A Manchester developer said he’s giving up on the land off Hackett Hill Road that was once touted as a prime setting for a high-end corporate park, after he and city officials disagreed over the future of the property.
Richard Danais said he marketed the land for six years but was unable to find corporate offices or even industrial employers interested in the property. Danais said, however, he could build townhouses and other multi-family residential units on the land, which abuts dense residential developments.
“We tried for six years, and we don’t want to continue to do it,” said Danais, a former Republican state senator. “They (the city) have a different concept than we do. Let them try.”
The city wants the land to remain as is — a potential spot for corporate offices and research facilities, or industrial and warehouse space if that doesn’t work out.
“If you look at the success we’re having in the Millyard, we’re close to capacity there,” said Mayor Joyce Craig. “The city needs a place that’s appropriate for when that happens.”
Although an auction is scheduled, Danais thinks no one will offer the $1.8 million asking price. Craig expects the city will end up taking possession of the land.
Danais borrowed money from the city six years ago to acquire the land. He faithfully made the $10,000 a month in interest-only payments. But when the debt came due this spring, he would only pay the principal balance if the city rezoned the land for residential, he said.
Manchester city officials have advertised an auction of 88 acres that comprise the Northwest Business Park. The auction is sent for Dec. 14; the assessed value of the lots amounts to $1.58 million, according to the advertisement.
Decades ago, the University of New Hampshire acquired the land and planned to build a Manchester campus there. Today, the land has a post-apocalyptic feel to it, with a deserted, crumbling road lined with street lights. Fire hydrants are in the brush. Cellular antennas ring a city water tower. And the forest is slowly taking over an unused parking lot.
Once UNH-Manchester opted for the Millyard, the city acquired the land and dubbed it the Northwest Research Park. The plan was for research facilities and corporate offices. Eventually, officials relaxed restrictions and invited industrial and warehouse users.
Danais vigorously pursued possible uses — industrial, medical-related, even a prison, according to an application to rezone it. But the only way in is on Hackett Hilll Road, and Danais said tenants were wary about an overpass on the two-lane road. Meanwhile, Wieczorek Drive opened up hundreds of acres of land near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport to potential employers who might have considered Hackett Hill, he said.
Danais said he was able to sell three of the Research Park lots, which the city rezoned and the Socha Companies developed into 152 townhouse apartments. He said the highest and best use of the property is residential, and he had presented the city with a proposal for 55-and-older housing, which would not have had much rush-hour impact on Hackett Hill Road and Front Street.
Last week, aldermen held a public hearing on rezoning the land to residential. City officials said the next step is for the rezoning to move to the Committee on Bills on Second Reading, but Danais said he believes the proposal will go nowhere.
Craig said the rezoning will be up to the aldermen, but did not rule out a veto. “We’ll see,” she said. She said a master plan process is underway, and now is not the time for a rash decision to rezone the property.
The land borders apartment and condominium complexes and the 602-acre Cedar Swamp Preserve.
Alderman Keith Hirschmann, whose Ward 12 includes the area, said he was the only alderman to recently vote against foreclosure. Hirschmann said the Socha development added $480,000 to the tax rolls, and he’d like to see residential development continue in the area.
“He has been doing some good things,” Hirschmann said, referring to the Socha townhouses, “and he should be given a chance.”
Hirschmann said the potential for a corporate park won’t happen until the Interstate 293 exit for the area is realigned. That could be six or seven years in the future, he said.
Craig said she is hopeful that will take place and noted the project is in the state’s 10-year highway funding plan.