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Monday, March 4, 2013

Nonpublic minutes reveal the city courting Gate City Fence for potential land swap to bring mix of uses, mixed income homes to Tree Streets

NASHUA – The city is courting a downtown business for a potential land swap that could one day bring more single- and multifamily homes into the Tree Streets neighborhood, nonpublic meeting minutes show.

Four months ago, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, Broad Street Parkway manager John Vancor, and several city division heads entered a two-hour nonpublic session with the Board of Aldermen to discuss surplus properties and the moving pieces related to the Broad Street Parkway. They closed the doors citing a state statute that allows officials to meet privately when discussing the sale or lease of property, which, if discussed publicly, could benefit opposing parties’ interests. ...

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NASHUA – The city is courting a downtown business for a potential land swap that could one day bring more single- and multifamily homes into the Tree Streets neighborhood, nonpublic meeting minutes show.

Four months ago, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau, Broad Street Parkway manager John Vancor, and several city division heads entered a two-hour nonpublic session with the Board of Aldermen to discuss surplus properties and the moving pieces related to the Broad Street Parkway. They closed the doors citing a state statute that allows officials to meet privately when discussing the sale or lease of property, which, if discussed publicly, could benefit opposing parties’ interests.

In December, the board first unsealed the bulk of the 33 pages of meeting minutes, but kept 22 sections redacted until last Tuesday. Aldermen voted unanimously to unseal those last week, in light of a communication from Lozeau.

Most of the deletions dealt with a vision the city has for a 4.5 acre block downtown, bounded by Ledge and Pine streets, Stevens Avenue and the city’s Rail Trail, half of which could house more single- or multifamily homes.

But the city will first have to reach a deal with Forrence Millhouse LLC, which owns part of the block and Gate City Fence, to make the area whole for the city’s vision. A half-acre owned by Forrence Millhouse on site is surrounded by several properties the city owns as surplus from the Broad Street Parkway.

The nonpublic session in October partially had to happen because, “We hadn’t had that conversation yet,” Lozeau said, referring to Gate City Fence and the city.

A few other redactions from the meeting are for property appraisals on surplus Broad Street Parkway property and a request for proposals to relocate a historic pump house from the Millyard for the roadway.

“We’re not really negotiating,” Lozeau said, referring to the city’s conversations with Gate City Fence. “We’ve put it on the table for them to consider, and we’re waiting for them to talk to us more about it.”

The city is eyeing land Gate City Fence uses for storage; the business operates on two parcels facing each other across Ledge Street.

“There’s a real opportunity here for us to restore that neighborhood grid and to add some residential to this neighborhood,” Community Development director Kathy Hersh told aldermen about the block, according to minutes. “It fits really well with the park that we recently completed at the corner of Ledge and Pine streets, and it fits very well actually with the rail trail which is just south of this.”

The 4.5-acre block, including the Gate City Fence’s piece, sits nearly adjacent to Palm Square, and includes Park Social at Labine, a city park recently completed at the former site of the Labine Building, which burned down in 2010. It also includes several privately owned residences, Lozeau said, leaving about two acres that could potentially be developed for mixed uses, including new single- or multifamily housing.

For Gate City Fence’s share, Hersh told aldermen that the business has suggested relocating its storage across the Nashua Canal, behind its other facility, on city-owned land.

The city’s piece in the Gate City Fence land swap might come in 82 Pine St. Ext. – another surplus Broad Street Parkway property – which is in the Millyard, across the canal from Gate City Fence; it is 1.5 acres and includes the Stanley Elevator building, which the Nashua Police Department has been using for training since 2003.

The Police Department has always known its use of the building was temporary, Lozeau has said.

What’s more, when the city takes down Baldwin Street Bridge for a new Broad Street Parkway connector, it could link Gate City Fence to its new storage space and open up a connection into Mine Falls Park, officials said.

“Where that strip is that Gate City Fence owns, it’s really kind of in a key position to how that might get redeveloped,” explained Lozeau, according to minutes released Tuesday. “We’ve had conversations that are not public with Palm View. We’ve had discussions with the Housing Authority about rebuilding this area. It’s really, as you look at it, really part of that Tree Street area. It’s also interesting to note that the size of Bronstein is almost equivalent to the size of the area where all those homes have been wiped out.”

The Bronstein Apartments, owned by the Nashua Housing Authority, sit about two blocks from the 4.5-acre site discussed in October’s nonpublic session. The authority is currently working on a draft application for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to raze the housing development, which could force 48 low-income families who live at Bronstein to relocate.

That doesn’t mean Lozeau plans to uproot the development and to place it on the 4.5 acre block under consideration, she said.

“When you look at a project like Bronstein, and you know that you have to rehouse people, you look to see if the community can do that,” Lozeau told The Telegraph on Wednesday.

The city’s Tree Streets Neighborhood Overview and Analysis presented to aldermen in October also suggests the 4.5-acre block could be used for “artists’ lofts, home offices and neighborhood-sale shops.”

“My goal is residential,” Lozeau said. “This is also a potential opportunity for public health. You could do both, I think. I just think there’s opportunities there.”

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