, Derry, New Hampshire

April 10, 2014

Councilors mull future of town-owned property

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — Downtown property talk continues as town councilors now plan a workshop to tackle the specifics of a potential plan.

The Town Council has held public hearings on the town-owned, former oil company properties on Central and Abbot Courts, a longstanding topic for discussion.

The properties were used for fuel storage and distribution activities, dating back to the 1990s. The finishing work on cleaning up those properties is underway.

Many ideas for future use of the lots have been kicked around for years, from park plans to multi-use retail/business combinations to a new West Broadway fire station.

At a meeting April 1, councilors decided it was time to hold a workshop specifically on the downtown property.

Chairman Mark Osborne called any potential land plan a “large undertaking” and one warranting a special workshop.

Councilor Michael Fairbanks said the town should pursue a definite plan to have the property developed somehow.

In 2010, a downtown redevelopment plan was drawn up by then town consultant Stu Arnett, presenting several options to the Town Council and Downtown Committee.

In a March 2011 report, the downtown group supported a plan showing mixed-use buildings along with green space, parking, a skateboard park and even a location for the town’s farmers market.

Ideas were floated around building a new fire station there, but many now feel that location would not be suitable.

“If they are going to build a new fire station, they should put it in a better location and not down there,” Councilor Tom Cardon said.

Fairbanks said he hadn’t even heard of a potential fire station plan.

“That got me by surprise,” he said. “I’m not sure where that came from. That would be a real bad spot for a fire station.”

Some think the town should sell the property and profit from added tax revenue.

“We ended up with that property because people were pushing for the downtown area,” Councilor Al Dimmock said. “What are we going to do, have parks at every corner? That’s a ridiculous idea.”

Dimmock wants to sell.

“And we don’t need any more parking,” he said. “We need to sell it and get it back on the tax rolls.”

Councilors also talked about working on an anti-blight ordinance for the downtown area. The town had worked on this back in 2008, but no plan was ever approved.

“They had good intentions back then,” Osborne said. “But sometimes things don’t happen as quickly as we’d like.”

Osborne wants to start a subcommittee that would include councilors, fire officials, code enforcement staff and downtown supporters to work on a potential anti-blight effort.

“This is an area that could be best served rolling up our sleeves and getting around a smaller table,” Osborne said.

The town’s legal counsel would give input as to whether this type of ordinance could be drafted in town, Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau said.