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Apartment developer makes his case for building in southeastern part of Manchester

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 20. 2017 11:16PM
Elizabeth Voyiatzakis of Lucas Road in Manchester says her rural area is not the right location for a 165-unit apartment complex. (Allegra Boverman/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — During three City Hall meetings over three months, residents of Lucas and South Mammoth Road desperately and sometimes loudly fought a luxury townhouse apartment rezoning request they maintain would forever change one of the last rural enclaves in the city.

“I want somebody with a vested interest in keeping the land nice and this plan just won’t keep it that way,” said Elizabeth Voyiatzakis of 411 Lucas Road.

Well-known developer William Socha got his turn at bat last week and made the most of it, filling the Manchester aldermanic chamber with employees, friends and residents of his other complexes.

Their message? This development will produce $23 million in construction and generate $1.1 million to city coffers in the first year and $600,000 every year after that in local property taxes.

“I want to thank all those who are here; many are employees, subcontractors — they can attest to the positive impact a development like this will have on the local economy,” Socha told the aldermen.

Former Manchester alderman Garth Corriveau returned to City Hall to say his unit at the Socha-run, Hidden Oak Way Apartments at the other end of the city off Hackett Hill Road is the kind of project the city needs to keep young people like him from exiting once they finish school.

“Our city needs residences for millennials,” Corriveau said. “These residences proposed are very similar to where I live; they are terrific places to attract professionals and young families.”

The request is to approve rezoning three privately held parcels from single-family to suburban multi-family.

From foe to fan

In response to criticism of his initial plan, Socha reduced his project from 200 units to 165, increased the size of the buffer and turned Steve Slater of 275 Lucas Road from opponent to supporter.

“My goal is to retain the rural feel and privacy we are afforded by this section of Manchester,” Slater said, stressing the construction will be off South Mammoth Road and the buildings will not front Lucas Road.

“He was paying attention; he has listened to the residents,” he said.

David Giovagnoli of 725 South Mammoth Road said that he would like to build single-family homes but as a nearby abutter, he opposed this project due to density, and not to block Socha’s bid.

“I am not trying to steal it from him,” Giovagnoli said, charging that residents of the area don’t have the clout of those living in the North End.

“If this was going up in Ward 1, this would never fly, but it’s going in the South End and we have no say here,” he said.

Sheila McDonough, Socha’s sister and business partner, said the units will be priced at $1,900 per month and if they are like residents of Hidden Oak Way, there will be few school-age children living there.

“We do have a vested interest in the community. We are everyone’s neighbor in these developments,” McDonough said. “We walked the residences on Lucas Road. We take pride in our properties and tried to assure everyone this will be something they can all be proud of.”

Rural enclave

The New Hampshire Union Leader profiled the area and reported on the controversy last month.

On upper Lucas Road — in the southeastern corner of the city abutting the Londonderry town line — there’s no water or sewer service; the oiled, unimproved road with boulders poking through the surface is so rough city school buses won’t travel it.

Fisher cats, raccoons, skunks, possum, woodchucks, wild turkey and deer roam the 51 acres of Yiannis and Elizabeth Voyiatzakis.

Celine Bilodeau, of 165 Lucas Road, said opposition is strong in her neighborhood.

“All my neighbors are against this rezoning, they almost all are,” Bilodeau said.

“Those you are hearing tonight, they are all speaking from their own personal self-interest; none of them is going to have this built in their backyard,” she said at last week’s meeting.

Michael Porter said he is not an abutter, but a Ward 8 resident. He urged aldermen to recognize this is one of the few “low-density” tracts left for single-family homes.

“There are maybe four or five pockets left in this city. This is the largest available property for single-family homes in Manchester for low-density. Yes, that is significant,” Porter said.

He asked: “Is this project good for Manchester?”

A losing battle?

During an earlier committee meeting on the project last Tuesday, some aldermen spoke openly about suspending the rules and then securing the two-thirds majority needed to pass the rezoning on the spot.

Instead just before midnight, the aldermen voted to refer the measure to committee, which means the same board will have to endorse it two more times.

Only two aldermen opposed this initial step; Ward 8 Alderman Tommy Katsiantonis and Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza.

Sapienza’s brother, Ed Sapienza, is one of three candidates running to replace the retiring Katsiantonis in Ward 8. He has stated his opposition to the project.

The final vote on the rezoning won’t likely come until a board meeting in October.

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