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Zoning rules redux for 160 luxury condos in Manchester south end residential neighborhood

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 13. 2018 2:18PM
A rural area of Lucas Road in Manchester could be the future home of an apartment complex. (Allegra Boverman/Union Leader File)

MANCHESTER — City aldermen will hold a public hearing this week that could breathe new life into a controversial rezoning for luxury townhouses in the city’s south end that a court blocked earlier this year for failing to reach a super-majority threshold to pass.

The public hearing will be held on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Aldermanic Chambers at City Hall.

Last October, city aldermen voted 9-5 to approve the rezoning request from developer William Socha. Voting in favor of the request were Aldermen Chris Herbert, Dan O’Neil, Joseph Kelly Levasseur, Bill Shea, Barbara Shaw, Bill Barry, Normand Gamache and Keith Hirschmann, along with former Ward 2 alderman Ron Ludwig. Opposed were Kevin Cavanaugh, Tony Sapienza, and Elizabeth Moreau, along with former aldermen Pat Long and Tom Katsiantonis.

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.

Residents of both roads submitted a petition opposing the development that included signatures from more than 20 percent of property owners located “within 100 feet immediately adjacent to the area affected by the change or across a street from such area,” thereby invoking state statute 675:5, which requires a favorable vote from two-thirds of the full board to pass. But one homeowner changed her mind and asked that her name be taken off the petition — dropping the total to below the 20 percent threshold.

According to city planner Jodie Levandowski, that decision meant aldermen needed only a simple majority — rather than a two-thirds vote — to change the zoning.

Following the vote, residents Elizabeth Voyiatzakis and David Giovagnoli challenged that decision in Superior Court, claiming the city failed to comply with state law when calculating the appropriate buffer area used to determine the number of property owners needed to trigger a two-thirds vote.

Superior Court Judge Diane Nicolosi agreed and denied the city’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that applying state law as the city did would render parts of it “meaningless.”

Judge Nicolosi said at least 10 votes, or two-thirds of the aldermen, were needed to pass the measure.

Aldermen voted last month to start the rezoning process all over again, with all but three of the 14 board members — Kevin Cavanaugh of Ward 1, John Cataldo of Ward 8, and Tony Sapienza of Ward 5 — voting in favor of taking the matter up again.

Ahead of Tuesday’s public hearing, residents of Lucas and South Mammoth Road are once again voicing their displeasure with the project. Patricia Chase said in an email to city aldermen she has lived on Lucas Road for six years.

“We chose our home for many reasons, but one that was very important then, and even more important to us now, is the character of the neighborhood,” writes Chase. “I’m sure this is a sentiment expressed by many, if not all, of my neighbors. Lucas Road is a little slice of heaven in the city. The privacy, the quiet, and the wildlife all make this a very special place. This unique character will be irreparably damaged by the construction of 160 units of apartment housing.”

Celine Bilodeau also lives on Lucas Road. She wrote in an email to city aldermen that she opposes the rezoning because the impact the development could have on local schools.

“The tax income to the city will be greatly reduced if these units have at least 60 children,” writes Bilodeau. “Mr. Socha is the only one who will gain from this rezoning approval, and this will be a loss for the area residences as well as the city of Manchester. Our neighborhood will be forever changed.”

Local and County Government Manchester

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