February 11. 2013 10:44PM

In Nashua, land for park and ride plan has critics

Union Leader Correspondent

NASHUA - With aldermen set to vote tonight on whether to purchase land for a future park and ride lot and possibly a train station, residents voiced numerous concerns about the proposal on Monday.

Fewer than 10 local citizens attended a Ward 7 neighborhood meeting to discuss the merits of a $1.4 million land purchase by the city.

After nearly a year of postponements, the board of aldermen is set to vote today on whether to acquire two parcels at 25 Crown St. for the proposed park and ride lot. A handful of residents, however, say they have serious reservations about the land buy.

"What is this going to do to my property value, and what about crime?" asked Melissa Hammond, who lives next to the site. "When we add more cars, we are going to be adding more crime."

Traffic will significantly increase in the nearby neighborhoods once a park and ride lot is operational, said Hammond, who is concerned about how the small, narrow roadways will handle the additional cars. She said drugs and robberies are already a problem in the area and that she fears it will only get worse if more motorists are frequenting a park and ride site. If the city doesn't purchase the property, which is owned by Armstrong Cabinets, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said the parcel will eventually be acquired by someone else, most likely a developer.

"The way you change it is to add some life to it," said Lozeau, asking residents to have a vision for what the area could eventually become. "It doesn't have to be a dead spot."

There are currently two park and ride lots in Nashua, one at Exit 8 and another at Exit 5.

An estimated 38,000 vehicles travel along the East Hollis Street corridor near Crown Street where the parcel is located, explained Lozeau, saying it is a good commuter location. The last time the property was up for sale was in 1949, said the mayor, adding this is an ideal opportunity to plan for the future.

Officials also noted that this is the only downtown area that already has 800 feet of straight train track already in existence.

The proposed park and ride lot would accommodate a maximum of 250 vehicles, according to Kathy Hersh, community development director, who said vehicles would access the lot from Arlington Street and then take a left onto Crown Street.

"Back when I was an alderman, everyone was against this idea," said Paula Johnson.

Although the $1.4 million land purchase would be made using federal dollars and state toll credits, Johnson said tax dollars are still being spent on the project. She urged those in attendance to understand that the purchase is primarily for a train station, not a park and ride lot.

Lozeau said no decision has been made on whether to convert the property into a train station, saying that argument can be held once a rail study is completed in about 18 months. The goal, said Lozeau, is to preserve all of the options and look further at the neighborhood she admits has some challenges.

"But having a vacant building here is not going to be the answer to the problems," said Lozeau. She said Armstrong will be moving out of the facility, and she is hoping to change that area and move it in a positive direction.

Alderman June Caron, Ward 7, encouraged the residents to get involved in the local neighborhood crime watch and to report drug activity to police.

"I feel like I am an army of one here. It is like nobody cares," said Hammond.