Developer article in Courier 2003

Published in The Courier March 19, 2003
reprinted with permission

Developer drops Highland Croft plans

By LYN BIXBY, Courier Staff

LITTLETON—Local demolition permits were signed this week for the Highland Croft estate, which is under option to a Home Depot developer. But at the same time federal officials warned that destruction of potentially historic buildings could jeopardize plans for the site.

The words of caution came from the Army Corps of Engineers in a letter Friday to Robert Bourgeois of Gilford, whose Highland Croft Realty LLC owns the property.

“I hope you will consider the matter carefully before proceeding further as doing so may prevent us from issuing you a Corps of Engineers permit necessary to develop the property, should you need one,” said the letter signed by Christine Godfrey, chief of the regulatory division. “Since there are waters of the U.S. and adjacent wetlands on your site… you may well need to obtain a Corps permit.”

Godfrey’s letter was triggered by an alert from James McConaha, the state historic preservation officer and the director of the N.H. Division of Historical Resources.

“The buildings to be demolished include an architecturally significant White Mountains turn-of-the-century summer cottage, a matched pair of barns, a farmhouse and other structures,” he wrote Godfrey in a letter Thursday. “It is the initial judgement of the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources, the State Historic Preservation Office, that these buildings are likely eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.”

McConaha’s letter was also sent to the Federal Highway Administration, which could be involved in traffic-related issues at the site, which is adjacent to the Interstate 93 interchange at Exit 43.

If plans to develop the property require any federal oversight, approvals or permits, he said a review would be required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

The demolition permits that were signed Monday by Town Manager Jason Hoch also referred to the act.

Hoch attached two conditions to the permits:

  • “The applicant must meet with the town manager and fire chief to review specific preservation, salvage and/or demolition plans prior to the beginning of such work.”
  • “The applicant shall ensure that all actions… are consistent with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 or that any demolition plans and anticipated future use are not subject to any conditions of the act.”

Hoch said the second condition was advisory.

A Section 106 review, he said, would most likely force preservation of some buildings or steps to mitigate their loss.

“It doesn’t completely protect the buildings,” Hoch said, “but it raises the bar of at least you have to acknowledge they exist and come up with a plan of how to offset that impact. It just means there’s a higher level of scrutiny.”

Hoch had considered another condition, requiring the developer to delay demolition until after all necessary local, state and federal approvals had been obtained. But Monday he said the federal Section 106 review would accomplish the same objective.

“They have the authority to do it, and it’s very clear that they have the authority,” he said. “My authority is unclear.”

Delaying demolition, he said, would provide time for interested people to pursue ways to save some of the buildings.

More than two dozen of them, including McConaha, gathered at the Community House Annex two weeks ago to talk about preservation after the history of the property was highlighted in a story in The Courier.

The Highland Croft estate is a former farm where William B. Dickson, a steel industry executive from Pittsburgh, built a distinctive stone summer home in 1911. A Massachusetts developer, Robert MacPherson, who has built a number of Home Depot stores, is paying $10,000 a month on an option to buy the property, which is zoned commercial and encompasses 44 acres off Route 18 by Exit 43.

Home Depot officials have said they plan to put a store in the Littleton area, and Andy Smith of Peabody & Smith Realty has said the Highland Croft property, which is in a commercial zone, is the leading contender.

Smith was at the preservation meeting two weeks ago that was organized by Amy Paul of Bethlehem and Jeff Richards, a teacher at Littleton High School. Within days they had created a Web site and a steering committee.

Since then, Richards said Monday, he has spent a lot of time on the telephone, contacting officials at Home Depot to talk about preserving some of the buidings, and officials at U.S. Steel and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. to talk about financial and other support.

“We’re saying we’re all for Home Depot,” he said. “We just want to work with Home Depot and help preserve the buildings, too.”

He said Dan Harr, Home Depot’s real estate manager in the company’s eastern region, appeared willing to work with his group.

But in an interview Monday, Harr said he is still trying to sort out the situation.

“The issue has gotten a little ahead of itself,” he said. “I just don’t understand the details of the property yet. We’re trying to understand the existing buildings and we’re conducting our due diligence.”

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