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August 05. 2013 10:25PM

Manchester aldermen to discuss Pearl Street parking lot, KC's Rib Shack

MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen is set to discuss a proposed student housing project downtown and the partial shutdown of KC's Rib Shack as part of a crowded agenda this evening.

Tonight's meeting, which begins at 7 at City Hall, is the first full board session for the aldermen following a month-long break over July.

The aldermen are expected to vote on a committee recommendation to issue a request for proposals for the Pearl Street parking lot downtown. Since the Land and Buildings Committee made the recommendation last month, over selling the lot directly to a private developer for a college student housing tower, several other parties have expressed both interest in and concern about the site.

A representative of Stonegate Developers, LLC, based in North Carolina, wrote a letter to Mayor Ted Gatsas last week offering to pay the city $1.2 million for the 3-acre property, which is now a city-run surface parking lot. Stonegate's plan is for a building with 250 student apartments and a 750- to 1,000-space parking garage. The offer is $300,000 higher than the one that was made by VMD Companies, the first firm to express an interest in building student housing there.

On Friday, another developer, American Campus Communities, based in Austin, Texas, indicated that it was interested in the property for student housing.

Both Stonegate and American Campus Communities are working with Mike Castagna, a consultant in Manchester. Castagna had been representing VMD, but no longer is.

"After having initial discussions with them, I determined they were not suited for this project and discontinued further dealings with them," Castagna wrote in his letter on behalf of American Campus Communities. VMD is still pursuing the project, Castagna wrote.

In addition, the general counsel for Brady Sullivan Properties wrote a letter to the aldermen last week expressing concern about the possible elimination of parking spaces due to the development of the lot.

"It is essential that Brady Sullivan be provided an opportunity to engage in an RFP process in order to protect its rights to parking at that lot. 1230 Elm Street was redeveloped by Brady Sullivan in reliance on the existence of that parking," attorney Marc Pinard wrote.

Mayor Ted Gatsas said given the interest expressed in the lot, it makes sense for the city to issue an RFP, rather than negotiate a price with one potential developer.

At the same time, Gatsas said he wasn't sold yet on the concept of student housing for the site — or that parking wasn't the best use for the site.

"Economic development isn't just about what can happen today. It's also about what can happen in the future," he said. "Any developer who comes in, one of the biggest issues is if there is going to be parking."

Tuesday's meeting will also be the aldermen's first chance to discuss the shutdown of the tiki bar and patio at KC's Rib Shack on the West Side. City inspectors ordered the patio shut down in early July, citing a list of urgent health and building violations.

It was later revealed that the owner had been discussing a plan to address concerns raised by a health inspector concerning a portable sink for the tiki bar, but was caught off guard when a building inspector ordered the immediate shutdown of the patio.

The patio was allowed to reopen the next week, and Gatsas issued a new directive to departments requiring inspectors to get the permission of their bosses before ordering a business cease operations.

Other items likely to come up for discussion or votes on Tuesday include removing the welfare commissioner position from the Yarger Decker system of set annual raises; the slight downgrade of Manchester's credit rating; and again making economic development a separate department, rather than a division of the mayor's office.
tsiefer@unionleader.com


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