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Developer sues Manchester, neighbors to push ahead south Elm Street redevelopment

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 02. 2013 10:20PM

MANCHESTER — A developer proposing a major redevelopment of a portion of south Elm Street has gone to court after failing to get aldermen to legally abandon unused street rights-of-way.

Oak Leaf Homes, LLC has filed suit against eight property owners and the city in Hillsborough Superior Court as it seeks sole ownership of alleys and passageways through its property between Elm and Willow streets.

The action is a “petition to quiet title,” a legal proceeding in which Oak Leaf asks the court to enforce its rights to the land over and despite any claims by abutting and nearby landowners. It also seeks ownership of a small sliver of land it claims was inadvertently left out of a previous deed.

Questions on a property’s title can hold up financing, since banks generally won’t lend money if they can’t be sure that the land on which they grant a mortgage really belongs to the borrower.

Oak Leaf principal Ron Dupont has proposed a $10 million, mixed-use project on the 1.75 acre site, including a four-story building with businesses on the first floor and 100-120 apartments above.

The dispute centers on rights nearby property owners claim to have in alleys and passageways that Oak Leaf argues it bought outright from prior owners.

Longtime property owners in the area say they have used the alleys that run through the land for parking, loading and other purposes for many years and Oak Leaf has no right to keep them from continuing to use the land. They claim the use is either an easement — which is the legal right to use the land of another property owner — or a public right-of-way.

Dupont and Oak Leaf first tried to settle the issue by petitioning the city to formally abandon its rights-of-way. But aldermen voted to dismiss the petition after Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur suggested that no matter how the board voted, the issue would end up in court.

Eight property owners are named as defendants in the case, along with the city of Manchester, which does not plan to assert any right to the land in court.

Assistant City Solicitor Thomas Arnold said Monday the city has filed a notice with the court stating it has no legal interest in the case, meaning it considers the dispute competing claims by private property owners.

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