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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Other Pennichuck parcel in Nashua acquisition is Stabile-owned Merrimack land

NASHUA – Many people know about “Parcel F” – the Pennichuck-owned property where a developer intends to build elderly housing over the objections of residents who cite environmental concerns about the watershed.

But as the city nears completion of a deal to buy Pennichuck Corp., not much is known about another parcel that the company has sold. As with Parcel F, the city has to honor the prior purchase agreement and will have no control over how it’s developed.

The second parcel is a 12-acre lot on Manchester Street in Merrimack, according to its owner, developer John Stabile.

Stabile has owned half the property for 10 years; Pennichuck’s real estate subsidiary, Southwood Corp., owns the other half, he said.

More than a decade ago, Stabile received approval from the town of Merrimack to construct a commercial building on the site, he said.

A 58,000-square-foot, three-story office building was about to be built, but in September 2001, the construction company pulled out of the deal and the property sits empty, Stabile said.

Stabile said he still intends to develop the parcel.

“At this stage in the game, I’m open to all suggestions,” he said.

Once Pennichuck and Southwood are acquired by Nashua, Stabile and the city will split ownership on the property, he said.

Only state regulatory approval is needed for the city to buy Pennichuck, its water utility and its land holdings in the region.

But as part of his deal with Pennichuck, once the city acquires the company, and thus, the parcel, Stabile will have full control of the rights of the land as the surviving member of the original partnership, he said.

“They’ll own 50 percent of whatever I do,” Stabile said of the city.

Several aldermen and residents have complained that when the city signed a merger agreement with Pennichuck last year, not enough information was revealed about two parcels of undeveloped land owned by the company.

The property where the elderly housing complex is scheduled to be built was identified as Parcel F.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, city attorneys and Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy, among others, have said that with Parcel F, they had to honor the confidentiality of the $2.2 million purchase-and-sales agreement Pennichuck has had since 2007 with developers Bernie Plante and Kevin Slattery.

The developers want to build 85 units of elderly housing on Concord Street on what is Pennichuck’s last untouched piece of developable land in Nashua’s watershed area.

Pennichuck’s drinking supply is farther north, but a bog sits nearby and has many residents concerned about its proximity to the elderly housing complex. Pennichuck officials contend the development won’t harm the watershed.

Lozeau has been meeting behind closed doors with the developers and Pennichuck to see if an alternate plan can be reached instead of building on the Concord Street parcel. The closing date for the sale was October, but the two parties agreed to delay the sale for as long as four months so that everyone can continue talking.

Lozeau said she has been talking to the developer for a year. The city Planning Board approved the project in July, much to the displeasure of residents.

In fact, the prospect of developing the parcel has become a bit of a political football, with critics charging that Lozeau, McCarthy and others haven’t done enough to halt the project, and with others pointing out that two members of the dissenting Conservation Commission are running for alderman.

Stabile’s Merrimack parcel has largely been absent from the public conversation about the Pennichuck acquisition. Stabile has paid taxes on the property for a decade, and “clearly, the town of Merrimack is interested” in its development, he said.

Since 1985, Southwood Corp. has sold as many as 1,000 acres in Nashua and Merrimack that Pennichuck officials have said could be developed without harming the region’s drinking water.

In many of those land deals, Southwood sold the property to partnerships that included itself and local developers, including Stabile. Pennichuck officials have said Southwood kept itself as a partner in the deals to ensure that development of watershed lands was environmentally responsible.

Stabile echoed that view in a recent interview.

“Everything there we did with Pennichuck, the setbacks far exceed the state setback” for wetland protection, Stabile said.

Stabile also discussed the controversy over Parcel F and development in the area.

“Most of the water we are drinking in Nashua is pumped out of the Merrimack (River), then delivered to the southern pond and then to the treatment facility,” he said.

It is a “fallacy that these ponds are pristine bodies of water,” he added.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-6528 or Also, follow McKeon on Twitter (@Telegraph_AMcK).