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Developer proposes housing project in Hackett Hiil section eyed for technology park

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 02. 2014 10:42PM

MANCHESTER — A developer wants to build senior housing in a part of the city long eyed for an industrial and technology park, but he’s likely to face resistance from the aldermen.

Developer Richard Danais is proposing to modify the Research Park Zoning District in the Hackett Hill section of the city, where he owns 12 parcels of land designated the Northwest Business Park.

The area was zoned more than a decade ago to be the site of a technology and research cluster. Those plans did not materialize, and four years ago the city entered talks with Danais, who was to buy the land to develop the industrial park along with a new fire station.

Those plans faltered, too, and the city ended up bonding and building the fire station on its own. On Tuesday, the aldermen’s Bills on Second Reading Committee considered — and narrowly rejected — a proposal drawn up by Danais’ attorney, Jason Craven, to change the zoning to allow for residential housing for those 55 and older.

In a letter to the aldermen, Craven wrote: “Through the extensive marketing efforts of the owners, it has become evident that there is a significant market in Manchester for housing for the elderly and those over the age of 55, as well as assisted-living facilities.”

Craven said that altering the zoning would “result in significant economic activity in the area, including substantial temporary (construction) and permanent jobs, as well as meaningful tax revenues to the city, while continuing to maintain an area that could attract other uses within the Research Park Zoning District.”

The committee, however, voted 3-2 to recommend rejecting any changes to the zoning. Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur said the area could become more attractive to employers with the planned overhaul of Exit 7 off Interstate 293, including its possible relocation. “It may look tempting at this point, senior housing, but Exit 7 is going to change the whole area,” he said. “We need jobs. They said it’s going to bring some construction jobs; they build it and leave.”

Alderman Dan O’Neil, who is chairman of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, said the city needed to stick with the original plan for the area, which he called one of the “last opportunities” for a large-scale commercial development in Manchester.

“In all honesty, the developer didn’t meet his obligation for the fire station,” O’Neil said.

“Mr. Danais did good things out in east Manchester, but he signed the deal. At one point, we talked about the site for a prison. I don’t want to fall into that. We need to be talking about jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The Bills on Second Reading Committee normally only takes up proposals after they’re approved by the full board, but it does deal with technical changes to zoning ordinances.

The matter will still be addressed by the full board, when its votes whether to back the committee’s recommendation.

The senior housing plan has the support of Alderman Keith Hirschmann, who represents Ward 12, where the land is located. Hirschmann was the ward alderman in the late 1990s and was involved in creating the original master plan that resulted in the research park zoning.

He noted that only one company had come to the area despite the earnest marketing efforts of the city and others.

“In my eyes, senior housing is not a bad situation for Manchester,” he said. “It wouldn’t impact us in a negative way. And we’re aging; the baby boomers are coming up.”

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