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City officials weigh future of 114-acre parcel

Property off Gully Hill Road once again being considered

Untouched farmland. A riverfront trail. Fairgrounds. A public park. Athletic fields. They’ve all been described as potential uses for land along the east bank of the Merrimack River in downtown Concord.

Twice in the past three years, the city council has delayed placing a conservation easement on its 114 acres off Gully Hill Road. The land is now leased to local farmers and was purchased with conservation funds, but some councilors have raised concerns about restricting other uses for the property.

Earlier this year, Mayor Jim Bouley appointed a small group of councilors to a committee charged with finding a solution.

“I think that the overarching question is: What’s the city’s vision for the use of this property?” said City Planner Gloria McPherson.

The property extends along the river and

behind the Loudon Road Post Office, and it includes farmland, hills and wetlands. The city purchased it in sections, in 2007, 2009 and 2010. It’s now leased to two different farmers who use it for crops, McPherson said.

When the city council approved the purchase of 46 acres of that property in 2010, councilors held off approving a conservation easement. The land is already protected to some extent, McPherson said, because it was purchased through the city’s conservation trust fund. Easements are held by an outside organization and “put a further layer of protection on it,” she said.

The conservation commission and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, which would hold the easement, returned to the city council last year with another easement proposal. McPherson said that version would have allowed public events with tents, shelters, staging, electrical equipment, portable toilets and parking. It also permitted for a trail along the river and a small parking area where visitors could park to use the trail.

“The only real difference was the section in there that would allow for public events, which from a conservation easement point of view is a really big departure from what’s typically done,” McPherson said.

But even that amount of flexibility raised concerns for some councilors, and the item was tabled. The committee that Bouley appointed earlier this year has met twice to discuss the property.

Councilor Fred Keach, who is working on the committee, said he questions the need for any conservation easement at that site.

“It’s just a matter of not limiting ourselves going forward,” he said. “So somebody many, many years from now has . . . flexibility to make that a public space and do that in a way that makes it convenient and accessible.”

Keach said he’s not trying to oppose the conservation commission’s work, but he sees many potential uses for the property. He’s not set on any one use, but said the future of the property could include a public park with restrooms, athletic fields or a tasteful riverfront restaurant.

“I think it needs to be treated a little differently than say a 100 acres in East Concord,” he said. “It’s just a unique set of circumstances because it is located downtown.”

But Councilor Jan McClure, who also serves on the conservation commission, told other councilors that prime agricultural soil is quickly disappearing across the state and must be protected, according to minutes of a May committee meeting.

Councilor Jennifer Kretovic joined the committee because she’s been involved with plans for a Merrimack River Greenway Trail, which would cross through the property along the river. Proposed easements have allowed for building the trail, and Kretovic said she doesn’t yet have an opinion about other potential uses.

“It’s really just about keeping an open mind right now,” Kretovic said. “And really for me, because I was not a part of the council (until 2012), I’m not familiar with the discussion that occurred.”

The committee’s next meeting is 5 p.m. today, and there will likely be several more meetings before the committee makes a recommendation to the full city council.

“They’re in an information gathering phase and the more information I’ve been presenting to them and the more discussions we’ve had, the more questions come up,” McPherson said. “So it’s a slow process, but it’s a thorough one.”

Goodbye to an old theater

The old Annicchiarico Theatre will soon be replaced by apartment units.

The Concord Housing + Redevelopment Authority plans to build six new apartments in the John F. Kennedy Building on South Main Street. Three of them will be in the Annicchiarico, which hasn’t hosted performances in more than five years.

The theater, built in the 1960s, held piano recitals and plays for decades. By 2009, the housing authority said it would be too costly to repair and continue using the theater on the ground floor of the apartment building. The Annicchiarico had fallen into disrepair, an official told the Monitor at the time, and it hadn’t been used in a few years.

The Concord Housing + Redevelopment Authority has since removed everything from the theater, said Executive Director John Hoyt.

“It was stripped of all its contents, so there’s no seats, no curtains, no lights, nothing in it,” Hoyt said. “And I believe Concord has certainly more venues than they had in the ’60s when the theater was built.”

So the agency decided to replace the now-empty theater with apartments.

“We have a waiting list for (apartments in) that particular building that’s over 300 people long,” Hoyt said. “We’re in the housing business for (the) elderly (and) disabled so we decided that, ‘let’s take care of at least six more people on the waiting list.’ ”

The other three new apartments will be in former office space on the building’s first floor, Hoyt said.

The project has received approval from the city’s zoning board, and will go before the planning board next month. Hoyt said he’s also still waiting for approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and he hopes to begin construction in November.

Shirts around the corner

Lost Your Shirt has moved to a new home – but it’s just down the hall from its previous location.

George Kontos, owner of the used clothing and alterations shop, has moved to a smaller space. He’s still above Pitchfork Records at 3 Pleasant St., but he’s now on the South Main Street side of the building.

Kontos has been in business for 18 years. He hopes to focus on alterations and making clothes “from scratch,” so he now has a smaller retail space.

“It’s more organized,” Kontos said of his new shop.

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

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