LACONIA – The fate of the Cottonwood Avenue cul-de-sac is in the hands of the Laconia City Council.
Council held a public hearing on a petition to accept the cul-de-sac into the city’s road network by building a Class V public road at its June 13 meeting. The petition is an initiative by residents of Cottonwood to prevent the Taylor community from altering the formation of the road at the end of the street, where they own several properties. The petition was filed by attorney Stephen Nix on behalf of Nancy Ettelson and Matthew Lahey, both landowners of decades in Cottonwood, in January.
The dispute at the heart of the petition is whether there is an opportunity or a compelling public need for the city to make the end of Cottonwood Avenue a public thoroughfare.
Cottonwood is connected to Taylor Home Drive via a locked gate; this gate is closed to the public, making Cottonwood a dead end street. The cul-de-sac has functioned as a turnaround for vehicles since it was built and paid for by Taylor Home in 1987, when it developed a property there.
For a private road to become public, it must be dedicated by the owner and then accepted by the city. A road layout by a municipal government is a form of eminent domain that can be used for street acceptance.
In 2019, the Taylor Community submitted an application to the planning board to convert the cul-de-sac to a hammerhead turnaround. A lawyer representing Taylor at the council hearing confirmed that this would allow Taylor to build at least one new cottage on his land at the end of the road, for which the cul-de-sac does not provide sufficient frontage. Chris Cole, an attorney who has represented Taylor both at the public hearing and throughout the litigation process, noted that why Taylor wants to change the road formation is not at issue in the decision before the court. advice.
The 2019 proposal was rejected by the planning board and Taylor later appealed that rejection to the top court. The court determined that Taylor had indeed dedicated the cul-de-sac to the city in 1987 but the city had never accepted it, meaning Taylor retains his private land ownership on the cul-de-sac. According to the court’s decision, although the site plan proposed by Taylor and approved by the city planning board in 1987 expressed Taylor’s intention to convey the cul-de-sac to the city, and although for many years the city has carried out maintenance work at the end of Cottonwood Avenue, there has been no implicit or explicit acceptance.
The petition now asks the City Council to effect this acceptance, making the Cottonwood Avenue cul-de-sac a public thoroughfare and therefore out of bounds for Taylor’s redevelopment.
State law establishes eight factors that courts use to determine whether to build a public road: integration into the existing road network; fluidity of existing traffic; improved travel convenience; facilitation of transportation of existing schoolchildren; better accessibility to the business district and employment centres; better accessibility for fire, emergency and police services; advantage for a large part compared to a small fraction of the tax base of the city or year-round residents; and the expected frequency of road use.
The petitioners argued at the hearing that the cul-de-sac is safer and overall better for traffic on Cottonwood Avenue, particularly for emergency and courier vehicles, which is a significant public need. to keep it in place. The petition states that the use of a hammerhead flip, requiring a multi-point turn, is “dangerous and a waste of time”.
Public commentators in front of the council, all but one resident of Cottonwood or Walker Street, said there had been a dramatic increase in traffic due to the presence of the Taylor community and that the cul-de-sac was essential to keep traffic safe and flowing in a neighborhood with many dog walkers and children.
“A hammer over a cul-de-sac isn’t as safe,” said Nancy Ettelson, one of the petitioners who, aside from Taylor, is the only Cottonwood resident whose property adjoins the cul-de-sac. “It’s not as safe as driving around a cul-de-sac with your headlights showing you everything you see around it,” especially in the dark or in bad weather.
Cottonwood resident Jim Arsenault, who served on the Taylor Community Board for nine years and served as chairman of that board and chair of its finance committee, said he does not support any street changes and encouraged the council to accept the cul-de-sac. “I wholeheartedly support [Taylor’s] mission, but in this case I think they are wrong,” Arsenault said.
Daniel Schoeder said he bought his house on Cottonwood Avenue because of the cul-de-sac and expressed concern about the safe handling of emergency vehicles.
