Business neighbors to Elm Street developer: Let's talk
MANCHESTER - A developer's vision of a revamped block of Elm Street south of downtown is not shared by some neighboring businesses. Not yet, anyway.
So far, all they know for sure is Ronald Dupont asked the city to shut down an alley between Elm and Willow streets for a development project that's still a bit of a local mystery.
"We're all for growing the city and doing what's best for Manchester," said Marc Amiet, owner of Van Otis Chocolates. "But you cannot just railroad the little businesses. It needs to be fair."
Amiet was relieved to know the Board of Aldermen had tabled the proposal until owners of abutting properties receive more information about the development plans. So far, very little has been provided."They need to talk to us," Amiet said. "There is a clear process in place for these things, and it should be followed."Mayor Ted Gatsas said Dupont's plan is for a combination commercial/residential area to be built across from the new Market Basket in an area that's home to a handful of businesses, vacant buildings and lots overrun with weeds west of Valley Cemetery and a few blocks south of Verizon Wireless Arena."There's not too much revenue being generated at those buildings," Gatsas said. "I'm sure the developer wants to get in the ground and get started."Dupont, president of Red Oak Property Management and Oak Leaf LLC, did not respond to numerous messages left by the Sunday News last week at his office and on his cell phone.
He had a development plan in the works for the same area in 2008, when he wanted to bring a major commercial tenant to the old Goulet Supply Building, 379 Elm St., and rebuild the block around it with renters who wanted upscale apartments and additional development. It didn't happen.
The addition of the Market Basket last spring has brought some commercial traffic to the area, and Dupont filed papers with the city in January seeking to declare the streets private property. Kevin Sheppard, the Public Works Department, filed a letter with the Community Improvement Committee saying records indicated the alley is a private right of way and is not maintained by the department. "We're kind of eager to find out why the mayor and the public works director are trying to push this through," said Dick Hamel, owner of PHD Communications, 570 Willow St.Since 1910, Hamel's building has been directly behind what is now the Van Otis property, and both share the alley, known as Elm Street East Back.Amiet's property, at 341 Elm St., is just south of the buildings and vacant lots Dupont acquired years ago. The alley is not much of a thoroughfare, but has likely been in use since the development on south Elm early in the 20th century. Two old rail lines are still visible, poking up through the asphalt in a few spots leading toward the shipping docks for the chocolate company and Manchester Music Works, which is moving into the Van Otis building next month.
Members of the board of aldermen toured the area on Tuesday, when Dupont agreed to modify his request to only the northern section of the alley, leaving Van Otis and Manchester Music Mill's shipping zone free for the moment. But Dupont still wants the south end discontinued along with Summer Street, which is being used as a parking lot. "In order to start architectural plans, I need a footprint for the building," Dupont said at the site Tuesday.
Amiet and some of his neighbors aren't so sure about that logic. They feel Dupont, who has owned his properties since 2005, has the makings of a plan that he can share with others now.
"Nobody knows what he's trying to do there," said George Zioze, the longtime owner of the building north of Van Otis. "They should submit some kind of plan. What are they going to do with that? I'm concerned about the back alley. We've been using it for 40 years, and there was no question about anything."
Zioze has hired an attorney in case the stretch of alley behind his property is slated to be discontinued when Dupont's plans come before the aldermen again.
"That alley I will defend," Zioze said.
It may not come to that. Zioze and Amiet both said they would like to meet with Dupont, hear directly from him what he is planning and taking it from there. Right now, they aren't real clear on much, and the frustration level is growing.
"We're willing to talk to him, no question about it," Zioze said. "We should be able to come to some kind of agreement. I don't see why not."