New proposal would conserve Broken Ground land slated for development
More than 270 acres in Concord’s Broken Ground area could be conserved under a new proposal from the conservation commission, putting an end to years of controversial, failed and stalled plans for development on the site.
The Concord Conservation Commission hopes to purchase the land off Portsmouth Street and Curtisville Road for $975,000. The plan will need approval from the city council, but the first step is a public hearing at a conservation commission meeting tomorrow night.
The untouched Broken Ground area has a history of near-development. Most recently, a long-disputed plan to build 87 homes and a road on the 270 acres now for sale was approved by the zoning board in 2006, over the protests of neighbors and conservation advocates. In 2008, the planning board approved plans for the development, called Whispering Heights.
Today, the site remains undeveloped. The owners, unable to find a developer to build the homes, have offered to sell the land to the city, said Kit Morgan, chairman of the conservation commission.
The proposal has come as welcome news to residents who spent years fighting proposed development. They even took their fight to Merrimack County Superior Court, where the zoning board decisions were upheld. Fran Philippe spoke out against the Whispering Heights development when it went before the city’s planning and zoning boards, but she was surprised by the conservation commission’s latest plan.
“I was beside myself, I couldn’t believe my ears,” she said.
Morgan said the Conservation Commission has long discussed a potential purchase. With wetlands, ledges and wildlife, the 270 acres is the gateway to the rest of the undeveloped Broken Ground area that extends to the Loudon town line. But until the owners offered to sell to the city, Morgan said the city couldn’t have competed with developers for the land. (The land has a current asking price of
$2.4 million for developers, according to real estate listings.)
“It’s been a really top priority . . . the whole Broken Ground area has for so many years, and it seemed like this subdivision was going to go through and 80 or 90 houses were going to be built there,” Morgan said. “So to think that we might be able to protect it as open space is very exciting.”
Senior Planner Becky Hebert said the property owners and the conservation commission had “quite a bit of back and forth on the price,” but $975,000 represents a recently appraised value. If approved by the city council, the city would issue bonds for the $975,000 purchase, Hebert said. The bond payments would be made through the city’s general fund, which relies on tax revenue.
The three adjacent parcels are owned by Links Realty Trust and Brian and Larry Bollinger, according to the city’s tax database. Links Realty Trust belongs to the Meisner Brem Corp., which proposed Whispering Heights and marketed the three parcels to developers. A message left at the company’s Salem office was not returned yesterday.
If the city buys the land, Whispering Heights would become the latest in a series of development projects that fell through:
∎ In the late 1980s, developer Barry Stem proposed 400 homes, a golf course and fitness club on 1,400 acres of the Broken Ground area.
∎ In 1993, the Capital Regional Development Council and the Forest Society worked together to build an office park and protect land.
∎ In 1994, some of the Broken Ground land was sold at a foreclosure auction to Hampton investor William Hoag. He still owns hundreds of undeveloped acres.
City Councilor Fred Keach represents Ward 10, which includes the Broken Ground area. He said he’s heard from a number of constituents about the property, all of whom are in favor of the conservation. He called the offer a rare opportunity, and one worth considering.
“I’m obviously pro-development, but I think there are opportunities that present themselves where conservation needs to take place,”
A public hearing and vote before the city council will be held in the coming months, Hebert said.
Meanwhile, Philippe and other East Concord residents are preparing to resume the fight they gave up in 2007, after losing their zoning board appeals in court.
“Well, at that point there wasn’t anything else we could do,” she said. “So we’ve just been sitting and watching and keeping our fingers crossed. And we knew that the market dropped . . . we saw nothing happening, nothing
Since hearing last week about the conservation commission’s plans, Philippe and others have been searching for their old petitions and paperwork, knocking on doors in East Concord and encouraging fellow residents to voice their support.
The public hearing will begin at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow in the second floor conference room at Concord City Hall.