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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Nashua has time to bargain for alternative to Pennichuck land deal

NASHUA – The city has as long as four months to negotiate an alternative to a housing complex being built on Pennichuck land.

As expected, aldermen on Tuesday approved an extension of the closing date of a $2.2 million land deal between Pennichuck Corp. and a developer. The deal paves the way for the developer to build – much to the ire of many residents – an 85-unit housing complex on Concord Street.

Pennichuck and North Concord Street Properties LLC had an Oct. 21 closing date, but Mayor Donnalee Lozeau has been negotiating with both sides, and they agreed to wait as long as Feb. 20 to consummate the transaction.

Lozeau told aldermen she will continue talks about an alternative to building the housing complex somewhere other than on a 33-acre Concord Street parcel. She also told them talks could still produce no results, and the developer eventually will build on the property.

The mayor didn’t need to tell aldermen that Pennichuck and North Concord Street Properties have had a purchase-and-sales agreement in place since 2007 and have a right as private companies to conclude the deal. But Lozeau complimented North Concord Street Properties and Pennichuck for listening to her and agreeing to delay the deal while other options are discussed.

Lozeau won’t reveal what those options are; she has talked with the two companies privately and will continue to do so.

One option would presumably include the city compensating the developer for not building on the Concord Street parcel.

Because the city is in the process of buying Pennichuck, it 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.

Nashua has a merger agreement with Pennichuck to buy the company, its water utility and land holdings for $198 million. The deal now needs only approval from state regulators.

When aldermen approved the purchase, they signed off on Pennichuck’s prior agreement to sell the Concord Street property, known as Parcel F, but many of them have since claimed confidentiality stipulations prevented them from knowing the housing complex’s placement in the watershed.

“None of us were happy about finding out about Parcel F,” Lozeau said to the board Tuesday.

A merger agreement holds the city and Pennichuck transaction in place until state regulators vote on it, so aldermen must vote on any changes. Extending the closing date of the Pennichuck-North Concord Street Properties deal was one such instance.

In July, the city Planning Board approved North Concord Street Properties’ plan to build an elderly housing complex on the site.

But starting the night of that meeting, a group of residents asked the city to halt the project, claiming it will harm the neighboring Pennichuck supply pond and watershed. (Pennichuck’s drinking water comes from a pond farther north of the site.)

One of those residents, Geoff Daly, has led the charge by providing city officials with documents, maps and other materials he says illustrates how the housing complex, known as Hayden Green, would threaten the watershed.

On Tuesday, Daly asked the city to consider talking with Merrimack officials, Pennichuck executives and North Concord Street Properties about a land swap. North Concord Street Properties could build on a Pennichuck-owned parcel behind Harris Pond office park and shopping center and the Nashua parcel can be preserved, he said.

Daly also chided Lozeau and her staff for keeping him out of the loop. He and resident Robert Sullivan criticized Lozeau for talking with Pennichuck and North Concord Street Properties in private, saying the city has a responsibility to keep residents informed.

Sullivan reminded Lozeau and the board of 2008, when she, aldermen and school board members illegally met in a private session to review a teachers union contract proposal. A superior court judge ruled city officials broke the Right-to-Know Law when they held that private session.

“There should be no more secret meetings,” Sullivan said.

But Lozeau has said that talks between her, Pennichuck and North Concord are private because they are private companies, and they don’t have any obligation to talk with the city.

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