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Nashua;40.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nbkn.png;2014-10-31 06:39:45
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pennichuck land deal finalized as Nashua prepares to buy company

NASHUA – A controversial sale of Pennichuck Corp. property has occurred just days before the company is set to be purchased by the city.

North Concord Street Properties LLC was set to close a $2.2 million land deal with Pennichuck on Monday, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said. By closing on the deal Monday, outgoing Pennichuck officials made one last big transaction before handing over the keys to the company on Wednesday to Nashua city officials.

The developer has the city’s permission to build 85 units of elderly housing on 33 acres off Concord Street – Pennichuck’s last piece of untouched developable land in Nashua – and can now start building at any time.

The sale prompted Lozeau to ask the Board of Aldermen to meet in a non-public joint session Tuesday night with the Conservation Commission to discuss whether the city can buy the property, among other possible options.

The mayor will cite a clause of the state’s open meetings law that allows public officials to meet behind closed doors to discuss the consideration of acquisition, sale or lease of property, she said. While some people might want an open hearing, it is appropriate to discuss the matter in a non-public session because it involves the acquisition of property, she said.

Lozeau wants to hear from aldermen and Conservation Commission members on what options the city has, including a possible purchase of the property. She said the minutes to the non-public session could sometime soon be made available to the public.

The private meeting will occur on the eve of the city formally closing its $152 million purchase of Pennichuck Corp. and its subsidiaries, including its real estate arm and its water utilities.

When aldermen approved buying Pennichuck in November 2010, they allowed the company to sell the Concord Street land, also known as “Parcel F,” to the developers Bernie Plante and Kevin Slattery.

The sale stirred the ire of more than 100 residents in July, when Plante and Slattery received Planning Board approval to build the elderly housing complex.

Those residents claim the project will harm the nearby watershed. Pennichuck officials, who will be leaving the company this week when the city takes ownership, and several city officials have said the housing complex will not pose any environmental threat.

Despite moving forward with the purchase, North Concord Street Properties has agreed to continue talking with City Hall, Lozeau said. She has been meeting privately with the developers for a year.

In October, Lozeau received aldermen’s permission to delay, for as many as four months, the closing of the purchase-and-sale agreement between Pennichuck and North Concord Street Properties LLC so that she could continue meeting with the developers to reach a resolution. Aldermen needed to approve the delay because the city was in the process of buying Pennichuck.

Lozeau said she appreciates that the developers agreed to talk with her after closing on the property. She said the city has been limited in what it can do about a private transaction that transpired before Nashua signed a merger agreement with Pennichuck in 2010.

In a letter written last week to aldermanic President Brian McCarthy and Conservation Commission Chairman David MacLaughlin, Lozeau said that although she had aldermanic permission to talk to the developers until Feb. 20, Plante and Slattery had decided to move forward on the property sale.

Plante and Slattery have not returned several phone calls seeking comment about the transaction.

Last year, after the Planning Board allowed the elderly housing complex, MacLaughlin and other Conservation Commission members asked the state to take a second look at the application North Concord had filed to have permission to alter terrain on the housing project site.

The attorney for North Concord, Brad Westgate, then threatened to sue the city if the project was halted because of the commission’s actions. The state later found nothing wrong with North Concord’s permit application.

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, one of the reasons why the city started trying to acquire the company a decade ago. Parcel F has been viewed as the last bulwark on the battlefront of Pennichuck land preservation.

Resident Geoff Daly, who has helped lead the public protest against the Concord Street development, has 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 could be preserved, Daly has proposed.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-6528 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com.

Also check out McKeon (@Telegraph_AMcK) on Twitter.