NASHUA — Avoiding a claim by one alderman who said a fast-track lease agreement with a city hospital could be considered favoritism or promoting special interests, elected officials on Tuesday delayed voting on the matter.
Although six aldermen were prepared to vote on two tentative lease agreements that attempt to resolve an ongoing dispute over city land being used by Southern New Hampshire Medical Center for overflow parking, nine aldermen voted to send the issue back to the Infrastructure Committee for further review.
The agreements would enable the hospital to continue leasing a city-owned parking lot behind the CVS pharmacy on Main Street at a cost $48,000 a year for 15 years, in addition to leasing a parking lot located next to the former Dartmouth-Hitchcock medical building at the corner of East Hollis Street and Medical Center Drive for $24,000 a year.
One of the agreements contains a provision that the property may be purchased by Southern New Hampshire Medical Center for a price of $720,000 with credit for all rental fees. The option to purchase the city-owned land is conditioned upon the hospital redeveloping the site with a future multi-story parking garage, medical office building or similar improvement.
In return, the hospital may lease a portion of the parking lot to the nearby CVS, which is hoping to add a drive-through.
Alderman-at-Large James Donchess referred to the agreement as a “sweetheart lease,” saying the proposal offers rent for “peanuts” while the eventual development at the corner — a pharmacy with a drive-through — will violate the city’s master plan for the downtown area.
Ken Siegel, a candidate for alderman, presented information to the board that suggests the property could be worth significantly more than $720,000. According to Siegel, the nearby Rite Aid pharmacy site at 331 Main Street sold for $3.2 million earlier this year.
“The taxpayers of Nashua will have to pay higher taxes in the future if this deal goes through because the hospital is a tax-free entity,” Siegel said.
Alderman Diane Sheehan said the Rite Aid plot is more than 2 acres, while the city parking lot is .7 acres. Sheehan described the agreements as a “good, solid compromise for everyone,” maintaining it is a fair value.
Alderman Mark Cookson said the board should be ashamed of itself for considering voting on two lease agreements that have not yet been fully reviewed by the Infrastructure Committee. He urged his fellow aldermen to delay the vote on Tuesday.
“It has been before my committee for three hours — less than three hours,” said Cookson, maintaining more time is necessary to study the data and answer remaining questions.
Sheehan contended that the matter has been before the committee for weeks, adding now is the time to put the issue to bed and vote it up or down.
“I think it is time to rip the Band-Aid off and make a decision,” said Sheehan, claiming the leases could otherwise take two years to finalize.
Alderman Dan Moriarty, who voted to send the agreements back to committee for additional review, said this is actually a land sale, not a lease. If the city is going to offer favoritism toward special interests like CVS or the hospital, their full plans need to be fully disclosed, said Moriarty.
With a vote of 9-6, the board decided to allow the committee more time to analyze the lease agreements.