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Friday, July 8, 2011

Pennichuck: Housing project not close to supply

NASHUA – Pennichuck Corp. officials stress that a proposed elderly housing complex does not sit on the city’s watershed. The 85-unit housing development on Concord Street would sit 500 feet away from public drinking water, the officials said Thursday, in response to a Telegraph story about the project.

A company attorney also said that city officials first learned of the project in 2007, when Pennichuck was about to enter an agreement to sell the 33-acre property to a developer.

Pennichuck Corp. CEO Duane C. Montopoli informed former Mayor Bernie Streeter and Community Development Director Kathy Hersh in 2007 that the company was about to ink a deal with the developer, according to Roland Olivier, Pennichuck’s lead attorney.

Pennichuck again disclosed the $2.2 million property sale agreement when it later entered merger negotiations with the city of Nashua, Olivier said.

But at least one alderman contends that closed-door discussions with select city officials isn’t the same as full disclosure to the Board of Aldermen before it voted in January to approve the city’s $200 million acquisition of Pennichuck Corp.

“We found out the night of the vote. But we were told there was an agreement that was confidential. They called it ‘Parcel F,’ ” Alderman-at-Large Barbara Pressly said.

Still, Pressly and several other aldermen said Thursday that more knowledge of the land deal wouldn’t have precluded them from voting to purchase Pennichuck.

“We absolutely have to buy it. And because of this we have to buy it,” Pressly said.

Ward 2 Alderman Dick LaRose agreed.

“There was very few acreage left,” LaRose said of Pennichuck’s property in the north end of the city. “I felt we should acquire Pennichuck because we wouldn’t know what would happen in the future. Someone could bottle the water and sell it. We had no water rights.”

LaRose is also an aldermanic liaison to the Planning Board, which reviewed the elderly housing proposal Thursday night.

Pennichuck Corp. and its real estate subsidiary, Southwood Corp., plan to sell 33 acres at 200 Concord St. to North Concord Street Properties LLC. The development firm wants to build an 85-unit elderly housing development there.

The Telegraph published a story Thursday that previewed the Planning Board meeting. The story prompted former Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom and several readers to question the history of the property deal, as well as the elderly housing complex’s potential proximity to the watershed.

Teeboom, in an e-mail to Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, aldermen and The Telegraph, questioned if the city only recently learned of the sale, despite Lozeau saying Wednesday that city officials knew about the proposed development four years ago.

The merger agreement between Pennichuck and the city prevents the company from entering any new purchase-and-sale agreements on properties, Olivier said. But the agreement allowed Pennichuck to proceed with its deal with North Concord Street Properties, he said.

“This was disclosed at the beginning of negotiations, and not at the end as Barbara Pressly says,” Olivier said.

The agreement allows for exceptions, which were spelled out in a company disclosure schedule, he said.

Pressly, though, said aldermen were told that details of the sale and development were confidential.

Alderman-at-Large David Deane added that consultant John Patenaude – who advised the city through its efforts to negotiate the stock purchase of Pennichuck and its water utility – told aldermen that he couldn’t obtain any information on the Concord Street sale agreement. (Patenaude has since been appointed to be Pennichuck’s interim CEO if and when the city takes over Pennichuck. Shareholders last month approved the deal, and it now needs a final blessing from public utility regulators.)

Like LaRose and Pressly, Deane said any further information on the land deal wouldn’t have changed his approval of the Pennichuck acquisition. Pressly also said that 500 feet between the elderly housing development and the watershed isn’t enough distance.

“It’s never been enough,” Pressly said of environmental setbacks. “For whatever reason, governments have diminished the required buffer zone, thinking we have treatment plans and don’t need nature.”

Olivier, who is also president of Southwood Corp., said any water from the development will flow away from the city supply pond. “This development will occur 500 feet away from the water supply,” he said.

The Planning Board agenda for Thursday’s meeting specified that parts of the property are within a Water Supply Protection District. City maps show the parcel comes within a few hundred feet of what is called “Supply Pond.” Also, in 2004, the Zoning Board of Adjustment approved the construction of a 6.5 million gallon water tank on the site.

But Olivier and Don Ware, Pennichuck’s president of regulated water utilities, said the tank has no bearing on city water supplies. Any drainage from the housing complex will run away from the watershed, they said.

“The takeaway of the sale is going to benefit the city and rate payers,” Olivier said.

The $2.2 million from the property deal will be in company accounts when the city acquires Pennichuck, he said.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com.