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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).
Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Nashua mayor asks to delay Pennichuck land deal

NASHUA – Pennichuck Corp. and a developer have agreed to delay their controversial land deal so the city can continue negotiating with the two parties in response to public backlash about an impending housing project.

Today , Mayor Donnalee Lozeau will be asking aldermen to delay, for as many as four months, the closing of a $2.2 million purchase-and-sale agreement between Pennichuck and North Concord Street Properties LLC. Aldermen need to approve the delay because the city is in the process of buying Pennichuck.

If a delay is granted, North Concord would effectively hold off building an 85-unit elderly housing complex on 33 acres of Pennichuck property. The project has upset residents and some city officials, who claim the complex will harm the Pennichuck watershed.

“I’m hopeful we can find a solution. There are different options we’d like to explore,” Lozeau said Monday.

Lozeau wouldn’t comment on what those options are, but they would presumably include the city compensating the developer for not building on the North Concord Street parcel.

The city would see the fiscal benefit of the $2.2 million property sale, so how it would recompense the Pennichuck ledger, if at all, remains to be seen.

Lozeau has remained mostly quiet on the controversy, and until Monday, had not commented on her private discussions with North Concord. Last month, Alderman Diane Sheehan and city attorney James McNamee revealed at a meeting that Lozeau was having private talks with Bernie Plante and Kevin Slattery, the principals of the LLC.

North Concord didn’t have to delay the project at all, Lozeau said Monday. “I’m pleased the developer can work with the city,” she said.

The company and developer had an Oct. 21 closing date, but have agreed to push it back to Feb. 20 or before , Lozeau said.

The attorney for North Concord, Brad Westgate, has publicly threatened to sue the city if the project is halted because of recent actions by the Conservation Commission. The commission asked the state to take a second look at a terrain alteration permit it granted to North Concord for the housing project.

The city and Pennichuck earlier this year signed a merger agreement that arranges for Nashua to buy the company and its water systems for roughly $200 million. By approving the merger agreement, aldermen also approved the purchase-and-sales agreement between Pennichuck and North Concord, although many details about the project were confidential, several aldermen have said.

The housing complex, known as Hayden Green, has elicited public protest since July, when the city Planning Board approved the project. With that approval, the city gave the green light to construction, which could start any time after the closing date.

More than 100 residents and some city officials have protested the housing complex on what appears to be the last tract of untouched Pennichuck property in Nashua that can be commercially developed.

Pennichuck’s real estate arm, Southwood Corp., has sold and helped develop hundreds of acres in north Nashua and Merrimack over the past few decades.

Resident Geoff Daly has helped lead the public protest against Hayden Green. He has presented the city with maps, photos and other details that he claims demonstrates the environmental harm the housing complex could have on the watershed.

While acknowledging that the city stepping into the project could have a “silver lining,” Daly said he is upset about the private nature of the talks between Lozeau and North Concord.

“Why so long? Why so much secrecy? What’s everybody afraid of?” Daly said.

Lozeau defended the nature of the talks, saying North Concord is “choosing to keep this information confidential.”

She added: “You can’t have public discussions with private companies.”

Daly said he asked the city to consider talking with Merrimack officials, Pennichuck executives and North Concord about a land swap. North Concord could build on a Pennichuck-owned parcel behind Harris Pond office park and shopping center and the Nashua parcel can be preserved, he said. But the city hasn’t responded to the idea, he said.

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