City office building granted variances

NASHUA – A former rooming house at 381 Main St. that was the focus of numerous complaints by neighbors about drug dealing, littering and trespassing by its residents would be converted into office space under a plan approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The board voted late Tuesday night to grant two variances to the owners of the property – John and Mary Ann Picard – to proceed with plans to use the facility for offices and to construct a 1,500-square-foot, second-story addition to the building.

The proposal must still be approved by the Planning Board. Gerald Prunier, a lawyer for the Picards, said no date has yet been set for that board to evaluate the plans.

“We weren’t that optimistic’’ about securing the variances, Prunier told the zoning board, shortly before members voted unanimously to approve them.

The property, the former site of the Nightingale Nursing Home, has been controversial since the Picards purchased it the spring of 2002 and began operating a boarding house there without a permit.

Neighbors said problems with unruly residents began shortly after the Picards bought the facility and the city Welfare Department began issuing housing vouchers to homeless welfare clients to stay there.

Picard applied for a permit to operate the rooming house in October after confusion arose over whether the house was under the jurisdiction of the state – not the city – as an assisted living facility.

The Picards withdrew their request for the rooming house permit after complaints by neighbors received considerable attention in the press and among local aldermen.

At one point, the furor over the facility prompted the Finance Committee to delay payment of a $4,200 bill from the Picards for the housing of welfare recipients. The payment was made after Prunier threatened to sue the city on behalf of his clients.

Prunier said the press coverage and the uproar among neighbors about the rooming house made the Picards decide that office space was a more suitable use for the property.

Four residents testified in favor of the office plan Tuesday night. All agreed that office space was the best use for theproposal.

“I think the office plan is good,’’ said Brian O’Donnell, who lives next door at 379 Main St. But he told the board: “We have very little faith in Mr. Picard from his previous performance.’’

O’Donnell said he had considered buying the property himself for use as office space but didn’t think it would be profitable.

Prunier said O’Donnell was right in his analysis of the site. That’s why the second story addition is needed – to make the proposal financially viable for the Picards, whose real estate management will occupy some of the office space, he said.

The other offices probably would be used by small accounting or insurance firms, he said, though no tenants have signed on yet to occupy the space because the Picards have been busy trying to settle the regulatory issues associated with the site.

The Picard proposal is consistent with the gradual transition in land use on South Main Street from mostly residential to offices used by small professional firms, Prunier and board members said.

Neighbors were concerned about parking on the site, but the board said there were enough spaces to satisfy city regulations. Members said office hours would be from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.