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Nashua residents have opposed the development of a 33-acre parcel at 200 Concord St. in Nashua that sits on Pennichuck Water Works land. North Concord LLC plans to build a 85-unit elderly housing complex on the site.
Thursday, September 15, 2011

Developer of Pennichuck land asks city to step aside

NASHUA – The developer of a controversial housing complex on Pennichuck land has asked the city to stop interfering with the project despite the outcry of residents and environmentalists.

Attorney Brad Westgate, who represents developer North Concord Properties LLC, accused the city Conservation Commission of overstepping its bounds in recently trying to reverse a state permit for the housing project.

Westgate’s request came at an aldermen’s meeting Tuesday night, not long after the board formally accepted materials that it will review to determine if the Concord Street development poses any environmental threat to the Pennichuck watershed.

Westgate didn’t ask aldermen to drop their inquiry but rather faulted the Conservation Commission for separately asking the state to rescind a terrain alteration permit granted to North Concord in March.

The attorney’s remarks were the first public comments by the developer in the past two months as public opposition to the 85-unit elderly housing complex has grown.

Nearly 130 residents signed a petition asking aldermen to stop the housing project because of potential environmental risks. Another resident, Geoff Daly, has made two presentations at City Hall outlining what he claims is proof that the development will harm the watershed.

Last week, the Conservation Commission voted to petition the state Department of Environmental Services about the terrain permit and decided to hire a wetlands consultant to clearly define the wetlands area and a hydrologist to determine the path of underground water flow.

The appeal process for the DES permit expired in April. Although the state could reconsider the permit if new evidence showed possible environmental harm to the watershed, the developer has the right to start the project at any time, a DES spokesman said.

Westgate told aldermen the development followed the city’s land use code in receiving Planning Board approval in July and that at least one study has shown the 33-acre parcel was deemed developable, as demonstrated by how the project didn’t require a wetlands permit.

The Conservation Commission and objecting residents have disagreed, contending that the housing development, also known as Hayden Green, could someday make the city liable for any health issues that would arise from environmental damage to the watershed.

That’s because the city is in the process of purchasing Pennichuck Corp. and its water systems for $200 million. Aldermen allowed Pennichuck sell the land for $2.2 million to North Concord when the city entered a merger agreement with the water utility this year. City officials say the Hayden Green land deal hasn’t yet been finalized.

After Daly detailed his concerns to aldermen last month, board President Brian McCarthy asked the city Community Development Division to prepare a report on Hayden Green. The report examines the application process the developer followed to get a green light on the project.

On Tuesday, aldermen accepted the report and other correspondence related to Pennichuck. McCarthy assigned the materials to an aldermanic Pennichuck commission, which will review them at a future date.

McCarthy told The Telegraph last week that aldermen will take a close look at the development, but he was unsure what action the city could take because the project had already cleared the necessary hurdles.

If the city decides 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, McCarthy said.

Although Westgate didn’t directly address aldermen’s consideration of Hayden Green, he told the board that the Conservation Commission’s action could have “an adverse effect” on commercial ventures in the city.

“Business people take notice of intrusions,” Westgate said.

Westgate asked aldermen to rule that the Conservation Commission has no authority to use city money or staffing to study Hayden Green.

He added that the commission, which has only an advisory role in city planning issues, has no authority to act on a state matter by trying to squash the DES permit.

Aldermen also accepted a letter from Pennichuck President Duane Montopoli in which he acknowledged that two asbestos pipes and other construction scrap metals have been sitting unattended since the 1980s on property owned by the utility in the area near the Hayden Green development.

Daly photographed the pipe and materials and forwarded them to the city. Montopoli wrote that the materials will be removed by the end of the month.

Montopoli also said cut trees that have been lying on Pennichuck property since 2007 could be removed at the city’s request, although they don’t pose a threat to the watershed. Pennichuck cut them to maintain a healthy stand of trees in the watershed, but stopped after it was realized city approval was needed, he wrote.

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