, Derry, New Hampshire

May 30, 2013

Councilors nix plan to purchase downtown land

Derry councilors opt not to purchase

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — A proposal to purchase downtown property was almost a done deal, some officials thought, until a final vote last week killed the plan.

A plan to purchase an eight-unit, multifamily building on Sawyer and Abbott Courts fell to the curb after councilors denied the plan, 4-3.

The three new councilors — Mark Osborne, Tom Cardon and Al Dimmock, along with Council Chairman Michael Fairbanks, voted against the purchase.

In January, the former council approved spending about $173,000 for another multifamily building at 8 Central St. near Sawyer Court to give a boost to Broadway, make easier access to the Abbott Court parking area, and to make the downtown more attractive to potential businesses and those who live and visit there.

Last week’s proposal was for a second property the town hoped to purchase to complete a real estate deal. The cost was $375,000 for the building, plus another $125,000 to raze both structures.

The town owns other properties in that area, including the former DiFeo oil site.

But it came down to some councilors wishing they had more information on what the property would be used for.

Former town councilor Kevin Coyle said it didn’t make sense to purchase this property and questioned why the deal had proceeded as far as it had.

The town entered into a purchase and sales agreement back in November for the second Sawyer Court property and the building’s tenants have already moved out. A closing date was aset for next month.

“Derry has a poor history, especially in the downtown,” Coyle said, “of speculating with our money. This is a bad idea. If it were a good idea, a private developer would have come in and developed it already.”

Councilor Brad Benson’s family lumber and hardware business is on Broadway. He took some heat over a vacant old gas station on his property.

Some called it an eyesore and a detriment to the downtown’s appearance.

Benson said the building’s end was near.

“Within 30 days, the gas station will be gone,” he said. “We hadn’t done it yet; the timing wasn’t right.”

Many said the downtown is dying a long and painful death. Without a definite plan to bring it back to life, residents said it was hard to support the latest real estate deal.

“We don’t have any information or any plans for this property,” Kelly Martin said. “You should allow taxpayers to see a full plan before you go forward.”

Local real estate broker and property owner Steve Trefethen said he wants downtown Derry to succeed, but needed more information before he could support the latest purchase.

“What is the true town intention for those properties?” Steve Trefethen asked. “And this piece of land does not front anything. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Mike Gendron wants the downtown to grow and thrive. He is a founding member of the Derry Downtown Committee and a strong supporter of Derry’s Opera House and its programming.

“I wish to see our downtown become more economically vibrant,” he said. “This is exactly the time to invest in Derry’s future.”

He said by not buying this property the town was missing out on a great opportunity.

“You vote no, it will stay like it is, or you put out a Request for Proposal to the world and ask them to make it attractive to them,” Gendron said. “Every time we have a chance to do something good for the town, we screw it up.”