Builder, city reach accord on past taxes

NASHUA – Local developer John Picard has reached an agreement with the city to pay $100,000 he owes in back taxes on a 12.5-acre parcel at 502 W. Hollis St., the site of the former WSMN radio station, where he now he hopes to build a major housing project, according to city officials.

City Treasurer and interim director of public works David Fredette confirmed the agreement allows Picard to move through the permitting process for a 136-unit project to build and provide so-called “work-force housing.”

Picard is “only about a year behind” on the property tax payment, Fredette said, and the agreement allows him to try to gain approval from the zoning and planning boards to construct two four-story apartment buildings and eight detached condominiums on the land.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment will a review Picard’s latest building proposal at a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Sean Duffy, chairman of the zoning panel, said the Picard case is near the end of a fairly long agenda, so the case might not be heard until Wednesday night.

If Picard can gain the needed local approvals for the project, he will have to pay the back taxes, plus 18-percent interest, before the city would issue a building permit, Fredette said.

“We always get our taxes,” he said.

Picard needed the agreement to proceed with the project because of a city law that prohibits anyone who is delinquent on taxes from even being considered for city permits.

The agreement was reached Dec. 10, Fredette said.

Earlier this week, Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said she thought Community Development Director Kathy Hersh might have signed the agreement. Hersh didn’t return repeated phone calls from The Telegraph, so it was unclear until Wednesday that Fredette had signed it.

On Tuesday night, 18 neighbors of the proposed project gathered at the Salvation Army building annex for an informational session Picard set up to explain to revisions he has made to his building plan.

Picard, his wife, Maryann, and their lawyer, John Edwards, of Boston, said he still plans to construct two apartment buildings with 64 units each and eight condos to accommodate workers who now have now have trouble affording rental housing.

But Picard has scrapped plans to build a 17,000-square-foot medical office building near the apartments and convert the old radio station into medical offices, Edwards said. Instead, that building will be converted into general office space, he said.

Most residents were unimpressed with the revisions, saying they had little confidence in Picard.

According to Edwards, money for the project would come from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department through the project’s chief private financial backer, The Bedford Lending Group.

Picard’s company is now under bankruptcy protection because of a 40-unit cluster condo development he never finished on the site. The city approved that project four years ago.

Bedford Lending has spent six months analyzing HUD funding for the project, Edwards said, and the firm is confident the federal money will be approved if Picard can gain city approval for the housing.

The HUD money has been an integral part of Picard’s bankruptcy proceedings in federal court, the lawyer said.

“The financing is in place,” Edwards told residents.

If Picard can gain city approval for the proposed housing, Edwards said, Bedford Lending will pay the back taxes owed to the city.

If Picard can’t secure local approval, Edwards said, then the property will likely go into foreclosure.

Lozeau said Picard’s proposal puts the city in a Catch-22 situation. It serves no purpose to leave the land mostly undeveloped, she said. At same time, however, Picard can’t pay the taxes owed unless city approval for his project is obtained, the mayor said.

Consequently, both the zoning and planning boards have a difficult job, the mayor said. They need to find the correct balance between Picard’s right to develop his land and the rights of neighbors who don’t trust him because he tore up the property before discovering there was too much ledge beneath the soil to build the 40 condos, Lozeau said.

The mayor said she is taking no position on whether the boards should approve the project. If the city does approve it, Bedford Lending would hire Scudder Development Advisors Inc. of Bedford to supervise construction and Picard would “recede into the background,” Edwards said.