My Turn: Concord can do better with Employment Security building

For the Monitor
Published: 5/8/2021 2:00:08 PM

The last time the city proposed a sweetheart deal for the former Employment Security building, residents packed the city council meeting to object.

The city has made sure that can’t happen again by holding the hearing virtually, although the school board has been holding hybrid hearings for over six months, which you could attend either in person at the high school auditorium or remotely.

Originally, the notice for city council meetings said that comments received by e-mail would be read at the meeting, but this wasn’t actually done and when I complained the response was to remove that from the notice. E-mail testimony doesn’t appear in the minutes either, so apparently, it is just ignored.

Supposedly there have been 17 proposals for the property, but city staff just selected one without any public input. The winner is one of the largest developers in New Hampshire, but apparently, the city’s high-paid development staff didn’t bother to contact them directly, so the city is paying $21,000 in commissions to a realtor for bringing them in.

The purchase price of $350,000 is some $2 million less than the city has invested in the property, and is supposed to be more than the land value. That just shows how ridiculously low the city assesses downtown land, as that is only $470,000 per acre as compared to $650,000 per acre for my residential lot ($71,900 for .11 acre).

In the downtown, the city pays for full-time employees to do litter pickup, sidewalk plowing and landscaping, while I must pick up litter myself. The city not only doesn’t plow the sidewalk, but plows snow from the street onto it so I have to remove four times as much and nobody removes the weeds from the cracks.

Apparently, the city just picked the largest building offered, which is probably not the best choice for the city. The developer plans for 64 apartments, but only 54 parking spaces, and with rents of $1,400 per month or more, residents will mostly have at least one car if not more. That will just make the downtown parking situation worse.

Students from those apartments will probably cost the school district $150,000 per year, and that money will have to be made up indefinitely by other taxpayers as taxes from the new building will go into the TIF district.

If anyone thinks that district will end in 2026, I have a bridge to sell you. Note that the project report from April 1 shows permit fees as revenue, but doesn’t deduct the cost of administering permits or the realtor fee.

If the city wants to give away the building, why not give it to a nonprofit instead of a wealthy developer? One possibility would be to have CATCH use it for workforce housing which seems a better fit for a city subsidy.

Even better would be for CCEH to renovate the current building into a couple of dozen smaller apartments for the formerly homeless, plus put their resource center on the ground floor in line with city zoning. That would leave excess parking to lease which would hold rents down.

They previously spent nearly $800,000 for four apartments on Green Street and $800,000 for a historic church that will be hard to redevelop, so even if they doubled Flatley’s offer and paid $700,000 that would be far more rational.

Tell your city councilor to nix this proposal. We can do better.

(Roy Schweiker lives in Concord.)

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