Debate Continues Over Fate of Town Properties Downtown

The Abbott Court/Central Court town-owned properties were reviewed by the Town Council.

Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau provided an historical perspective on the parcels, which were purchased for potential redevelopment in 2006, 2009 and 2013. “The area has access to municipal sewer and water and may be attractive to developers seeking to build residential units or commercial space close to downtown,” he said at the April 1 meeting. The parcels are located in the Central Business District.

Budreau wrote that the parcels were included in the Downtown Redevelopment Plan created by consultant Stu Arnett in 2010, and that Arnett provided several conceptual scenarios. The Derry Downtown Committee, which was active at the time, endorsed Concept D, including mixed-use buildings heading south along Merchants Row, green space, a skateboard park, parking, farmers’ market stalls and other features along the bike path and railroad bed.

The memo states the area is still a candidate for private redevelopment, and suggested uses include a public park, an idea endorsed by Councilor Tom Cardon; a community garden; or as the site for a new Central Fire Station, replacing the one on East Broadway near the traffic circle.

The last potential use drew fire from at least one local resident, former Town Councilor Janet Fairbanks. Fairbanks pointed out that the former Central Fire Station, now the Halligan Tavern, was deemed too expensive to repair, at an estimate of $180,000, and residents were also told that the site was not “central” enough for a Central Fire Station.

“This parcel we’re considering,” Fairbanks said, “is 1/10 a mile from the site of the former fire station.”

Fairbanks said a fire station would not put the property back on the tax rolls, as municipal buildings do not pay property taxes.

“If we build a new Central Fire Station, we have to make sure it’s centrally located,” Cardon said.

Derry Fire Chief George Klauber said there were no plans at present to replace the Central Fire Station. “We are in the process of looking at all the stations,” he said in a phone interview Monday. “We go out six years with the Capital Improvement Plan.”

He said the Central Station “meets our needs now.”

He added, “Larry as the Acting Town Administrator came to all the department heads and asked our opinions before they did something with the property. My answer was, ‘Look at it before you sell it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Councilor Michael Fairbanks said in his opinion, the parcels should be sold. “I would like to see us pursue an RFP (Request for Proposals) to have it sold and developed,” he said.

New Councilor Joshua Bourdon cautioned against haste. “If the Downtown Committee is being reborn, it makes sense to invite them in on this. More viewpoints will balance it out,” Bourdon said.

“This time,” Bourdon said, “we have the opportunity to get it right.” But he added that he would like to see the parcels sold.

“We’ve been going around and around on downtown,” Councilor Al Dimmock said. “We ended up with this property because people were pushing ‘downtown.’” He noted that Hood Park was not too far from downtown. “What are we going to do, have parks on every corner?” he asked.

Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said she wanted to “hang on” to the property a little longer, at least until the town hired a Community Development Director.

Dimmock noted three of the parcels, 1, 2 and 3 Central Court, were previously owned by oil companies. “This is contaminated soil,” Dimmock said. “As it’s disturbed, it will bring out the contamination.”

Budreau addressed that in the memo, noting that the three properties in question were used for fuel storage and/or distribution dating back to the mid-1900s. “Redevelopment for commercial, industrial, public safety or passive recreation such as a park would require little or no additional environmental cleanup beyond long-term groundwater monitoring,” he wrote. Residential development is another matter, Budreau wrote, and would require “additional limited cleanup” and a formal environmental risk assessment.

Budreau urged the Council to narrow the possibilities so they could better plan for the use, and strongly urged them to consider hiring a Community Development Coordinator, for which he has made provision in the proposed 2015 budget.

No action was taken.