Developer wants WSMN radio in old spot

NASHUA – A developer has begun negotiations with a local broadcasting corporation about returning WSMN radio to its former home.

John Picard hopes to build a major “work-force housing” complex at 502 W. Hollis St. where the station used to operate.

Absolute Broadcasting Corp. owner Thomas Monahan confirmed he has discussed the idea for returning the station to its former location with Picard, but said the negotiations “have not gone into much depth.”

Under the tentative plan, the old WSMN building, which sits at the front of the 12.5 acre parcel and is run-down, would be renovated and broadcasting and business operations would resume if Picard can gain approval for his proposal, Monahan said.

“There’s certainly nothing cast in stone,” Monahan said. “The city has to approve the housing first.”

Picard needs the Zoning Board of Adjustment to approve several variances to enable the housing project. The parcel is in an R-9 zone, meaning only single-family homes can be built in the area on lots measuring at least 9,000 square feet.

The Zoning Board is scheduled to review Picard’s latest proposal Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

The possible return of WSMN to its old home is the latest twist in Picard’s efforts to convince neighbors, most of whom vehemently oppose the housing project, that the development won’t ruin their neighborhood.

Picard originally proposed constructing two four-story apartment buildings, with 64 units each, eight detached condominiums and a 17,000-square-foot medical arts building. He wanted to convert the old radio station into medical offices.

When residents balked at that concept, concerned largely about density and traffic, Picard scrapped plans for the medical building and decided to convert the old WSMN into general office space.

Now, he hopes to build three, three-story apartment buildings, with 36 units each and underground parking and have the radio station operating on the same site as it did for decades, before moving downtown about three years ago.

About 62 percent of the site would remain undeveloped, possibly alleviating traffic and density problems, Picard’s lawyer John Edwards said.

Monahan said he approached Picard with idea of moving WSMN back to West Hollis Street.

“I heard there were some issues involving converting the building into offices, so I decided to talk to him about it, about moving ‘SMN back there, but that’s about at far its gotten.”

Picard and Monahan are neighbors on Swart Terrace.

Monahan said the broadcast towers that served WSMN were removed about three years ago, but he has reached an agreement with the owners of J-Don’s Variety, a convenience store farther west on West Hollis Street, to erect new towers at the rear of that site.

“It’s all approved,” Monahan said.

WSMN has never left the air, but broadcasts its local programming and sports to a smaller audience now that is located downtown.

If the negotiations with Picard reach fruition and the new towers are built, the station will resume broadcasting at 5,000 watts, making it one of the larger wattage stations in New Hampshire, Monahan said.

Picard has a credibility problem in the neighborhood because of a 40-unit cluster condo development he never finished on the WSMN site. That project was approved by the city four years ago.

He said he couldn’t finish the condos because of vast amounts of ledge beneath the soil on the property. Before he made that determination, he tore up the land, making it an eyesore, neighbors said. His company is in bankruptcy because of the unfinished condos, and he admits he owes the city $100,000 in back taxes.

Some residents insist the zoning board shouldn’t even consider his case because of a city law that prohibits people who are delinquent on taxes from being considered for city permits.

But City Treasurer David Fredette said Picard reached an agreement with the city Dec. 10 to pay the back taxes if the housing project clears the zoning and planning boards. Picard would have to pay the full $100,000, plus 18 percent interest, before the city would issue a building permit.

Bedford Lending Group is the chief private financial backer of the housing project.

If Picard can secure city approval for the project, Bedford Lending would pay the back taxes, and apply, through Picard, for project funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Bedford Lending is confident the federal money will be approved for the housing if Picard can gain the needed city approvals.

If that happens, Bedford Lending would hire Scudder Development Advisers. Inc. of Bedford to supervise construction and Picard would play a substantially diminished role in building the project.

If that doesn’t happen, the property will likely end up in foreclosure, according to Edwards.