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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel/Norstar Helicopter^^A view of the Pennichuck ponds looking west from above the water treatment plant.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel/Norstar Helicopter^^A view of the Pennichuck ponds looking west from above the water treatment plant.
Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nashua board to look at housing development on Pennichuck land

NASHUA – Aldermen soon could take a closer look at potential environmental issues on 33 acres of Pennichuck Corp. property slated to be developed for an 85-unit elderly housing complex.

Board of Alderman President Brian McCarthy said he and his colleagues will discuss the controversial project at their meeting Tuesday and eventually could consider whether the city should and can take action on the development if the area’s wetlands are at risk.

The board’s possible consideration of the project comes as a public outcry over the development gets louder. Last week, the city Conservation Commission asked the state to rescind a terrain alteration permit it granted the housing developer in March.

Also last week, 129 residents signed a petition asking aldermen to stop the housing project and asked the board to investigate whether Pennichuck’s impending sale of the property to the developer violates the public trust.

That’s because the city is in the process of purchasing Pennichuck Corp. and its water systems for $200 million. Critics believe the city will face legal costs in the future if the development is found to have risked public health, and they are asking aldermen and Mayor Donnalee Lozeau to act now.

“Why are they not zoning carefully? Twenty years from now, the repercussions can cost this city a lot of money,” said resident Ann Bannister, who lives near the Concord Street development site and spearheaded the petition drive.

Pennichuck is in the process of selling the 33-acre parcel to developer North Concord Properties LLC for $2.2 million. In July, North Concord received approval from the city Planning Board to build an 85-unit senior housing project, known as Hayden Green, on the property.

But since last month, several residents have complained publicly about Hayden Green. They claim the project will harm the watershed and have asked city officials to intervene.

Resident Geoff Daly has led the charge by presenting documents, photographs and maps that he claims prove the development will harm the watershed. One such document is a 2002 report issued by Pennichuck Corp. that Daly and others say illustrates how the Concord Street parcel is within the boundaries of a protected watershed area.

“We’re going to have to look at all the options and see what we can do,” McCarthy said Friday. “I don’t know what things we can do with it right off. It’s a transaction that’s been in progress for some time.”

If the city decides that the development poses risks to the watershed, then it would have to consider overturning property rights, which would entail costs that are unknown at this point, he said.

“Whether there is a scientific reason that it needs to be preserved … there may be overwhelming reasons,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to have to look at it more closely than in the past.”

The board will begin that review Tuesday by reading a report that Community Development Division Director Kathy Hersh prepared on Hayden Green. It examines the application process the developer followed to get a green light on the project.

Hersh wrote that the site’s wetlands were mapped and that the development was designed “not to encroach into the other wetlands identified and their required buffers.”

Her report mentions Daly’s claims about Pennichuck’s watershed maps and reports. The boundary of the protected watershed area was included in the Hayden Green site plan, and that plan was in accordance with the city ordinance on protecting the water supply, Hersh wrote.

Hersh also references a 6-acre wetland bog that Daly claims hasn’t been included in plans that delineate the necessary buffers protecting the watershed. Hersh notes that the bog is not listed as a “critical wetland” in a city ordinance, but because it is an “‘other wetland’ more than 9,000 square feet, the same buffer of 40 feet is required.”

Most of the bog, a drainage swale and a city ball field “are located on land owned by the Hayden Green development,” Hersh wrote. “Part of the existing Hayden Green site’s storm water currently flows into the wetland/bog area. The Hayden Green site was designed to noticeably reduce the amount of storm water flowing into the wetland/bog.”

The Conservation Commission last week voted to hire a wetlands consultant to clearly define the wetlands area and a hydrologist to determine the path of underground water flow. It remains to be seen if aldermen will follow the same path.

Daly made a presentation to the commission last week, leading to that board’s request to state environmental officials to rescind Hayden Green’s terrain alteration permit.

Jim Martin, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Services, said his office will accept the commission’s materials and consider its request.

DES could revoke the permit if there was “overwhelming evidence” that the project could harm the environment, Martin said. But the commission’s request will be “outside of the appeal process,” and North Concord could “construct that project tomorrow if they so choose,” he said.

Daly also addressed aldermen in July, listing his concerns. He later approached a microphone after the public comment session had ended, prompting McCarthy to shut off Daly’s audio. McCarthy, who was angry, told Daly that he had knowingly violated the board’s rules of protocol. Daly, also angry, shouted back that aldermen and Lozeau have a responsibility to study the development.

At that meeting, McCarthy told Alderman-at-Large Barbara Pressly that Daly’s allegations were an issue for the Community Development Division and land use boards to consider.

“And I would encourage them to look at the allegations. We do not get to override land use decisions on the legislative body for reasons that I suspect are very good ones from the state’s perspective,” McCarthy said.

But if the city determines that the wetlands near Hayden Green could be threatened, aldermen may interrupt the project not by overriding a Planning Board ruling but through monetary recompense.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or Also check out McKeon (@Telegraph_AMcK) on Twitter.