Sununu seeks to axe Lakeshore Redevelopment Commission

Proposal would sideline agency set up to oversee planning for former Laconia State School site

Gov. Chris Sununu has apparently chosen to shelve the redevelopment of the former Laconia State School property in favor of seeking to sell or lease the 200 acres overlooking lakes Winnisquam and Opechee to a private party.

House Bill 2, the trailer bill to the governor’s fiscal year 2022-23 budget, includes a provision that would vest the governor and Executive Council with the sole authority to “sell, convey, lease, rent, exchange, abandon or otherwise dispose of the property” on whatever terms they deem appropriate and without regard to any other provision of law regarding the disposal of state property.

In 2017, after the state spurned an offer from the city of Laconia to purchase the property, and then put it on the open market without attracting any interested parties, Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, spearheaded an effort to establish the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission, which would recommend future uses of the site.

The commission engaged a consulting firm, which prepared plans for constructing the infrastructure to support a mixed-use development on the site, including residential and commercial uses.

In 2020, the commission returned to the Legislature seeking funding for infrastructure development and environmental remediation and proposing the commission transition to the Lakeshore Redevelopment Authority, modeled after the Pease Development Authority, with the power to issue $5 million in state guaranteed bonds to pursue the project.

The commission also was awarded a $1 million matching grant by the Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal-state partnership, to fund construction of roads along with water, sewer and electric lines to support 32,500 square feet of commercial development.

Sununu balked. He said spending more than $1 million or $2 million to prepare the site for a private developer was “inappropriate.” He called a redevelopment authority a “terrible idea,” something that would operate indefinitely.

With the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak, the commission’s proposal and request was one of 41 sections in a in an omnibus bill, which Sununu vetoed in the last legislative session.

At the time, George Bald, chair of the commission, said the governor told him his veto was not prompted by his misgivings about the Laconia project. Likewise, Morse said he was “disappointed,” but “it was certainly not about Laconia.”

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