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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Developers pursuing deal over Pennichuck watershed land

NASHUA – One factor often cited in Nashua’s decade-long push to acquire Pennichuck Water Works is the parent company’s perceived pillaging of the watershed, according to company critics, and its propensity toward selling off to developers land that should have been protected.

Critics of how Pennichuck Corp. managed its watershed applauded when a deal was announced in November for the city to acquire the company by buying all shares of its publicly traded stock.

The city and Pennichuck now are navigating the path to closing the deal, a process that may take a year.

In the meantime, Pennichuck is proceeding with plans to sell another piece of its watershed, 34 acres off Concord Street near the utility’s water supply tank. The land would be sold to developers for elderly housing in a deal begun before Pennichuck Corp. and the city reached its acquisition agreement.

Plans have been submitted to the city Planning Department and are now being reviewed by planning staff, said Roger Houston, the city’s planning director.

It hasn’t yet been determined whether the project needs approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment as well as Planning Board, Houston said. The earliest the project would appear before either board is March 17, with an April date more likely, he said.

Two developers met recently with the city’s Pennichuck Water Special Committee to update members on the proposal.

The developers, Bernard Plante and Kevin Slattery, own North Concord Street Properties, which Plante said “entered into a contract to purchase a 34.5-acre piece of property from Pennichuck Corp. and the Southwood Corp. some years ago.”

Southwood Corp. is a subsidiary of Pennichuck Corp. created as the parent company’s real-estate management arm.

The developers hope to build 85 units of elderly housing on the site.

Discussions “began in the spring of 2005 and resulted in North Concord Street Properties, Pennichuck and Southwood entering into a contract to sell the 34 acres in September of 2005,” Plante said.

“Our proposal is for two styles of elderly housing: some freestanding homes that would have one- or two-car garages, two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, a single-level-type home and a single 48-unit building, parking under the building, an elevated structure that would allow people perhaps a little bit older to simply drive into the building, get out of their cars, get on an elevator and up to their housing unit.”

The development would lie outside a 500-foot buffer surrounding a water supply pond, Plante said.

Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy, who chairs the committee, said he invited the developers to speak to aldermen, since the plans became public when the developers filed their application with the city.

“Because it is going to come out publicly through the application process, I wanted to make sure the board was aware of it because it will change the land holdings and cash positions of Pennichuck as we are pursuing the acquisition, and that is basically it,” said McCarthy, president of the Board of Aldermen. “We don’t have any regulatory role, and there are no exceptions being sought.

“I would also point out that the entire project is essentially downstream of any of the water supply.”

The water supply is drawn from Harris Pond, the next pond up from what used to be a supply pond.

“It doesn’t impact any of the water supply part of the watershed,” McCarthy said.

During the Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday, Alderman-at-Large Barbara Pressly, a longtime Pennichuck critic, said the sale is another example of how the company pillaged the watershed over the years.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or