Although commentators noted that they were supportive of Taylor and her mission, they also criticized the Taylor community for increased traffic and noise on what they described as a once-quiet street.
Vice President of Facilities Management Kirk Beswick spoke on behalf of Taylor.
“We pay more taxes than all the people represented here put together. We’re invested in the community … And the increased traffic allows us to maintain the property we purchased,” Beswick said.
“We are a good neighbour,” he continued. “Most people here who talk about walking their dogs come into our property.”
“Let’s not lose in this conversation the fact that Taylor Community is a good neighbor,” Beswick told the council. “What’s really at stake here, and what you have to decide, is property rights.”
Although the potential reconstruction is significant in large part to the residents of Cottonwood Avenue, the petition argues that they represent a large enough portion of the city’s tax base to qualify their interest as a public interest.
“The city’s interest in providing a circular cul-de-sac that provides safe and efficient traffic flow for an 1,800-foot dead-end street with 30 homes,” the petition argues, “far outweighs the desire of Taylor to build one more residential unit.
The Taylor Community disputes this point, arguing in its written response to the petition that “the extraordinarily limited alleged ‘public need’ does not outweigh Taylor’s fundamental property rights”.
“We are talking about a three-point turn instead of a turnover. Is it in the public interest to seize someone’s property? I don’t think so,” Cole said.
Cole and Taylor’s written opposition characterized the petition as not based on public need but on private motivation to prevent Taylor from inconveniencing the petitioners by exercising his property rights.
“This is an attempt by Hail Mary to deprive Taylor of her private property following an unsuccessful effort to do so through the legal system,” Taylor’s memo reads.
Additionally, a finding by the city of a public need for the cul-de-sac to be made public at this time would not be credible, Taylor’s opposition states.
This is because the city government, in studies done by the Department of Public Works, has documented firstly that the end of Cottonwood Avenue remains, and should remain, a private road, and secondly that a turnaround in hammerhead poses no significant impediment to road safety or functionality for urban vehicles.
Notably, Taylor’s response cites a 2019 motion from city council to en masse accept many of the private roads it had maintained for decades. The council accepted some roads based on recommendations from a street analysis carried out by the Department of Public Works in 2017.
In its report, as quoted in Taylor’s response, “Public Works did not identify a public need for Cul-De-Sac and did not suggest that Council accept Cul-De-Sac as a public street. , and the Cul-De-Sac was not among the streets accepted by the Council.
Taylor’s response asserts that the city has asserted the status of the cul-de-sac as private repeatedly since 1987 by blatantly neglecting to accept it and Taylor, as determined by the court, retains the right to develop its private property by building a hammer.
“A drastic and abrupt change in the City’s position on this matter, at this time, and particularly in light of Taylor’s efforts and expense in the litigation,” Taylor’s response states, “would cause prejudice unfair, unacceptable and unfair to Taylor.
During the hearing, Cole argued that the difference between a hammerhead shark and a cul-de-sac was not significant enough to be considered a reason to be stated under one of eight factors, which he addressed one by one.
In terms of integration with the existing road network, access to business centers, and access to public and emergency vehicles, a hammer “would literally do nothing,” Cole said, and that a cul- de-sack over a hammer had “no net benefit”. to the city or to the inhabitants.
“This is not a court,” Mayor Andrew Hosmer said, following Cole’s point-by-point rebuttal that the cul-de-sac had a legal opportunity to be developed. “We’re just average Joes sitting here trying to figure out what basic fairness is for the people who live in this town and the taxpayers – and that includes your client, don’t get me wrong.”
Hosmer said that, although the cul-de-sac was never officially accepted by the city after its inauguration in 1987, “we all knew what the lay of the land was.” He said the city’s non-acceptance could be seen as a “technicality of sorts – very important in a court.”
“We are not judges,” repeated Hosmer. “We’re just trying to figure out what to do on behalf of the taxpayers here and what’s in the mutual interest of this city.”
The board voted unanimously to file a decision on the petition and take it up at a later meeting.