Aldermen approve sale of West Side Park land to community center defenders

Part of the property seen from the Parkside Middle School parking lot. Photo/Andre Sylvia

MANCHESTER, NH – On Tuesday night, Manchester’s Mayor and Aldermen’s Council deemed land just south of Parkside Middle School surplus, then determined it was in the city’s interest to sell it for $600,000 to a group seeking to build a new community center on the site named after the late philanthropist and businessman Mark Stebbins.

The idea for the community center was born late last year, with the land identified by the group in April. The council of mayors and aldermen committee on land and buildings recommended the sale in a June 4-1 vote, with At-Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur voting in opposition and Ward Alderman 5 Anthony Sapienza stating that he only temporarily supports the measure.

Tuesday night’s meeting began with a stream of public comments in favor and against the sale, following an hour-long community meeting with Parkside neighbors.

Supporters of the community centre, which is currently expected to be shared equally between Manchester Boys and Girls Club and Amoskeag Health, told Parkside and again on Tuesday night that they needed the support of neighbors for the proposed project. However, several neighbors in attendance on Tuesday night felt ignored throughout the process so far and that Parkside meeting organizers cast the project as a foregone conclusion and weren’t really interested in the neighborhood’s input.

The proposed parcel outlined in red, just south of Parkside Middle School. City of Manchester GIS/Screenshot

Most opponents of the sale were not opposed to the developers’ intentions, with several believing that the family health care and children’s recreational services that would be provided by the proposed center would benefit the West Side of the city.

Yet neighbors speaking in opposition have questioned why the center could not be placed elsewhere on the West Side, such as unused parts of Manchester West High School. Neighbors also expressed frustration with the perceived speed of the sale compared to the disposal of other city properties that went through an RFP process, such as Hallsville Elementary School, some asking that the decision be delayed until more information can be provided to avoid unintended consequences and any other proposals could be presented.

Perhaps the biggest point of opposition from neighbors came from fears of the impact of the community center on the community garden on the site and the lack of a comparable park nearby as well as the impacts of traffic and traffic. impact of unsavory items.

Patrick Binder, a volunteer with the We Heart West community group who spends time cleaning up parks on the west side, said the park lot in question was the only one on the west side free of drunken individuals, empty needles and litter.

“(The developers) already have a vision and a dream and their dreams and visions are beautiful, but (why) when it comes to destroying a city park to make it happen and getting a special rate on the land that was not available to me?” he said. “You know, I might want to build a community center, why can’t I buy this land for $600,000?”

Neighbors also expressed concern about the planned size of the facility, two stories of 20,000 square feet per floor, not including a parking lot. Project facilitator Jeanine Tousignant told Manchester Ink Link that figure would represent just 12% of the total area of ​​the proposed plot.

Tousignant and project steering committee member Mike Reed also responded to neighbors’ concerns about perceived speed and frustration with the lack of information by saying it was unclear if the land would be viable as a only option until the vote on land and buildings, by making proposed renderings. or premature plans.

Proponents of the sale expressed the lack of comparable services currently in place on the West Side that would be offered by the proposed center, especially for West Side residents without reliable transportation. Proponents also noted that the city would not have to contribute financially to the project, with organizers of the proposed center expecting to raise $17 million that the city would otherwise not be able to raise specifically for this purpose.

James O’Connell, a member of the At-Large School Board Committee, feared that if the city did not accept this opportunity, it would have a chilling effect in the future on other philanthropic efforts to help city residents. .

“We should greet this with open arms, smiling and saying we need you and we thank you for what you are already doing and we hope you will do more in our city,” he said.

Alderman At-Large June Trisciani introduces the motion on Tuesday. Photo/Andre Sylvia

Alderman At-Large June Trisiciani offered to designate the land as surplus and sell the land to the organisers, noting Manchester Boys and Girls Club’s reputation in the city as well as the fact that the facility would have to go through the Council of planning and Zoning Board adjustments as well as other steps.

Manchester Boys and Girls Club’s role in the project attracted the support of Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry and At-Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur, both members of the Boys and Girls Club in their youth.

Levasseur said he felt conflicted to back the proposal given neighbors’ concerns, but added the strong reputation of Amoskeag Health in addition to the Manchester Boys and Girls Club to his decision.

“The project itself is perfect for the West Side, but not perfect for the neighborhood. In all my years on the Planning Council, it was rare to see so many goalscorers come out and be upset,” he said. “I hope (the developers) will be as gentle as possible and work with the neighbours.”

Aldermen were also pleased with promises from developers not to remove the community garden from the site, with Anthony Sapienza saying his land and buildings committee concerns were met after the terms of the agreement to buy and sell the land would return ownership of the land. return to the city if the site is used for anything other than nonprofit health and social services for youth and families offered by supporters of the facility.

Ward 8 Alderman Ed Sapienza was the only voice of direct opposition to the proposal, saying the process should have gone through a request for proposal.

The motion was approved by a non-unanimous vote, with Ward 12 Alderman Erin George Kelly abstaining due to a conflict of interest.

Jill E. Washington