LACONIA — A proposal to allow a portion of a Lakeport park to be developed into a parking lot appears to have died on the vine after a petition signed by 125 people in opposition was submitted to the city council on Monday.
Texas businessman Scott Everett, who has recently purchased a number of buildings in the Lakeport area, made an informal inquiry with the city about using the current green area of Sanborn Park as one component of a parking solution needed because of the infill and tightness of the existing neighborhood.
Lakeport residents spoke vehemently against allowing about .85 of the park’s approximately 1.6 acres to be privately developed into a 90-car lot, decrying the loss of green space used by generations of children and voicing their concern that a parking lot off the beaten path would become a haven for drug deals and the homeless living in their cars.
“People are concerned about losing that green space,” Callista Wilson, a resident of Lincoln Street, said after giving the council a copy of the petition she’d launched opposing any private development of a parking lot on the city-owned land occupied by Sanborn Park.
Several years ago, Wilson said, she approached the Parks & Recreation Department about redoing the baseball diamond on the field, as it was overgrown and her son played ball. The green space is frequently used by lacrosse players when other fields are full, she said.
“My grandparents lived on Mechanic Street so I grew up at that park,” Wilson said.
State Sen. Harold French, R-Franklin, who represents District 7, which includes Laconia, told the council he has been contacted by a number of constituents about the potential loss of a portion of Sanborn Park to parking.
“When it comes time to vote, please consider what you’ll be losing,” he said.
Dawn Howe of Lincoln Street said the roads near Sanborn Park are narrow, that snowbanks during the winter months compound the problem and that development of a parking lot would funnel extra traffic into a residential neighborhood.
“I wake up in the morning and that field is what I see. I would rather hear kids laughing and playing than car doors and car alarms,” she said.
State Rep. Peter Spanos, R-Laconia, who has announced his candidacy for mayor, told the council he too has been contacted by constituents opposed to the idea.
“We don’t have a lot of open space for kids to play,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to take that away.”
A woman who said she lives on Clinton Street said her backyard abuts the park. People walking their dogs use the park daily, she said, and it is also used by people picnicking.
“I bought my home because of that field,” she said, arguing that a remote parking lot would attract drugs and people living out of their cars.
Prior to the meeting, the council received a memo dated Aug. 8 drafted by Ward 2 City Councilor David Bownes and City Manager Scott Myers. It detailed that under-utilized or vacant buildings on Union Avenue and Elm Street in Lakeport Square have recently changed hands and that initial conversations with the owners indicate that there is the potential for significant investment in these properties. With redevelopment, the increased demand for parking spaces for employees, customers and residents needs to be addressed.
“The proposal is simply that. There is a significant parking problem in Lakeport. I’m not saying this should or could happen. We’ve been approached by business owners in the area. I’m not an advocate for or against but for discussion about where that might lead,” Bownes said after hearing the public comments.
He said he hoped that the business owners and Lakeport residents will attend the council’s next meeting on Aug. 26 and share their thoughts about the issue.
“A parking lot at Sanborn Park may not be the solution,” he said.
Ward 4 Councilor Mark Haynes said he was an advocate of green space and suggested that a potential solution to the shortage of parking might involve the former Anchor-Darling property that includes an expansive parking lot.
Mayor Ed Engler commented that that property, which is now home to the Opechee Inn and Spa and O Steaks & Seafood, is privately owned. Haynes suggested that those interested in redeveloping that Lakeport area might be able to negotiate an agreement with the property owner to use some of the parking, especially an upper lot that formerly served the now shuttered Opechee Conference Center.
Ward 5 Councilor Bob Hamel said he opposed any use of Sanborn Park for parking.
“I grew up in Laconia and used to play ball up there. There are not a lot of green spaces left in Lakeport and I would be totally against this,” he said. The city, Hamel said, has recently spent money replacing the fencing and installing other elements at the park.
Engler clarified that the council did not initiate the proposal, but rather was responding after private businesses approached the council about the issue.