Concord City Council votes to authorize property assessments for 2013
The Concord City Council last night voted to authorize property assessments for 2013.
Last night’s vote does not affect 2012 property assessments. The overall value of commercial properties increased 13.77 percent last year. Many commercial property owners have expressed frustration with that increase, and the city received 350 tax abatement applications, including about 300 from commercial property owners.
“You know, I am extremely troubled by what transpired this past year with commercial assessments,” said Mayor Jim Bouley. “I don’t even know where to begin in my frustration.”
But, Bouley said, it’s important to reassess properties again this year because it could correct an imbalance between commercial and residential property values. Residential property values decreased 2.64 percent in overall assessed value in 2012.
The council voted unanimously to assess property values this year. Also last night, the council asked questions about the Main Street redesign project and accepted a grant for zoning in Penacook.
Before voting on property assessments last night, councilors had questions about the process.
“If we do authorize this, the annual approval, will it actually be implemented? Councilor Mark Coen asked. “Do we have the staff to actually do this? Because I think what happened in the past, there was a gap.”
Though the city council has authorized annual assessments since 2005, data on commercial properties was not updated between 2010 and 2012.
Last night, City Manager Tom Aspell told the council that “all staffing’s in place to do this.”
Bouley added that he has asked the board of assessors to report to the city council after it reviews the 2012 tax abatements, to help councilors understand what happened last year.
City councilors had many questions for the Main Street design team last night as they presented a final report.
“I think there’s a real lack of detail in this that I was really troubled by,” Bouley said.
While the final designs were due to the city council last night, City Engineer Ed Roberge said several aspects of the project are still being developed.
Bouley questioned the amount of information provided in the report, given the fast-approaching project deadlines.
“Just for clarification, the dates have been put on us,” said Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia. “The federal government has given us these dates.”
The city received a $4.71 million grant last June to redesign 12 blocks of Concord’s Main Street. Designs are due to the federal government by June 13. Construction is scheduled to begin in September.
Last night, Bouley scheduled a number of additional council meetings before that date to discuss the project. The council will hold a public hearing on May 23, followed by work sessions for the city council May 28, 29 and 30. Those meetings will not include public input.
On June 6, the council will hold a final public hearing to adopt the Main Street design.
Designs now include two lanes with a crossable median and a mixture of angled parking and parallel parking.
Johnathan Law, a landscape architect hired to serve on the city’s design team, presented design details to the council last night. Features include: moving the clocktower from Eagle Square to Phenix Avenue; planting raised flower beds and trees; and installing an in-grade fountain in the State House plaza.
Councilor Steve Shurtleff said he was concerned about fountains in front of the State House, where there are war memorials.
“I don’t look at that as being really a play area,” Shurtleff said.
Councilor Candace Bouchard said the sidewalk is used often for gatherings and special events.
“I don’t think we should lose sight that we’re a capital city and that sidewalk is used a lot,” she said.
Law said the water could be programmed to turn on and off. Councilor Rob Werner added that the space can appear empty, and could use some design features. He suggested additional landscaping instead of fountains.
Bouley said he’s heard from “several folks in the State House” who are opposed to fountains in the plaza. He asked if the city owns the plaza, or if the state controls that property.
Roberge said the sidewalk along Main Street in front of the State House is in the city’s “public way.”
Councilors received a report with detailed cost estimates for each portion of the project. Solar-powered trash and recycling compactors, for example, cost $4,200 each for a total of $50,400.
Moving the clocktower from Eagle Square to Phenix Avenue would cost $40,000, according to the report.
Councilors questioned whether the clocktower’s owners would agree with its relocation.
The New Hampshire Historical Society owns the clock tower and has a license from the city to keep it in the right-of-way along Main Street, Roberge said. He and Baia recently met with the group that maintains the clocktower.
“So they’re just concerned about where it’s going to go, and people have become attached to where it was today,” Baia said.
The report also includes $634,000 to install a snowmelt system on sidewalks between Centre Street and Pleasant Street, powered by Concord Steam. Although the city has backed out of its contracts for Concord Steam’s proposed plant in the South End, Roberge said city officials are still hoping that they can design a snowmelt system with steam heat.
Baia said Concord Steam is still working on a smaller-scale project.
“We’re kind of hedging our bets that that will hopefully come through,” he said, “that Concord Power and Steam will be able to come forward with some sort of a proposal.”
Councilor Dan St. Hilaire asked about way-finding signs with lighting and public restrooms, which have come up at recent public meetings. But those details were not included in the design team’s final report.
“We need some definitive answers so we can move onto the next topic,” St. Hilaire said.
Baia said the design team is looking into urban, “pop-up” restrooms.
Councilor Fred Keach asked last night if the city has an obligation to make building entrances along Main Street handicapped accessible.
Roberge said he is still meeting with property owners and business owners to discuss accessibility.
“There’s challenges, I’m going to leave it at that,” Roberge said.
Bouley asked the design team to provide a detailed report about attempts to make Main Street accessible.
Bouley also asked for images of the proposed design before the public hearing next week, “so that the public has something to respond to.”
Penacook village will soon have its own zoning district.
The city council last night accepted a $30,000 grant to create a zoning district specifically for Penacook.
The grant, from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority’s community planning grant program, was awarded March 1.
The city must match 25 percent of the grant funds. City Planner Gloria McPherson wrote in a report to the city council that $1,875 will come from the amount allocated for the Route 3 reconstruction project. The remaining $5,625 in matching funds will be covered by in-kind services, including staff expenses and volunteer time.
Changes to the intersection of Pleasant, Warren and Fruit streets have been delayed.
Replacement of the traffic signals were included in this year’s city budget, but Traffic Engineer Robert Mack wrote in a report to the council that more significant intersection improvements are needed.
The council accepted a report last night delaying the project, likely until after the Langley Parkway expansion planned for fiscal year 2018.
Potential designs could include a roundabout, though Bouley stressed last night that the council has neither considered nor approved any designs.