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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Court hearing, nonpublic aldermanic session Tuesday to discuss Pennichuck’s ‘Parcel F’

NASHUA – City aldermen are scheduled to meet again behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss the controversial sale of a 33-acre parcel, considered Pennichuck’s last untouched, developable piece of property in Nashua.

The land, known as “Parcel F,” waits in the hands of local real estate developers for building an 85-unit elderly housing complex on Concord Street, in the midst of a temporary, court-ordered halt on the sale.

A hearing on the injunction is scheduled for Tuesday morning at Hillsborough County Superior Court.

As many as 100 residents have protested Pennichuck’s sale of Parcel F to North Concord Street Properties, claiming the housing complex, called “Hayden Green,” could potentially harm the surrounding watershed.

But the $2.2 million land deal was agreed to by city aldermen when they approved the city’s Pennichuck purchase in November 2010. When the city acquired Pennichuck in January for $152 million, it agreed to honor the deal as part of the acquisition.

Tuesday will mark the second time in recent weeks aldermen have met in nonpublic session to discuss whether the city can buy the Concord Street parcel back from North Concord Street Properties developers Bernie Plante and Kevin Slattery.

Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess initially had reservations about the need to meet in private to discuss Parcel F on Jan. 24.

“Since the point of the meeting was to discuss whether the city was going to attempt to buy Parcel F, and you’re talking about negotiating strategy and price … it made sense,” Donchess said.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau told The Telegraph’s editorial board Thursday that the developer is still willing to talk to the city about Parcel F.

“I can’t talk about specifics,” Lozeau said. “I brought some thoughts to the Board of Aldermen. It had to be done in nonpublic because that was the request of the developer. … It shouldn’t be long before those minutes are public because I think we’re probably coming to some conclusions there.”

The minutes recording the nonpublic session Jan. 24 have yet to be released.

“I can’t really talk about that at this point,” Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy, president of the board, said about the nonpublic talks. “That’s the way we have to do business when we talk about some things.”

Before Pennichuck Corp. was publicly owned, officials at Pennichuck denied the claim that development on the 33-acre Parcel F might have environmental ramifications for the watershed, as have several city officials.

“The city would prefer that Parcel F not be developed,” Lozeau said.

Nashua resident Geoff Daly recently made moves to stop the parcel’s sale for the elderly housing development, when he requested the court delay the sale until it reviews a 1996 city ordinance and easement on 3.5 acres wedged between Parcel F and Pennichuck Middle School sports fields. Pennichuck has allowed the city to use this parcel for recreation for 16 years.

Daly, who led the residential protest against Pennichuck selling Parcel F to the developers, claimed at an earlier aldermen’s meeting that the city had forgotten about the recreation parcel. He thus asked how officials knew what Nashua controlled and what would be included in the Parcel F development.

In his court petition, Daly contends all residents should have unfettered access to the 3.5 acres for recreational purposes.

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.

A court hearing on the recreation parcel will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at superior court.

Attorneys for the city, the developers and Pennichuck have been asked to attend.

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

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

Daly is looking for the court to determine the public’s right to access the 3.5-acre parcel, land use that Daly says the Board of Aldermen should have reviewed per city ordinance, given the parcel’s transfer of ownership when the city officially acquired Pennichuck.

Lozeau said last week that the city has already done the legal work to ensure that those 3.5 acres are not part of the property sold to North Concord Street Properties.

“That was already a separate piece, remains a separate piece, and is owned by the city,” Lozeau said.

As far as the rest of that untouched Pennichuck land goes, Lozeau said, “the sale has taken place” between Pennichuck and the private developers.

When Pennichuck made the arrangement to sell the land to North Concord Street Properties in 2005, Lozeau said, many “weren’t paying attention to it.”

Alderman-at-Large Barbara Pressly, who served when the board approved the merger agreement, also said aldermen were offered few details about the parcel at the time.

Lozeau said the city tried twice to acquire the Concord Street parcel since 2005, but in the midst of the city’s acquisition battle, attempting to take over Pennichuck through eminent domain, North Concord Street Properties developers ended up with the land.

“It’s just the way the stars aligned,” Lozeau said of the land sale. “There was a lot of discussion and Pennichuck chose not to do a deal with the city and they instead chose to do a deal with a private developer, and as much as many of us don’t like that and wish that wasn’t the case, that is the case. Sometimes you have to deal with reality in what a situation is.”

Lozeau has said the developer asked for a possible city-offered solution to be discussed privately and cites state open meetings law that allows public officials to meet behind closed doors to discuss the consideration of acquisition, sale or lease of property.

But Daly, who will be in court Tuesday to discuss the 3.5-acre recreation parcel – which he contends is part of Parcel F – says the problems with the sale are an ongoing question of secret government.

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or mgill@nashuatelegraph.com. Follow Gill on Twitter (@Telegraph_MAG).