For a Concord family, rezoning proposal strikes at 200 years of history

  • Peter Clarke stands in the dining room of his home in Bow on Aug. 15, 2017. Even though he left the Pleasant Street home nearly 20 years ago, he said the history of the property is still with him. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Peter Clarke of Bow holds a drawing of his ancestor Peter Clark from his old Pleasant Street home in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Items from Peter Clarke’s old Pleasant Street home show the history and character that come with the old neighborhood. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Peter Clarke stands next to the foot-high chestnut tree he has planted, the descendant of a horse chestnut tree that was fully grown when he was born in 1943. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Peter Clarke stands in his backyard of his Bow home on August 15, 2017. Clarke still carries memories and relics from his one time home on Pleasant Street. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Peter Clarke has plenty of relics from the old neighborhood.

Among them: pottery from his ancestors who first settled there in 1792, chairs made at a long-gone factory nearby and the foot-tall descendent of a horse chestnut tree that was fully grown when he was born in 1943.

In many ways, the 74-year-old said, Pleasant Street in Concord hasn’t changed much since he was a kid. The houses look about the same, and the children who live in them bounce from one yard to the next, just as he and his friends did.

But he’s worried now that the neighborhood is on the verge of a dramatic shift. If it’s rezoned for medical uses, Clarke said he expects the semi-rural character of the street to erode, driving out the families who live there.

“Just the emotional impact will wear them down and it’ll become a mega-medical complex,” Clarke said. “I’m not against medical, it’s just – that’s not the place for it.”

Clarke said he planned to join the opposition to the rezoning proposal at the planning board in Tuesday night an effort to preserve the neighborhood – through more than his relics.

But Pleasant Street residents said they were told Tuesday that there would be yet another delay in the case.

Moving away andcoming back

When Clarke moved away to Bow in the late 1990s, after 50 years on Pleasant Street, it was the end of more than two centuries that his family had spent there.

His ancestor Daniel Clark settled nearby the Turkey River basin in 1792 because the clay was ideal for his pottery business. Two sales of the 297 Pleasant St. property later, Concord Orthopaedics purchased it last year as an ideal location for an expansion of its own business down the street.

Concord Ortho requested in January that the city rezone the entire medium-density residential district that spans the third of a mile east of St. Paul’s School. The practice has argued that the campus of medical offices around Concord Hospital has nowhere better to expand than the small neighborhood to its west, which is sandwiched by institutional zones.

The practice is seeking the blessing of the planning board ahead of the city council’s ultimate decision on the rezoning. If the proposal goes through, it will pave the way for Concord Ortho to build a 20,000-square-foot surgical center on the same 30-acre property where Clarke grew up behind the existing structures.

When Clarke learned of the proposal, he returned to visit the original red house with the squarish windows, where he spent his youth. He knocked on the door of one of the neighbors and got to know them, learning more about their effort to “Keep Pleasant Street Pleasant,” according to their motto.

‘That’s a neighborhood’

Clarke said he was impressed by the organization and passion of the neighborhood’s residents, who have attended numerous city meetings as the proposal wended its way to the planning board.

They also submitted a “protest petition” to the city council that would increase the number of councilors required to approve the rezoning, and lined the sides of Pleasant Street with handmade signs demonstrating against the proposal.

Clarke said this struck him as a contrast to many places where neighbors barely know one another.

“To see those signs – to me, that’s a neighborhood,” he said. “I don’t know if many other neighborhoods would be like that.”

The planning board’s agenda for 7 p.m. Tuesday night notices the second month of discussion on Concord Ortho’s effort to rezone the residential district for institutional uses. Last month, the conversation began late in the meeting and continued through 11 p.m. before the planning board called it a night.

Chairman Richard Woodfin said at the time that he hoped to review the documents presented to the board by the residents and give Concord Ortho attorney Bob Carey a chance to respond to their presentation.

But Pleasant Street resident Laura Bailey said Tuesday night that her neighbors were informed by the planning department that Concord Ortho had requested a 30-day delay, which would bump the hearing to September.

In addition to the comments at the public hearing, dozens of residents from around the city have submitted letters opposing the proposal, according to copies of the letters posted online.

When he gets the chance, Clarke said he’ll add his voice to the chorus to emphasize the history of the place and the unity of the residents.

He said: “I can’t just let it go (without speaking up). It’s not fair.”

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at