LITTLETON - An attorney and prominent longtime resident is asking town officials to shut down a 50-unit apartment complex, calling the site a hotbed of criminal activity and a danger to public health and safety.
Brien Ward, a former deputy Grafton County attorney, appeared before selectmen Monday night. Speaking as a private citizen, he asked them to declare Parker Village a public nuisance, relocate residents and close it by March 1.
The principal of the Bedford-based firm that manages the complex, meanwhile, took exception Tuesday to Ward's comments. Paul Stewart said he's looking forward to meeting with the board Jan. 14 to defend Stewart Property Management's oversight of the complex.
"We manage 75 other properties in New Hampshire. All we do is manage property. There are lots and lots of good folks at Parker Village," he said of the property just north of the downtown business district on Route 116.
At Monday's meeting, Ward cited a number of recently published news items involving the complex. They included a drug-related stabbing that resulted in a long prison term for one resident, another threat involving a knife, a sexual assault, and a raid by U.S. Marshals at the apartments that netted the arrest of a fugitive from justice.
"There's a series of police reports. There is rampant criminal activity at Parker Village," Ward told the three members of the board before a packed meeting room of about 40 people Monday. He laid the blame squarely on the property managers. Stewart also maintains a local office on Cottage Street in Littleton.
"This is not a failure whatsoever of the Littleton Police Department," said Ward, adding that police had responded appropriately in all instances. "It's a community problem."
Ward recommended giving property managers 90 days to close the complex and relocate residents to "safe assisted housing." He also asked the selectmen to request that New Hampshire officials cease payment of all state and federal Parker Village housing assistance to Stewart, which also operates as Great Bridge Littleton LLC.
Stewart labeled Ward's accusations unfair.
"I would say generally he did a disservice to the people to characterize the people the way he did. To paint all of them as some cabal of criminals is unfair. I would definitely challenge that. On Jan. 14, I will be there to be able to respond," he said.
Stewart said the units are occupied by residents who qualify for federal "Section 8" housing, meaning they pay 30 percent of their apartment rent and the government pays the difference.
Selectmen Chairman Marghie Seymour told Ward the board would take his recommendations under advisement.
Ward also urged the board to get New Hampshire state and federal officials - including U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte and New Hampshire Executive Councilor Ray Burton - involved.
"The senator's office is in the process of learning more about this," Ayotte spokesman Jeff Grappone said Tuesday. Burton did not return a message left for him Tuesday. A spokesman at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development office in Boston referred questions to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Agency, where a call late Tuesday was not immediately returned.
- - - - - - - -Bob Hookway may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.