards east of the marina at South Down Shores and some 1,500-foot north of Paugus Park Road. The applicant’s brother has said during prior hearings that Everett has spent some $2 million on the proposal so far, including hiring a contractor to angel bore beneath the lake bed to connect to the city sewer system, and bring electricity and internet service to the island.

The project needs a special exception in order to advance to the planning board for site-plan review.

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