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Littleton residents defend their turf

Special to the Union Leader

January 15. 2013 10:38PM
Bill Freeland, who lives in Littleton, but not at Parker Village, rejected a number of claims made by Littleton attorney Brien Ward regarding criminal activity at Parker Village. (BOB HOOKWAY PHOTO)

LITTLETON - At a selectmen's meeting that had to be moved to the Littleton Opera House to accommodate the large turnout, Parker Village residents and managers fired back at a local attorney who called for town officials to declare the 50-unit housing development a public nuisance.

Brien Ward complained to selectmen last month that an unusually high number of serious crimes take place at the development just north of downtown Littleton on Route 116. He asked the board to encourage state and federal housing officials to close it by March 1 and find other homes for the approximately 125 tenants who live there, including 65 children.

Ward - who blamed the development's managers for what he said was their lack of proper oversight - faced about 75 people Monday, most of them Parker Village residents.

"We're not criminals," said resident Barbara Fedele, 80. "I love it over there, and I want to stay there," she told the selectmen.

Paul Stewart's Bedford-based firm, Stewart Property Management, oversees the housing development. He appeared Monday evening and also took exception to Ward's figures, describing his allegations as "cruel" stereotyping of residents.

He said the statistics Ward presented regarding police department calls to Parker Village were skewed, and did not, for example, take into consideration its higher population when comparing it to other local housing developments.

Stewart said his firm manages 115 properties, including others in Littleton and in the North Country communities of Bethlehem, Groveton, Gorham and North Stratford.

He said Parker Village tenants' financial status is "very low income and extremely low income," and included seniors and residents with disabilities.

"I am not here to tell you that Parker Village is without flaws. No system based on human activity can make that claim. But I can tell you unequivocally that Parker Village is a viable and successful community that provides decent, well-maintained, affordable housing and an exceptional social benefit to the community," he said.

Stewart said all applicants for housing are screened and their criminal records are examined. An on-site manger has been present to handle the day-to-day operation, he said.

Pauline DiNatale, Stewart's on-site manager, told an applauding crowd and the selectmen, "We are not a community of criminals, nor are we a public nuisance."

Ward said in an interview Tuesday that he had never called Parker Village residents criminals. He pointed out that he had said earlier his concern over violent incidents at Parker Village included his worries about the safety of the residents there. That was in light of a stabbing that resulted in a long prison term being given last year to a former Parker Village resident, and more recent assault cases, including a police investigation of a sexual assault on a 14-year-old victim, and complaints of criminal threatening and stalking.

Ward went to the front of the meeting Monday to go over some of the figures he had relied on. He did not repeat his call for the units to be closed and the residents to be relocated.

"This is not a cause for me; it's a problem," Ward said Tuesday. "It's now in the hands of the selectmen to decide on the appropriate action."

Board Chairwoman Marghie Seymour said the selectmen would continue to examine the matter before deciding on a course of action.

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