Board endorses rail plan

NASHUA – Aldermen voted 14-1 to endorse building a commuter rail station in the future within a yet-to-be-approved special tax district.

City leaders want to use a tax increment financing district to pay for the estimated $14 million cost to connect Nashua to Boston by extending the rail service about 20 miles from Lowell, Mass.

The rail station would be built as part of a complex of residential units, retail stores, restaurants and office space.

Community Development Director Kathy Hersh, along with other city administrators and regional planners, expect to meet soon with state Transportation Department leaders armed with the resolution. The goal would be to convince state officials to kick-start some $1.5 million worth of analysis of the stalled transportation project.

“It’s a great vote,” said Stephen Williams, executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, as rail supporters congratulated each other for the successful vote on a resolution that faced a rocky start.

Hersh said the resolution answers concerns from state officials about how serious Nashua is about rail transportation. Aldermen understand the issues surrounding the rail project, and now city administrators can work toward getting the project moving, she said.

The vote Tuesday is only the beginning.

Aldermen set checkpoints down the road to reach before they will vote to establish the tax increment district and another vote to spend the money

The strong support is a boost for the project that came to a halt in late 2002, when the Executive Council voted against paying for an environmental study of the project.

Alderman-at-Large David Rootovich said approving the resolution ensures that aldermen can get answers to the many questions about the project.

“It does not bind us to spend any money,” he said.

Ward 8 Alderman David MacLaughlin said the resolution makes sense since it includes a number of checks and balances to guide aldermen on judging the viability of future development. The favorable spot for the rail station is in Ward 8, at the end of East Spit Brook Road.

Ward 2 Alderman Richard LaRose was the only opposition to the resolution. He said the idea of a commuter rail station is good, but the special tax district relies on building more offices in an oversaturated market of empty offices, questionable environmental conditions for residential properties, among other concerns.

The commuter rail project, with the station, parking and track improvements, is estimated to cost $70 million.

The federal government has earmarked about $24 million for the project. Inaction on the part of the state and the city has cost the project $4 million in federal support. The city must pay $14 million to use the federal transportation money.

The special tax district would direct increased revenues generated by the development to pay the city’s costs for the project.

Talks between city officials and the property owner of the 10-acre East Spit Brook Road site, Dow Chemical, are ongoing about its reservations about building residential development on the site.