Developer discusses plans for retail complex with board

MERRIMACK – Thomas Monahan owns 170 acres near Exit 10 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike. The land is zoned for industrial use, but he wants to build a mall or some sort ofretail complex.

Some residents of the nearby Spruce Street neighborhood don’t want him to do that. They’d rather see the zoning stay the same, and would prefer to have office buildings instead of large stores for neighbors.

The reasons underlying each position were made clear Tuesday night at a meeting of the Planning Board.

“On my ride up here from the north side of Nashua, I passed a million square feet of vacant industrial space,” Monahan said. “Some day, some time, it will come back.”

But the time for industry’s resurrection is somewhere in the future, the Nashua real-estate developer said.

“There’s a demand for retail, and there’s a demand at that site,” Monahan said. “The retail folks are telling me. And I want to do it right.”

Cynthia Seneca, of 3 Spruce St., quoted her own worrisome numbers.

Last year, Monahan unsuccessfully sought a zone change, bringing forward a plan for a regional mall that would include so-called “big box” stores of at least 75,000 square feet.

“That sounds daunting – in addition to a million-square-foot mall,” she said.

At the meeting, Monahan entered into preliminary discussions with the board – and with neighbors, many of whom opposed his request for a zone change last year because ofworries that noise and traffic would disrupt their neighborhood.

The meeting was cordial, with a handful of residents asking Monahan what’s different about the plan this year.

One difference: Monahan said he’d place retail properties only on the east side of the property, near the turnpike. His tentative plans are for an office building on the portion closest to the neighborhood.

Matthew Sheppard of 2 Spruce St. suggested changing the zone from industrial to commercial only on the east side of the tract, leaving the western side zoned industrial. Monahan said he would consider that idea.

The developer also said he would work closely with residents, and offered to meet with them before the Planning Board’s Jan. 6 workshop, when the proposal will be discussed again. Any zoning change ultimately would have to be approved at the Town Meeting.

“I heard loud and clear what the folks said last year,” Monahan said. “I want to sit down with the abutters and state our case.”