Developer reshapes plans for housing

NASHUA – Hoping to overcome the strenuous objections of neighbors, a local developer has revised his plans to build a major housing project at 502 W. Hollis St., the former site of the WSMN radio station.

John Picard still plans to construct two 4-story apartment buildings with 64 units each to provide so-called “work-force housing” toward the rear of the property, along with eight detached condominiums on the 12.5-acre parcel, according to his lawyer, John Edwards of Boston.

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

Picard and Edwards will discuss the revisions with neighbors at an informational meeting scheduled for 7 p.m.Tuesday at the Salvation Army building annex at 1 Montgomery Ave.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment, which tabled the original proposal after hearing three hours of testimony Dec. 16, will review the new plan at a public hearing, set for Jan. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

The developer needs zoning board approval for several variances to enable the project because the site is located in an R-9 zone, which only allows for single-family homes to be built on lots measuring at least 9,000 square feet. Picard also needs the board’s permission to exceed maximum density requirements established for the zone.

Picard says his project “would be wonderful for the city” because the site is located across West Hollis Street from the police department, the public works garage and near Nashua High School South, providing affordable housing for police officers, public works employees, teachers and administrators.

According to Edwards, the plan’s revisions would reduce the intensity of use of the property while still allowing Picard to make a “viable,” or profitable, use of the site.

Edwards said he and Lewis Knapp, of the Bedford Lending Group, the chief financial backer of the project, met with Picard following the public hearing last month to make the project more palatable to neighbors, who insisted it was entirely unsuitable for the site.

Under the new plan, Edwards said, about 60 percent of the property would remain undeveloped, significantly reducing traffic impacts and easing some of the concerns raised by neighbors.

“We know it doesn’t address all the concerns but we hope it addresses some of them,” Edwards said.

“It doesn’t address any of my concerns at all,” said abutter Marilyn Pizzolon of 22 Pitarys Drive.

“This is an R-9 zone and it needs to stay single-family homes. Work force housing is not a bad concept, but this is not the proper venue.”

Pizzolon and other neighbors said had they had virtually no faith in Picard largely because he tore up the land and never finished a 40-unit cluster condo development approved by the city four years ago.

Edwards said his client couldn’t complete that project because of vast amounts of ledge beneath the soil on the site.

The company he formed to build those condos is now under bankruptcy protection and he admits he owes the city about $100,000 in back taxes.

“He needs to clean up the damage he’s already done,” Pizzolon said.

Arnold Canner of the nearby Ledgewood Hills development said the medical buildings Picard has now scrapped were never the primary issue that worried neighbors. It was the density of housing units at the apartment complex the developer still wants to build, he said.

“The real issue was, and remains, density,” Canner said.