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  • A 2002 Pennichuck Corp. report includes maps of the region's watershed protection area, which some residents say proves a future housing complex will fall into that zone (far right).
  • A 2002 Pennichuck Corp. report includes maps of the region’s watershed protection area, which some residents say proves a future housing complex will fall into that zone (far right).
  • A 2002 Pennichuck Corp. report includes maps of the region’s watershed protection area, which some residents say proves a future housing complex will fall into that zone (far right).
Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nashua residents proceeding with effort to stop Pennichuck development

NASHUA – A group of residents continues to ask city officials to reconsider the development of a senior housing complex on what they say is a protected watershed.

Last month, despite strong objections by residents and conservationists, the Planning Board approved the construction of the 85-unit senior housing project on 33 acres owned by Pennichuck Corp.

The 30-day window to appeal a planning or zoning decision – by law, at the superior court level – has passed without anyone filing a lawsuit against the city.

But one of the residents who still objects to the development said he and others intend to present convincing information to state environmental officials with the hope that a necessary permit will be rescinded.

That resident, Geoff Daly, points to several city and Pennichuck maps to show that the Concord Street development site falls within a watershed protection area.

Also, Daly said contrary to Pennichuck’s assertions, there is no guarantee that water runoff from the completed housing units won’t someday taint the city’s nearby water supply pond.

“Geoff and others are producing hard evidence that this land is sitting on a watershed protection area,” said Conservation Commission Chairman David MacLaughlin.

After the Planning Board gave a green light to the development, several city officials stressed that the development doesn’t sit on the Pennichuck watershed.

Pennichuck officials also have added that the housing complex would be 500 feet away from the water supply and any drainage from the 85 units would flow away from drinking water.

“This will have no impact on water quality and water quantity,” Don Ware, Pennichuck’s president of regulated water utilities, said Wednesday.

Daly expressed his concerns to aldermen Tuesday night, during the board’s customary public comment period.

He told aldermen, “Your hands are not tied. Anything like this can be adjusted, rescinded, canceled. Please do the right thing now and not leave it to others in the future.”

Later, Alderman-at-Large Barbara Pressly asked board Chairman Brian McCarthy what aldermen could do about the environmental concerns surrounding the development. McCarthy replied that it was a planning and zoning issue, and by law, aldermen couldn’t interfere with the process.

Daly returned to the microphone, at which point McCarthy told him to sit down and that he was out of order because the public comment period had ended. They yelled at one another, with McCarthy finally requesting that the public microphone be turned off.

Meeting rules do prohibit anyone from speaking at that late juncture. But on Wednesday, Daly said he wanted McCarthy and Mayor Donnalee Lozeau to know they have a fiduciary responsibility to act now, preventing future damage to the watershed and a risk to public health that will cost the city money when it owns Pennichuck.

The city has passed two of three hurdles to buy Pennichuck Corp. and its water systems. It entered a merger agreement this year with the company, and shareholders approved the deal in June. The last hurdle is an approval by state regulators.

In July, the city Planning Board approved developer North Concord Street Properties LLC’s request to build the elderly housing complex. Pennichuck intends to sell the 33-acre parcel to North Concord for $2.2 million. The principals of North Concord are developers Bernie Plante and Kevin Slattery. The pair have built homes all over the city.

Board approval came after several residents voiced concerns about the development’s apparent closeness to the city aquifer and larger wetland area.

MacLaughlin objected to the proposal and wondered why the Conservation Commission wasn’t asked to review the plan and provide its opinion to the Planning Board. But planning officials said the proposal didn’t meet the criteria for commission review because the project engineer designed an excellent storm water runoff system.

On Wednesday, MacLaughlin said it was the “intent of someone, somewhere” for the conservation commission to be bypassed on the project.

Since July, Daly and other residents unearthed more documentation – including a 2002 report issued by Pennichuck Corp. – that shows the Concord Street parcel is within the boundaries of the protected watershed area, MacLaughlin said.

“Why it was part of the watershed protection area but no longer is … I guess the interpretation fits the circumstance,” MacLaughlin said of Pennichuck’s statements on the parcel.

In March, the state Department of Environmental Services issued North Concord Properties LLC an “Alteration of Terrain” permit. But Daly said the LLC’s application lacked many topographical and hydrological details.

He added that the concerned residents will provide DES the information they have gathered with the hope that the permit will be pulled.

A call to North Concord Properties wasn’t immediately returned.

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