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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Few specifics available on Nashua’s Parcel F negotiations

NASHUA – A list of dates, one page of handwritten notes and a few maps presented to aldermen was all City Hall officials had to show to document a year and a half of negotiations on Parcel F, once considered the last piece of raw, undeveloped Pennichuck land in Nashua.

Earlier this month, The Telegraph requested access to all records pertaining to negotiations concerning the land between the city and North Concord Street Properties LLC, owner of the property.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau provided a list of 25 dates and names, along with one page of handwritten notes and math she recorded revealing how North Concord developer Kevin Slattery came to his $4.85 million asking price for the city to buy Parcel F.

Lozeau participated in 19 of those discussions, excluding a period from December 2010 to September 2011, and said the subject, from the beginning, revolved around convincing Slattery not to develop the land.

“However we could have that project not go forward, that is what the goal was,” Lozeau said. “Whether it was to buy it or have Pennichuck stop it, all those things were open for discussion.”

Since July, more than 100 residents have protested the development, concerned it could harm the nearby watershed. But many city officials and environmental experts have remained firm that the housing complex poses no hazards to the city’s drinking water.

After months of back-and-forth between aldermen and proposals to use cash or bonds to come up with $4.85 million for the city to buy Parcel F, the board on April 10 ultimately killed the last effort that could have done so.

The Telegraph’s request for all records, including any notes or emails, from the negotiations was submitted April 3. Lozeau provided the documents April 16.

According to Lozeau’s records, in the 25 meetings held, the city was represented by Lozeau, city attorney Jamie McNamee or John Patenaude, formerly the city’s consultant through negotiations of the stock purchase of Pennichuck, and now Pennichuck’s CEO.

Discussions took place with North Concord’s developers, Slattery and Bernie Plante; project engineer Jim Petropulos; and attorney Brad Westgate; and then-Pennichuck officials Tom Leonard, former CFO; Duane Montopoli, former CEO; and Roland Olivier, former general counsel, corporate secretary and president of Southwood Corp., which is Pennichuck’s real-estate subsidiary.

The dates and names were drawn from Lozeau’s calendar and Patenaude’s invoices, she said.

Some phone calls Lozeau shared with Slattery may not have been included in the list, she added, if she or Slattery had forgotten that they had taken place over their year and half’s worth of discussion.

“I have a pretty good memory, and I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years,” Lozeau said.

North Concord closed a $2.2 million land deal with then-privately owned Pennichuck Corp. to buy 33 acres of Parcel F on Jan. 23, two days before the city acquired Pennichuck.

Currently, trees are coming down and land is being cleared off Concord Street to make way for an 85-unit senior housing complex called Hayden Green for residents 55 and older.

“Every step of the way (Slattery) has said, ‘I’m going to continue to move forward,’ ” Lozeau said. “What I wanted to do was stop the project, not have it move forward. He was interested in developing the site. That’s what he does.”

Without any notes from negotiations over the property, besides the calculations that determined Slattery’s $4.85 million asking price, the only way of knowing what transpired is Lozeau’s characterization of them.

The Telegraph’s calls to Slattery haven’t been returned over the months of debate about Parcel F.

“It’s not complicated,” Lozeau said. “The most complicated discussion was the discussion of the dollar amount, which was the one thing I had notes on. … The rest of it is back-and-forth about ideas.”

The best records of what was said in those negotiations are the minutes of two nonpublic meetings Lozeau held with aldermen, she said, when the board first offered $3.5 million to buy the site, then ultimately balked at Slattery’s counteroffer for almost $5 million.

“I don’t take notes at my meetings,” Lozeau said. “It’s just not often that I have to take notes. I’ll take notes if there was someone I never worked with before and I’m not sure what they’re offering at the end. If I had never met Kevin Slattery and he was a total stranger to me, I probably would’ve taken different notes, but I knew what to expect with Kevin.

“When I’m working on something and I’m having a discussion and the stakes are high and I know who I’m working with, I have every confidence the information is correct. And if I don’t, I write it down. That’s why the information you have is handwritten.”

Two meetings included in Lozeau’s records state that Patenaude’s “information gathering” and “review documents” in May refer to his examination of North Concord’s purchase-and-sale agreement with Pennichuck, which is a private document, Lozeau said.

The maps that were used during her negotiations with Slattery also were shared with the board during their discussions about Parcel F, Lozeau said.

“While it might have been a big dollar amount, this was not a complex negotiation by any means,” Lozeau said. “It was multiple discussions about what might be possible.”

Lozeau’s records show that her meetings with Slattery continue over the land, including two held this month.

Those revolve around Slattery’s willingness to move buildings back in his plans to create a buffer more than the 40 feet required to protect a bog on the land and whether educational opportunities could be available for students to study it.

As only 14.5 of Parcel F’s 33 acres will be developed in Slattery’s plans, Lozeau said the rest of the land also is being discussed for possible conservation.

“There’s a few options available, and I don’t know which one is going to be the one that works the best,” Lozeau said. “I don’t think it’s going to require any dollars at all.”

Lozeau was unsure whether city legal counsel has met with North Concord to discuss an easement on another 3.5 acres that has been used as a city field for 16 years. The easement was recorded in January, and some have argued that it’s too restrictive when compared with the city’s original ordinance and intent for the field.

Lozeau said she was never involved in that discussion.

Lozeau said if the city failed to save the rest of the parcel from development, it was because of a lost opportunity in 2003 when the city first expressed interest in the land, prior to an eminent domain battle with Pennichuck in the long road to acquiring the water company.

“It’s easy for people to sit back and second-guess it or for people to say, ‘You could’ve handled it differently,’ but under the circumstances, with the cards that I was dealt, I think we did a good job,” Lozeau said.

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