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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Judge grants delay of ‘Parcel F’ sale, but Nashua mayor says it’s too late

NASHUA – A Nashua resident has asked the court to stop the sale of a Pennichuck parcel slated for residential development, but his action appears to be too late: Mayor Donnalee Lozeau says the transaction was completed last month.

On Friday, a Hillsborough County Superior Court judge granted a delay to the $2.2 million sale of the Concord Street property, according to a copy of the court order provided by resident Geoff Daly.

But Lozeau said Pennichuck’s sale of the property to developer North Concord Street Properties LLC was finalized in January, making Daly’s legal move futile and confusing.

According to the copy of the court order, Judge Jacalyn Colburn granted Daly’s request to temporarily halt Pennichuck Corp. from selling the land to developers who have city approval to build 85 units of elderly housing on 33 acres of the Concord Street parcel – Pennichuck’s last piece of untouched developable land in Nashua.

Daly, in his court action, says the land deal is pending final settlement Feb. 20, but Lozeau said the deal was done Jan. 23.

The judge scheduled a hearing for Feb. 28 to review the issue. Attorneys for the city, the developers and Pennichuck have been asked to attend.

Colburn, acting on Daly’s request, wants to review a 1996 city ordinance and easement to determine the public’s right to access 3.5 acres that Pennichuck allowed the city to use for recreation.

The land abuts Pennichuck Middle School and the parcel for the elderly housing complex. Access to the recreation area is closed by a gate and open only for organizations through the city Parks and Recreation Department.

Daly contends all residents should have unfettered access to the area, an argument he made in his court petition.

He also claimed at an aldermen’s meeting Tuesday that the city had forgotten about this recreation parcel, and asked how officials thus knew exactly what was controlled by Nashua and what was slated for the development, a piece of land that is known as “Parcel F.”

But Lozeau said Friday afternoon that “we didn’t forget about” the recreation parcel.

The city obtained an access and recreational easement for the property when it purchased Pennichuck Corp. and its water utilities on Jan. 16, Lozeau said. Getting that parcel was just one part of the $200 million transaction, she said.

The court was closed Friday afternoon, when Daly provided The Telegraph with a copy of the order, so the newspaper can’t independently confirm the action until Tuesday, when the court reopens after the weekend and Presidents Day holiday.

Last year, Daly spearheaded a residential protest to Pennichuck selling Parcel F to the developers behind North Concord Street Properties – Bernie Plante and Kevin Slattery – claiming the housing complex could potentially harm the surrounding watershed.

Before it was publicly owned, officials at Pennichuck denied the environmental claim, as have several city officials.

Lozeau has said she started talking with the developers a year ago to find a compromise to the development of Parcel F. After Lozeau got the two parties to delay the sale late last year, no compromise was struck and the land deal was closed Jan. 23.

The day after the sale, Lozeau informed aldermen and the Conservation Commission of the finalized land deal, and the two bodies agreed to have a nonpublic session to discuss whether the city could buy the property from the developers or pursue other options.

The minutes to that session were sealed, and Lozeau and city officials won’t comment about what was discussed.

Aldermen have said they reluctantly agreed to the Parcel F land deal because it was a condition Pennichuck wanted before signing a merger agreement on the sale of the company with the city in 2010.

On Friday, Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom accompanied Daly to The Telegraph to deliver the copy of the court order. Teeboom said that with the court order, Daly had accomplished what Lozeau failed to do after a year of negotiations.

But Lozeau said of Daly: “I think the people have elected me to represent their interests. I think I’m doing that.”

As for Daly’s court request to allow public access to the recreation parcel, Lozeau said she didn’t anticipate any city-owned property allowing unfettered access and no restrictions.

Daly, though, claims that with the 1996 ordinance, aldermen then allowed all residents to access the property.

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