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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

State now has Pennichuck materials to review

NASHUA – State environmental officials finally have received a package of materials about a controversial housing project set to be built on Pennichuck property off Concord Street.

Last month, the city Conservation Commission took an unusual step in asking state officials to review an environmental permit previously granted to the developers of the 85-unit elderly housing complex known as Hayden Green – a project that has residents concerned about the Pennichuck watershed.

To bolster its request, the commission decided to send meeting minutes and a computer disk full of information to state Department Environmental Services.

But last week – nearly three weeks after the commission’s decision – it was revealed that DES hadn’t received any of the materials that would be needed to review the permit. The commission offered no explanation about the apparent delay.

On Tuesday, Conservation Commission Chairman David MacLaughlin announced that DES had finally received all the materials, and offered his take on why there was a delay.

Staff at the city’s Community Development Division typically forward communications on behalf of the commission to outside agencies and other entities, MacLaughlin said.

But when it came to mailing materials about Hayden Green, MacLaughlin said, “For some unknown reason, we have been without the support of staff, beyond the person assigned to our meetings. And that particular person was unable to achieve the normal means of communication.”

He added: “In this particular situation, that decision had to be made at the senior level.”

But Roger Houston, the city Planning Department manager, replied that “by and large there were no delays.” The handling of the materials was “fairly expedient” and there was “nothing untoward” about the process.

A city staff member hand-delivered all the information Friday, he said.

MacLaughlin sent a letter to DES promising the impending arrival of the materials only three days after the commission’s Sept. 6 vote on the permit review, Houston said. “He sent out the letter quicker then we could turnaround” the request, Houston said.

The city also didn’t immediately have a copy of the computer disk that carried the information presented at that Sept. 6 meeting by resident Geoff Daly, Houston said. Daly showed the commission photographs, video and documents illustrating what he claims is proof the housing project will harm the nearby watershed.

Daly gave the commission a copy of that disk at its Sept. 27 meeting, and it was then promptly forwarded to DES, Houston said.

Daly and other residents have asked the city to stop the Hayden Green project because of environmental concerns. The flow of water from where the housing complex would be built doesn’t endanger the city’s water supply, but rather poses a threat to a nearby supply pond, Daly and others contend.

But Pennichuck officials say the water would run off in another direction and won’t harm the watershed.

The developer – North Concord Street Properties LLC – has a $2.2 million purchase-and-sales agreement with Pennichuck Corp. on the land. The city should take action, Daly and other opponents say, because it is trying to buy Pennichuck for about $200 million.

The 33-acre housing development received Planning Board approval in July, so city officials now have little to no legal room to maneuver.

That’s largely why the Conservation Commission has asked for the help of DES, asking the state to review a permit it granted, in March, to North Concord to alter terrain on the Hayden Green property.

The window to appeal that permit has shut, but DES will reconsider a permit if it has “good cause,” the department says.

There are, according to DES, several factors behind good cause, including an incorrect, incomplete or misleading application for a permit. Daly said at the commission’s Sept. 27 meeting that North Concord didn’t mislead anyone but rather had not included the many materials that show the Concord Street parcel’s placement in the watershed.

Jim Martin, a DES spokesman, said no decision has been made on the Conservation Commission’s request. DES will take everything into consideration, he said.

Attorney Brad Westgate, who represents the developer, has warned the city that any delay or halting of Hayden Green because of the Conservation Commission’s request to DES could prompt his clients to sue the city.

North Concord could start developing Hayden Green whenever they choose, Martin has said. The city’s corporation counsel has said North Concord must buy the land from Pennichuck by mid- to late-October.

Conservation Commission members have complained they were left out of the planning process for Hayden Green, and that’s why they’re acting late. But last month, Community Development Division Director Kathy Hersh told aldermen the commission had seen, earlier this year, that North Concord was applying for a state permit and didn’t object.

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