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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Aldermen balk at nearly $5 million price tag for Parcel F

NASHUA – Aldermen balked at the nearly $5 million asking price to acquire the last piece of untouched, developable Pennichuck Corp. land at a closed-door meeting Tuesday.

In a nonpublic session, board members opted not to meet North Concord Street Properties, LLC’s $4.85 million asking price and voted against buying the property known as Parcel F from the developer.

An audio recording of the meeting was released Wednesday.

The parcel is slated for an 85-unit “Hayden Green” elderly housing development on Concord Street. City officials had long expressed a desire to buy Pennichuck so that Nashua could halt land sales and protect the watershed.

Two aldermen – Jim Donchess and Diane Sheehan – put forward motions to go back with another offer, but both motions were voted down by the full board, indicating a majority of members were uncomfortable with the cost.

Donchess, an alderman-at-large, proposed authorizing Mayor Donnalee Lozeau to offer $4.5 million to $4.85 million for the site, but it was voted down 8-5.

Sheehan, the Ward 3 aldermen, proposed offering $3.5 million for the site, but that motion was also voted down, 10-3.

Both motions were contingent upon financing.

“This is really hard for me because it feels like it’s a no-brainer to buy it, but the price of it is so outrageous that it really is giving me serious thoughts,” Sheehan said. “I know the rest of my life I’m going to remember the vote on this because it just seems that important.”

At the closed-door meeting Tuesday night between aldermen and Conservation Commissioners, Lozeau said she had met with developer Kevin Slattery, who purchased the 33-acre parcel in a $2.2 million deal Jan. 23 from Pennichuck Corp., just two days before the city closed on acquiring the private water company and watershed.

“The number that he has put on the table is $4,850,000,” Lozeau said. “He’s unwilling to go below that number and so as requested, I’m bringing that number back for your consideration.”

The $4.85 million, the mayor explained, included the $2.2 million North Concord Street spent on the land purchase, as well as the profit expected on the property at a discounted price, from the $3,157,000 the developer estimated down to $2,650,000.

“It is his actual bottom line, I have no doubt about that,” Lozeau said. “I tried, as we discussed, other mixes of land and property and dollars and other options, and he was not interested in any of it. He made it very clear to me, to report to the group that he would not negotiate below that price.”

Parcel F drew a 100-person protest from residents last fall who were concerned that the development could potentially harm the surrounding watershed.

But the $2.2 million land deal was essentially 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.

On Jan. 24, the day after the Parcel F sale closed, the Board of Aldermen met in private to give the mayor authority to negotiate with the developer and to offer a total purchasing offer not to exceed $3 million from the city, according to Alderman-at-Large David Deane.

“How she handled it, I don’t know. None of us were there that I know of,” Deane said.

Aldermen and Conservation Commissioners debated throughout Tuesday night’s meeting about the value of protecting the land, and the amount of damage the housing complex would have on the surrounding watershed if the city chose not to buy the property.

The board also debated where the $4.85 million could be funded from if the city decided to pursue the purchase, including sources such as bonding as well as Conservation Commission funds.

Lozeau also provided maps to the board showing ways the developer was willing to alter his housing plans and to extend the buffers beyond what is required in order to work with the city in protecting a bog on the property, should the city decide not to try to buy the land back.

“Just something that I asked him to consider,” Lozeau said. “I thought some of us would feel better about knowing that we had a bigger buffer, and this plan, he would be willing to do this at no cost to the city.”

Many of the Conservation Commission members vocalized the aldermen’s need to protect Parcel F in its entirety.

“Wetlands are an organic whole,” Conservation Commission Vice Chairwoman Peggy Trivolino said. “You just can’t say ‘Well, water from here will never go there,’ because … It’s all part of a whole, and what you do on any part of that whole, eventually will affect the rest of it.”

Others doubted the environmental threat of the development.

When the development drew public protest last July when North Concord Street met before the Planning Board, the state’s Department of Environmental Services reviewed the public’s concerns on the property and held up its original approval of an alteration of terrain permit that authorized the development.

Yet some aldermen were still hesitant about not trying to buy the land back, even for the developer’s steeper asking price.

“I don’t want this built there,” Deane said at the meeting. “Should we have done something earlier? Yeah, but you can’t change the past. Were negotiations going on for this piece of property for a year? We were told they were, but we weren’t a part of it. So now we’re stuck with a tough decision. Is this piece of property worth $4.85 million? Absolutely not. But the bottom line is we’re stuck. We either pay this, or this is the end result.”

Lozeau said she didn’t want Parcel F to be developed but that she could not support almost $5 million to purchase it.

“We have to have faith that DES and all of the licensed and certified professionals that have worked on this project from the beginning are not making things up,” Lozeau said. “This is not in the drinking water supply.”

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