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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,”
Keach said.

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
happening.”

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.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or
lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

that land should be developed along with the farm land along the river behind post office....this a city.....not a hunting ground

"this a city" No. Downtown Concord is a city. The Broken Ground "a wilderness." And the "city" of Concord has decided to keep it that way. The proposal passed unanimously last night.

Property taxes take a big bite out of my budget and every public expenditure must be carefully examined. However, one of the things that make living in Concord special is the access to woods and trails in our local area. I would be happy to see this land preserved in it's current state and hope that our property values increase because of this city's high quality of life.

All I can say is it's about time. When Barry Stem proposed developing this land there was all sorts of hand wringing and and head holding that someone would develop this land. The only reason it wasn't developed was because the economy tanked. And it would have been developed this time if the economy hadn't tanked again. For 33 years the city has done nothing to protect this property other then to wish it wouldn't be developed. The question to ask is why has it taken 33 years to finally do something - Allan Herschlag

I agree. This is land that should never be developed--literally broken ground; it's the largest single undeveloped parcel left in Concord. Its saving grace is the fact 'development' would require inordinate amount of alteration to its natural state, whether for golf course, industrial warehouse or housing. Its natural state for centuries has included numerous streams, pools, and marshland, teeming with wildlife--much of which would be lost in any development scheme.

We have folks on this forum who are totally against current use, yet they are all about preserving land at the taxpayers expense. It is okay to have land just sit there and look pretty, but someone who has land under Current Use that produces income in the form of wood products, farming, orchards etc, is told by many on this forum they should not get a tax break. Go figure.

I am very proud to be speaking on behalf of the group that's been lobbying for the preservation of this land for six years, at tomorrow night's Conservation Committee meeting. I urge anyone who values open space and pristine wildlife habitat to join us at this meeting in support of this plan to preserve the Broken Ground.

HOW MUCH MONEY DO OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS THINK THE TAXPAYERS HAVE!!!! TO SPEND THIS AMOUNT OF TAXPAYERS MONEY ON A WASTELAND AT THIS TIME PROVES THAT WHO WE ELECT ARE OUT OF TOUCH WITH REALITY. THIS PURCHASE WILL ONLY BENEFIT A LOW NUMBER OF TAXPAYERS WHO JUST HAPPEN TO LIVE CLOSE TO THIS WASTELAND. THERE ARE MUCH BETTER WAYS TO SPEND THIS MONEY FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL TAXPAYERS, NOT JUST A SELECTED FEW.

Excuse me, Mr. "Nate", but have you ever ventured onto the Broken Ground? It is NOT a wasteland. It is in fact some of the most wonderful wildlife habitat I've seen in my 46 years on this planet. 270 acres of Hemlck swamps, Oak ridges and thickets that provide a home for all the major fauna of southern NH including some endangered species like the Blanding's turtle. It also doesn't benefit but a "few people who live in the area." If you've spent time there you'd know this. But you're welcome to come there with me on opening weekend of the muzzleloader or firearms deer season to find out just how many folks utilize this area. And that's just the hunters. Not to mention hikers, bikers, dog-walkers, bird-watchers, snowshoers, cross-country skiers, etc, etc. Of course, some would apparently prefer a huge, sprawling cookie-cutter Mc-mansion development so they can live in a house twice as big as they need. Or an office park. Or a strip mall. Or a box store. There is a legitimate need for low-income housing in Concord, but the propsed development would not have filled this need. Preserving this land for future generations to recreate on is the only responsible thing to do.

nate, do you always SHOUT? How, exactly, do you define "wasteland"? Anything that doesn't have buildings on it? If so, you should stick to Monopoly. And since your elected officials don't seem to know how much money you have, how about you come back here to tell them. And while you're at it, tell the rest of us what "better ways" you might suggest to "benefit all taxpayers."

I have to agree with Nate! 1 million dollars can be better spent on public safety concerns here in the City. I am willing to wager that 85% of the people in Concord don't even know where the Brokenground is! All i know is that my wallet is getting thinner and thinner! We have enough open spaces now that are only used by the well heeled and elite of Concord. A million dollars can fund Police, Fire, Public Works, School Teachers and the like. If people really want to see wild animals, they can take a trip to the Zoo.

Come with me to the Broken Ground during deer season - I guarantee the folks you'll see using this land then are not the "well-heeled elite."

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