, Derry, New Hampshire

October 31, 2013

Editorial: Get town-owned properties back into private hands

Derry News

---- — It makes little sense for a community to purchase land when town leaders have no clear idea what to do with it.

In Derry, the Town Council is split on what to do with two pieces of property the town purchased without any solid plan for their use. In 2008, the town purchased the 1-acre former Difeo Oil site on Central Court for $225,000. Then in January, the council paid $173,000 for a 0.09-acre parcel at 8 Central St.

The Town Council in May rejected the purchase of a third parcel, a multi-family house at 1 Sawyer Court, by a vote of 4-3.

There was some general idea that these three centrally located parcels would be used to support downtown development by “improving access” or expanding parking. But no solid plan was ever put forth.

Good for those on the council who blocked the Sawyer Court purchase in May. There’s no sense in throwing good money after bad. Too bad, however, that eight units of residents were displaced before the council made up its collective mind. Waffling has consequences and these people paid a price for the council’s lack of direction.

Now, what to do with the two downtown parcels the town still owns?

Councilor Tom Cardon wants to make a park.

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

Cardon said it’s time for the town to get away from the idea of parking and building purchases.

“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.”

He’s right about that. But the idea of turning these downtown properties -- which are well off the main strip of West Broadway -- into a park seems like another nebulous plan that has not been thought through completely.

We’re inclined to agree with Councilor Neil Wetherbee and others, who say now is the wrong time to be committing taxpayers to spending more money.

“Parks cost money in terms of construction and upkeep,” 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.”

Wetherbee said it’s time to try to recoup the purchase price for the two parcels.

“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.

That’s the idea the town is exploring with the former Pinkerton Tavern property at 13 Manchester Road. A deal for the 1.38-acre parcel appears to be in the works. The town will hold two public hearings on property’s future. The first will be Nov. 5, the second is Nov. 19. Both meetings begin at 7:30 p.m. in the municipal center’s third-floor meeting room.

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

Holding vacant, unused property serves little purpose for a community. These empty lots can even be liabilities, attracting trash and illicit activity. It is much better to put these properties back into private hands and encourage their productive use. Doing so improves the chances they will be well maintained and a source of tax revenue for the community.

That’s the option Derry should pursue with its town-owned properties.