Developer pushes ahead with mall plan

MERRIMACK – For the second year, the Planning Board will hear a request for a zone change that would clear the way for “a regional mall” to be constructed off Exit 10 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

Developer Thomas Monahan of Nashua hopes to build a retail mall of more than 200,000 square feet for stores and restaurants, said Gerald Prunier, an attorney representing him for the project.

“They want to put in a major retail facility. They want to put in a regional mall,” said Jay Minkarah, the town’s community development director.

Monahan, who owns the property, is the developer behind the Conway Ice Arena in Nashua and is known as a major real estate developer in the area.

A 160-acre property with access off Industrial Drive would have to be rezoned from industrial to commercial in order to build the mall. The developer’s first discussion with the town will take place at the Tuesday meeting of the Planning Board.

“This is just a discussion at this point,” Minkarah said.

That is, it will be Monahan’s first discussion with the town this time around.

Last year, a proposal to have the area rezoned made it through several Planning Board meetings and public hearings before the board voted not to put the zone change on the ballot at the annual Town Meeting.

The proposal faced “significant public opposition,” Minkarah said.

Prunier said the current plan is more specific. Though no stores have been named, the developer has a conceptual plan and has studied the impact the mall would have on area traffic. Also, Prunier said Monahan has talked to some people in the area to address their concerns.

Prunier called the proposal “a first-class project.”

“It’s a project the town of Merrimack would be proud to have and will service the community,” he said.

However, the plan first must face some familiar opposition, according to Matthew Sheppard, a resident of Spruce Street. The mall would sit behind the homes of his neighbors across the street, he said.

“It’s zoned industrial for a reason, and I think it should stay that way,” Sheppard said.

He said he and at least several residents will attend the Tuesday meeting. But some neighbors to whom he spoke who have been vocal opponents in the past are throwing in the towel this time, he said.

“It’s too disheartening to keep fighting it and winning and then bang! – you have to do it all over again,” Sheppard said. “It’s like we’re being tried for the same crime over and over again.”

Sheppard sees a mall as being much more disruptive than an industrial business, such as an office building. Stores could draw business 24 hours a day, including weekends, and the traffic and noise could disrupt neighbors, he said.

“I don’t want my kids living across the street from a shopping mall,” he said.

If the Planning Board agrees, another workshop will be held Jan. 6, on the proposed zone change, Minkarah said. The board could send the proposal to a public hearing later in January, and possibly another public hearing in February.

If it makes it that far, the board would then vote whether to present the zone change to the voters at the annual Town Meeting in April.