MANCHESTER — A crew started tearing down one of the most blighted buildings in the city Monday — the Victorian apartment house at Hanover and Maple streets, which has stood derelict since a fire hit it on Dec. 7, 2017.
The city-ordered demolition and cleanup should take about three days. The foundation will be filled and the lot leveled once finished, said Leon LaFreniere, the director of planning and community development for the city.
The site has long been a sore spot with the city. The city opted to obtain a court order to tear down the building, an option usually reserved for when an owner cannot be found.
A crew of two workers from New Hampshire Demolition and an excavator leveled about half the structure on Monday.
“Right now, there’s a view. We can see City Hall from here; it’s beautiful,” said Jerry St. Arnault, who lives in an apartment building across Maple Street.
Like others in the neighborhood, he said the homeless and vagrants had been living in the badly burned structure.
The Manchester Zoning Board of Adjustment is mulling a variance application for Nick Aalerud of the Massachusetts-based AA Real Estate to build up to 16 apartments on the site. For that to happen, the city would have to extend waivers of city regulations that govern on-site parking requirements, yard size and setbacks.
Neighbors had different ideas about what they’d like to see there.
“The city needs new apartments badly. We have a homeless problem worse than Boston,” said Michael Cosine, who lives in the same apartment building as St. Arnault. But he fears a developer could end up building a rooming house on the lot.
Cindy Canney, who lives in the neighborhood and was walking north on Maple Street, said she’d like to see a small park or community garden. Another apartment building isn’t needed in the tightly congested area, she said.
“The city’s overcrowded, overpopulated,” she said.
On Monday, Mayor Joyce Craig said she supports development of affordable housing in the downtown area.
“I am a proponent of the existing policies our city has in place, and hope the owner of the property at 324 Hanover Street will work in a timely manner with the Zoning Board to revitalize the now-blighted structure,” Craig said.
A message sent to her opponent, former state representative Victoria Sullivan, through a campaign social media page was not returned.
The city will eventually place a lien of $134,000 on the property to cover the costs of the demolition, city officials have said. LaFreniere said no other qualified bidders submitted a lower estimate for the project, and the price seems in line with past projects.
“It is always more expensive to demolish fire-damaged structures due to the fact that so much of the material has to be treated as contaminated and disposed of at a licensed receiving facility,” he said.
Few of the nearby apartment buildings have 16 units. Cosine and St. Arnault said there are nine units in their building, which has Victorian characteristics and stands on the northeast corner of the intersection. The Teas building is on the northwest corner.
A nine-unit Victorian building and 20-car parking lot are on the southwest corner. A three-unit building is on the southeast corner.