LACONIA — The city’s planning department has decided that a site plan amendment is needed for a floating restaurant named “The Dive” to continue its stationary operation adjacent to the Winnipesaukee Pier in Weirs Beach.
Built atop a barge, the unique two-story nightspot and eatery is 62 feet long and 22 feet wide, equipped with bathrooms, a kitchen, downstairs bar and an upstairs lounge area offering views of the lake. Following inspection, it passed muster with the U.S. Coast Guard.
During the day in the high summer season, The Dive motors to several sandbars on the Big Lake where boaters congregate, drop anchor and swim. At night it returns to Weirs Beach where it deploys its spuds from each corner into the lake bottom to keep it stable. Land-side customers come aboard via the pier owned by East Coast Flightcraft at 263 Lakeside Ave.
“We’ve determined that it is an expansion of their use and a site plan amendment is needed,” said City Planner Dean Trefethen.
City Manager Scott Myers told the city council on Monday that this is the second season The Dive has spent nights at Weirs Beach. Because the second deck is about 15 feet off the water, where 30 to 50 people are conversing as they enjoy a cocktail or eat, Myers said, the noise tends to travel toward nearby Simpson Avenue, prompting some complaints.
Characterizing East Coast Flightcraft as “good corporate citizens,” Myers said, consideration is being given to moving The Dive to the other side of the pier, potentially allowing a structure that houses an arcade on the pier to serve as a sound barrier.
“It’s a case of competing interests in the commercial resort zone. Some are selling sleep and others are selling entertainment,” Myers said.
Trefethen said he has sent a letter to East Coast and spoken to one of the company’s principals, Ryan Cardella, explaining that the city sees the The Dive’s practice of using the pier as a nightly port of call as an expansion of use, requiring the approval of the planning board.
Early in the season, the city received a noise complaint from a Simpson Avenue property owner. Trefethen said it was determined that staff had turned up the stereo after hours as they worked to clean up after closing. The Dive agreed to muffle the music after closing.
“There has been complete cooperation from the pier from day one,” Trefethen said.
A second concern voiced by Simpson Avenue property owners is the location of The Dive when it is stationed next to the pier. They assert the barge poses a hazard to navigation because it juts out, prompting those trying to dock their own boats to negotiate around the barge, potentially straying into an area studded with rocks. While the dockside location of the business falls under the purview of the city’s zoning ordinance, the navigational hazard claim, Trefethen said, is the jurisdiction of the New Hampshire Marine Patrol.
Trefethen said the letter to East Coast advises the group of two options, either to stop allowing The Dive to use its property, or obtaining a site plan amendment. The planning board has the authority to attach conditions to approval.
The Dive is the brainchild of Jamison Merriam, who has a background as a commercial diver and boat captain, and who has worked in marine construction management, opening and operating restaurants in Australia. Merriam built the vessel with business partner and former miner Lee Miller. Merriam, his fiancée Betsy Sullivan, and Miller jointly own the business, which has earned rave reviews on Facebook from customers.
A petition in favor of The Dive at the pier signed by “Jamie, Betsy & Dive Crew” has been posted on the Facebook page and has already collected 2,619 signatures, exceeding the goal of 2,000.
“Sadly, one person has ruined it for all. This person calls the police and complains about noise daily — and anyone that has been onboard knows we have ambient music that is not played loudly,” the petition reads in part.
“We have met so many amazing people onboard that support us and truly think we are a welcome addition to the Weirs — please help us show Laconia how many supporters we have on our side,” it concludes.