Planning Board Reviews Town-Owned Properties for Auction

The Derry Planning Board has added its recommendation for the sale of several town-owned properties.

At its Feb. 19 session, the board met with Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau and Chief Financial Officer Frank Childs to go over the list of properties that are being “vetted” by town boards before being sold at auction.

The properties were first reviewed by the Council Feb. 4. There are 11 properties on the list from 2012, plus four pieces that did not sell at auction in 2011. Of the 11 properties from 2012, three have houses on them and eight are land-only, Childs said.

Childs said the vetting process determines that a property should not be sold but retained. The town has “vetted” 150 pieces of property, which are listed in the Assessor’s Data Base.

Planning Director George Sioras explained that the Planning Board, Heritage Commission and Conservation Commission are asked to review the properties and make recommendations on which ones they think should be kept and which sold. Their recommendations will be forwarded to the Town Council, he said.

Budreau told the board the vetting process made it possible for town boards to have input on what properties are worth keeping. For example, he said, Heritage might want a piece kept because it has an historic home, Conservation might want the wetlands, or Planning might see it as an accessory to future development plans.

Planning Board Chairman David Granese said he had gone on the town’s GIS (Geographic Information System) maps to look at the properties. Most of the lots are non-buildable, he said, with the majority featuring wetlands.

Vice-Chair John O’Connor said he saw a discrepancy at one of the properties, 46 Scenic Drive. While he was told it had no frontage on a town road, the map he printed showed a driveway, he said.

Sioras explained that when the road was built in the 1970s, the developers left rights-of-way on paper for possible future access. The property is adjacent to the Ernest P. Barka School, he said, adding, “The town knew there would be a school there some day.”

O’Connor also noted that 90 Goodhue Drive is a “giant’ piece of land at almost 8 acres, but has no access. “How can we open that up?” he said.

Sioras said many of the properties in the southeast corner of Derry are large tracts that were family-owned and predate Derry zoning.

O’Connor suggested having Budreau and the Town Council look at the landlocked pieces and see how the town can open them for use.

The board expressed interest in another piece, 45 Hunter Drive, which is adjacent to East Derry Memorial School. O’Connor suggested holding on to that piece for possible use by the Derry Cooperative School District. In view of declining enrollment, the district may need to close a school, he said, and this would give East Derry room to expand to take in the extra children.

Board member Jan Choiniere asked Budreau and Childs if they sought a “minimum price” when they attempted to sell unwanted town land. Childs said the parcels are sold at auction, with a goal not of making money per se but of getting them back on the tax rolls. The recent sale of the Pinkerton Tavern on Manchester Road was a special situation, he said. But generally, “The town is not interested in being in the real estate business.”

Budreau said the properties on the list came to the town by tax deeding. “Our default response,” he said, “is to sell them as quickly as possible and get them back on the tax rolls.”

The town contracts with the James St. Jean auctioneering firm, which does all the advertising and prep work, Childs said.

Board members Darrell Park, Ann Alongi and Choiniere wondered why the town doesn’t just sell all the properties.

But O’Connor said, “Some of these are pure wetlands. They could be used in the future for wetlands mitigation.”

Park suggested the Planning Board endorse the current list of 11 pieces, with the exception of 45 Hunter Drive, which would be retained for possible School District use.

In a straw poll, the board voted 7-0 to recommend the list with the exception of 45 Hunter Drive.