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Manchester aldermen give court-blocked rezoning new life

New Hampshire Union Leader

July 18. 2018 10:40PM

MANCHESTER — Manchester aldermen breathed new life into a controversial rezoning for luxury townhouses in the city’s south end that a court had blocked for failing to reach a super-majority threshold to pass.

Last October, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 9-5 to approve the rezoning request from developer William Socha.

Socha petitioned the board to rezone three privately held parcels from single-family to suburban multi-family.

In response to criticism of his initial plan, Socha has in recent months reduced his project from 200 units to 160 and increased the size of a buffer.

The current zoning would allow for 26, single-family homes on the three parcels totaling 24.5 acres.

Socha said the development will generate $1.1 million for city coffers in the first year and $600,000 every year after that in local property taxes.

But residents of Lucas and South Mammoth Roads opposed the project, warning it would spoil one of the last rural sections of the city.

Abutters sued the city and Socha and a Superior Court judge last spring ruled the city had been mistaken that only a simple majority was needed to approve the rezoning.

The judge said at least 10 votes, or two-thirds of the aldermen, were needed on board to pass the measure.

Mayor Joyce Craig had condemned the project as an example of the “pay-to-play” politics of former Mayor Ted Gatsas. Socha had contributed $10,000 to Gatsas’ mayoral campaign.

But the issue came back up to start the rezoning process all over again and on Tuesday night all but three of the 14 aldermen wanted the matter taken up again.

Alderman-at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur said Socha could sue the city and win for giving him bad legal advice.

“As a legal perspective, we may be on the hook for damages based on an accident that the city caused,” said Levasseur, who holds a law degree along with owning a restaurant.

“It was an honest error but an error that relates to the value of that property,” he said.

Alderman Tony Sapienza said the residents deserve to have this issue over and done with.

“I don’t think we should be harassing the neighbors down here, make them rezone their property,” Sapienza said.

“He had his vote, he didn’t get what he needed. If you don’t get what you want from this board, you have to keep coming back, is that the message we want to send?”

Prior to this debate, several abutters urged the aldermen not to revive the issue.

We would like to reiterate we are very much against this zoning,” said Elizabeth Voyatzakis of Lucas Road. “We don’t think it’s appropriate to the area and don’t think South Mammoth Road can handle the traffic.”

Ward 4 Alderman Christopher Herbert said the court’s ruling stumped him.

“It sounds to me this precedent means anybody can come in and challenge a rezoning and we need a super majority,” Herbert said.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me. We have a housing problem in this city and single-family residences are not going to solve it.”

Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh and Ward 8 Alderman John Cataldo joined Sapienza as the only aldermen that did not want this second rezoning bid to proceed.

“I acknowledge that the city made a mistake,” Cataldo said. “We should hold off on this. This is still going on in the court and we should not make any assumptions and let that legal process play out.”

City Solicitor Emily Rice said the court has rejected the city’s bid to dismiss this appeal and decided a super-majority vote was needed for this rezoning.

Now that the aldermen have decided to let it back in, City Clerk Matt Normand said a new public hearing will be held over the next 45 days.

General News Manchester

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