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Apartment project 'perks' for school district raise eyebrows in Bedford

Union Leader Correspondent

October 11. 2018 9:29PM
This artist's rendering shows conceptual plans for four 3-story buildings for a total of 120 apartments to be constructed near Bedford High School. (COURTESY)

BEDFORD — Some local residents are questioning what they describe as “bargaining chips” being used by developers who are hoping to construct 120 apartments behind Bedford High School.

With several perks being offered to the school district in exchange for a sewer and water connection via the high school property, even school officials are questioning their role in the process.

“This is a big carrot dangling in front of us all,” said Kevin Gagne of Bedford, who has four children in the local school system.

Developers Dick Anagnost and Bill Greiner are proposing to build 120 apartments behind the high school campus, and would like to connect to sewer and water lines on the school property. In exchange, they are offering to work with Liberty Utilities to bring natural gas to McKelvie Intermediate School, the high school campus and administrative offices at no cost to the district.

They would also give the district $100,000 to convert some of the schools to natural gas and cover any related legal fees, build nearby sidewalks and align Chestnut Drive so that emergency crews would have a second entryway to the high school.

“The question really boils down to what kind of a deal are we working here,” said school board member Bill Foote. “There are certain size bags of money on the table, and we can get a small bag of money if they build the smallest possible apartment or the biggest bag of money if they go over the hill and tie in through us to go to the same lines that already exist.”

Those money bags, he said, would include savings in operating expenses if natural gas is used at the schools, as well as potential impact fees. According to Foote, the new development could be the fifth or sixth largest taxpayer in town, if approved.

Regardless, Foote said the school district’s approval is not necessary for the project to move forward, as the developers could connect to sewer and water elsewhere. In addition, he stressed that the water and sewer lines may have been purchased by the district when the high school was constructed, but they are now actually a part of the town’s development infrastructure and owned by the town.

“The school board was not elected to make town planning decisions,” board Chairman Jay Nash said this week.

Just because the school district is a neighbor to the development doesn’t mean school officials should be weighing in on certain topics associated with the project, he said.

“I don’t think that this is our place to play at all, actually ... I don’t know legally what we are actually giving away,” Nash told his fellow board members.

Greiner, in a letter to school officials, said that sewer and water connections like this are common in Bedford and other communities when utilities are present on town or school property.

“There are no taxpayer monies that are being asked for in this project. I just want to be clear that we are not asking for any subsidies,” Greiner said this week.

Neighbor concerns

Some residents are expressing concerns that residents will eventually have to bear some expense as a result of the project.

“I think we all agree there is no obligation to share these resources with developers, specifically to make their venture easier or more profitable, and I think they know that too,” said Gagne.

Becky Soule of New Boston Road said that although no direct taxpayer money is being requested, the new apartments would inevitably have an impact on the school system because of higher student enrollment.

“Yes, this development and other potential developments do run the risk of costing Bedford taxpayers money in some form ... I am hoping that the board will do the right thing and try to keep the (enrollment) numbers down,” said Soule.

A density variance will be required for the proposed 120 apartments to be built, and 114 units are necessary to generate enough demand for a gas line.

If the variance is not met, Greiner said in a letter to school officials that the former Shorty’s restaurant building nearby will be razed, meaning the added land to the density calculation would permit the development of 115 apartments without a variance.

More than 460 residents have signed a petition in opposition to the conceptual plan, which has not yet been formally submitted to the planning board.

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