, Derry, New Hampshire

October 24, 2013

Future of downtown land in question

Councilors discuss the options, including a park

By Julie Huss

---- — DERRY — Town Councilors are trying to figure out what to do with two pieces of property the town purchased, with no clear plans for developing.

The parcels include the former Difeo oil land at Central Court and 8 Central St.

The town bought the 1-acre Difeo site in 2008 for $225,000, then paid $173,000 for the Central Street site, 0.09 acres, in January. The building was razed this summer.

But the third piece of the plan, a multi-family house at 1 Sawyer Court, fell to the curb in May when councilors voted, 4-3, not to buy it.

The original intent of the purchases was to spark downtown development, with “improved access” and perhaps more parking. That didn’t happen, so now councilors are thinking about what comes next.

Town Councilor Tom Cardon would like to see a park.

“It is a perfect location next to the bike trail and one block from the downtown,” he said.

But other members of the council are reluctant to place any new burden on taxpayers.

“Parks cost money in terms of construction and upkeep,” Town Councilor Neil Wetherbee said.”They also don’t generate any tax revenue. Given our budgetary situation, I personally don’t know where that money would come from.”

In fact, Wetherbee said, maybe it’s time to try to recoup the purchase price.

“I think we owe it to (the taxpayers) to explore ways to sell/develop it and recoup our money and get it back on the tax rolls,” he said.

In the meantime, Public Works employees are cleaning up the Difeo site and may grade and seed it in the future. If that happens, Parks and Recreation would keep the site mowed.

Cardon wants a park and said the Conservation Commission might be able to help.

“I have to think there is money somewhere to help build a park in a depressed downtown,” he said.

Another piece of town-owned property is up for sale.

Councilors will host two public hearings on a potential land deal at 13 Manchester Road, the former site of the Pinkerton Tavern.

The tavern was razed two years ago to make way for the Manchester Road expansion and the 1.38-acre lot has been for sale since. There has been interest in the property, but no details will be available until the public hearings, Wetherbee said. That property is assessed at $255,500.

“I am hopeful we can get that property back on the tax rolls as well,” he said.

A first hearing on the Manchester Road property is Nov. 5, the second is Nov. 19. Both meetings begin at 7:30 p.m. in the municipal center’s third-floor meeting room.

Cardon continues to hold out hope for a downtown park.

“For too many years, people have been focusing on parking and what buildings the town can buy,” he said. “If the town can remove itself from parking and property purchase, and focus on something else, they might have a shot at doing something.”