August 06. 2013 11:27PM

After Gatsas veto, Manchester aldermen vote to seek bids for Pearl St. lot

New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Tuesday to issue a request for proposals for the Pearl Street parking lot, which several developers have expressed an interest in buying as a site to build student housing.

The vote came after Mayor Ted Gatsas vetoed a motion passed by a majority of the aldermen to enter into an agreement to sell the property directly to VMD Companies and its principal, James Vitas.

VMD was the first company to approach the city with a plan for the site, an eight-story building that would include three floors of parking and apartments for up to 1,200 students. Recently, two other out-of-state companies expressed an interest in building student housing at the site.

Mayor Ted Gatsas has insisted that the city-operated parking lot should only be sold through an RFP process in which multiple companies could participate.

"I told Mr. Vitas the project sounds great, but we have a process in this city," Gatsas said at the meeting.

Several aldermen, however, said that they were impressed by Vitas' dedication and his proposal.

"Going out for an RFP and losing out on a multi-million-dollar project for people in the maybe column — that's a risk," Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo said.

Vitas attended Tuesday's meeting, and he was joined by representatives of Brady Sullivan Properties. The company had earlier objected to selling the lot outside the RFP process, citing the potential impact on downtown parking. But a representative said the company reached an agreement with Vitas that would "protect our parking rights."

Ward 12 Alderman Patrick Arnold said there seemed to be a different attitude toward disposing of city land, depending on the developer.

"People I talk to say this is a very frustrating process. The rules seem to change depending on who you are," said Arnold, who is a candidate for mayor.

Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur said Vitas had made a fair offer on the property.

"What's wrong with the deal being offered? I know — we want to wait until 10 minutes to 1:00 before the bar closes, and a pretty woman comes in so we can go home with her. Sometimes you take the girl who comes in at 9 o'clock," he said.

However, Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy noted that one of the companies that came forward last week, Stonegate Developers, was offering $1.2 million for the property. VMD had offered $900,000. Taking the lower offer, Roy said, "wouldn't be fair to the taxpayers."

The aldermen voted 8-6 to approve a minority report from the Land and Buildings Committee to enter into an agreement with VMD, while revising the motion to negotiate a price for the lot, rather than accept VMD's offer.

Mayor Gatsas vetoed this motion. An override motion failed 8-6, two votes short of the required number. The aldermen then voted to issue an RFP for the lot within 30 days.