MANCHESTER — One of the most prominent eyesores in the center city — the fire-damaged apartment structure at Maple and Hanover streets — will soon be coming down. What’s uncertain is what will replace it.
Last week, Manchester city regulators tabled a request from a developer to exercise a loophole that would allow him to bypass current zoning restrictions and build a 16-unit apartment building on the footprint of the existing building.
That same week, the city issued a demolition permit for the building last week and moved on a $137,500 contract to raze the structure. A lien will be placed on the property, and the city will recoup whatever it spends to tear down the 2½-story Victorian building, said Leon LaFreniere, Manchester commissioner of planning and community development.
“They refused to take it down so we had to get a court order to take it down,” LaFreniere said. Usually, the city steps in when owners have abandoned and walked away, which is not the case here, he said.
“I’ve never run into a situation like this before,” he said.
The longtime owner, Charles Teas, is in the process of selling the building, according to his lawyer, John Cronin. Cronin faulted the city for obtaining a court order and preparing to issue a lien, rather than just waiting until Teas could clear up a title issue.
“It would have been nice for the city to wait; we’re talking a matter of months,” Cronin said. “The city didn’t have to do it, they elected to do it.”
He also said the price for the demolition seems high.
Meanwhile, the Zoning Board of Adjustment last week delayed a decision to keep intact the longstanding variances that allow a building with 16 apartments on the roughly quarter-acre of land.
It would be nearly impossible to erect such a densely populated structure from scratch, according to Zoning Board documents.
The lot would have to be nearly 2½ times its size. There would have to be parking spaces for 24 cars. And 25 percent of the entire lot size would have to be devoted to a yard, rather than the 7 percent that is now.
But city ordinances allow owners of fire-damaged property to rebuild within a year of the fire, and Cronin asked the Zoning Board to extend the deadline another six months. Fire struck the building in December 2017.
The Zoning Board delayed a vote because it wanted to see what a new building would look like, said Chairman Bob Breault.
“We want some character to the building. We don’t want a four-sided box with a flat roof,” he said.
Breault said he doesn’t want to see 16 units squeezed onto a quarter-acre, but he noted the zoning code encourages the reconstruction of fire damaged property. He said some board members voiced interest in 12 units.
“We’ve got to work with people the best we can,” he said.
Cronin said the developer and future owner, Nick Aalerud of the Massachusetts-based AA Real Estate, is considering micro-units for the lot. Micro-units are apartments of 800 square feet or less. It’s what the market wants, Cronin said.
“It’s urban living. The people who live there, they’re not the people who want to live in Bedford, look out their window and see a deer on their lawn,” Cronin said.
He noted that Elm Grove Companies redeveloped a downtown drug rehab facility into micro-units three years ago.
Last week, Cronin said the transaction between Teas and AA Real Estate was finalized and was closed in escrow; he was unsure who owned it at that point.
The title issue dealt with an undischarged mortgage from a bank that no longer exists. Teas had go to court to prove the mortgage had been paid, which took time. The mortgage was discovered last year after Teas had put the property under agreement, Cronin said.
“What I asked for (Thursday) night was a very rare request,” Cronin said.
LaFreniere said the city signed a contract with Auburn-based New Hampshire Demolition, and the work includes asbestos removal. As of Monday there was no lien on the property because the city has not paid for the work, he said.
The city has asked for the project to move quickly, and demolition work could begin later this week, Lafreniere said.