Shopping center plans to be unveiled

MERRIMACK – Developers next week will unveil a conceptual plan for a regional shopping center they’re planning for near Exit 10 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike.

The plan will include locations for stores and roads and buffers between the development and residents, said Lou Masiello of S.R. Weiner and Associates, a Massachusetts firm that has been working with Nashua real-estate developer Thomas Monahan on the proposal.

The conceptual plan will be presented Jan. 6 at a Planning Board workshop. Monahan is asking the board to send to Town Meeting vote a request for a zone change from industrial to commercial. The zone change is needed to allow a retail development on the 170-acre property Monahan owns at the site.

Developers also will work on wording of the zone change ordinance at the workshop.

In the meantime, Monahan, Masiello and another S.R. Weiner representative met informally last week with some residents who have raised concerns about the proposed development. A group of neighbors opposed the zone change last year, prompting the Planning Board to reject sending the question to a Town Meeting vote.

How the Dec. 22 meeting went depends on whom you ask and how they choose to spin it.

“The meeting went well,” Monahan said. “They had a lot of questions, and we’re going to try to answer as many as many of them as we can, and answer them as quickly as we can.”

Developers told residents they would work to create additional buffers, including sight and sound barriers, Monahan said. Possibly, a restaurant or a retail store that isn’t a so-called “big box” store would be located in the area closest to the neighborhood, he added.

“It’s just starting, but certainly I felt this meeting was important,” Monahan said.

But Guy Praria of 2 Spruce St. said although he “applauds” the developers for taking the trouble to meet with residents at one of their homes, most remain opposed.

“Everybody’s still pretty upset. For one thing, there’s absolutely no need for another mall,” he said.

“This particular property is located within 1-10 miles of any kind of store you could possibly imagine, as well as two major regional malls, and scores of restaurants. We see no justification for adding commercial uses to the property,” he added in an e-mail he sent a reporter to further explain residents’ reasons for objecting to the proposal.

Residents are concerned about traffic, noise and disruption to the Sargent Acres, Whittier Place and the Camp Sargent Road Co-op neighborhoods, Praria said.

One of the biggest concerns is that residents will face traffic as they try to leave the area, he said.

“We’re still going to be blocked in,” he said.

The only way out of the neighborhood is from either end of Camp Sargent Road, Praria said. The northeast side near Exit 11 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike is where a multiplex cinema is set to open and a shopping center has been proposed.

That area is “a total disaster,” he said. “We can’t go out that way.”

A retail center would likewise box residents in on the southwest end, where Greens Pond Road intersects with Continental Boulevard just north of Exit 10, Praria said.

“We hope the zoning doesn’t change,” he said

An office park “would be OK,” he added, but a mall would be a disaster.

Developers aren’t using the “m” word when describing the development. It would not be an enclosed mall, like Pheasant Lane in Nashua, which S.R. Weiner and Associates helped develop, but an open-space retail center with separate entrances for tenants.

Masiello hedged on how large it would be, but did say it would be large enough to be “regional” in scope.

“It’s really hard to nail down a plan given that we’ve only begun to work with neighbors,” said Masiello, the firm’s director of development.

But the developers will listen to the feedback they’ve received from residents, Masiello said.

The conceptual plan is intended “to take some of the feedback we’ve gotten from the neighbors and put that down on paper,” Masiello said.

“We want to develop a plan they would feel positive about,” he said.