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Nashua aldermen to make downtown a priority

Union Leader Correspondent

January 26. 2014 8:33PM

NASHUA — With the start of a new term in city government, the Board of Aldermen is hoping to focus some of its efforts on development in the downtown area and beyond.

Along with a proposal from Alderman-at-Large Jim Donchess to explore the possibility of selling or leasing the High Street parking lot to a future housing developer, members of the aldermanic Planning and Economic Development Committee are open to other ideas as well.

Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy said he is generally in favor of Donchess’ proposal, but does have concerns about selling a municipal parking lot and potentially losing control of what might actually be developed at the site once it is turned over.

“I think we need to be fairly careful,” McCarthy said last week.

He suggested that the committee meet regularly with the city’s Business and Industrial Development Authority for input and ideas on how to provide more market-rate housing for future Nashua residents. The committee, he added, needs to determine where the downtown is headed and how to promote more development in that area of the city.

There may be opportunities for the BIDA to acquire financing that is not taxed on behalf of developers, which might be something city officials should consider, according to McCarthy.

“We need to understand those things,” he said.

Alderman-at-Large Dan Moriarty, chairman of the committee, said the board is not bound to any recommendation BIDA makes, since it is not an elected body.

Moriarty encouraged each member of the committee to review the city’s master plan, as some of the work it will be assigned may directly impact the document.

In addition to the High Street proposal, McCarthy said he would like to learn more about a separate proposal from R.J. Finlay Co. at the Indian Head Plaza site, 30 Temple St., which could incorporate future parking, retail and residential housing.

While some aldermen may have seen preliminary plans for the project, McCarthy said it would be beneficial to have the developers share their upcoming plans with the committee.

“I think it is an interesting project,” said McCarthy, noting the proposal may have some challenges that city officials may be able to assist.

The important thing, said McCarthy, is trying to find the right balance of development, retail and housing surrounding Main Street. This should be an important topic the committee should prioritize and discuss this term, maintained McCarthy.

Alderman-at-Large Diane Sheehan agreed, saying she would like to review some of the city’s zoning regulations and master plan to make sure the documents are aligned appropriately to encourage the right type of development to improve the city.

She also suggested that the committee determine how much downtown retail space is full, as city officials should be hoping and planning for 100 percent capacity.

Donchess’ first initiative in the new year is addressing a shortage of rental housing in the downtown area. He has drafted a proposed resolution that — if approved by the Board of Aldermen — would allow the city to issue a Request for Proposals for the development of residential housing and possibly other mixed uses at the High Street parking lot site.

“I am convinced that we need to bring more people to live in the downtown area,” Donchess said last week. “The more people we can bring to the downtown, the better.”

He is recommending that housing be constructed on the parking lot property that could offer at least 60 units, and be built at least four-stories high. Currently, the lot holds up to 75 parking spaces.

Donchess admits that his proposal will need a lot of debate and discussion, and will likely not be approved quickly. Still, he maintains that the issue of providing more downtown housing must be addressed soon, even if his resolution is not supported.

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