By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Support is mounting for the endangered Pinkerton Tavern, a prominent landmark and thriving restaurant that currently stands in the way of progress.
Whether support will be enough to save the place, in one form or another, remains to be seen.
“I would like the town to work with them,” said Councilor Janet Fairbanks yesterday, after meeting recently with Jen Lutzen and Guy Streitburger, who have run the business for eight years. Fairbanks is in favor of finding a way to save the building from the wrecker ball and move it to another location in town.
It was a proposal made to the council three weeks ago, by Karen Blandford Anderson of the town's Heritage Commission. Fairbanks has taken the suggestion to heart.
“This is the part I don't understand. We have these people who are paying taxes and who give back so much to the community through their business. We should be doing everything in our power to keep businesses in Derry that are currently here, not taking from them,” Fairbanks said.
She was the lone dissenting vote on accepting the project plan, she says, because no one had answered the question of the fate of the historic tavern.
But now that plans are moving full steam ahead, the first order of business is for the town to buy up land along both sides of Route 28 for the expansion to five lanes. Three years ago, there was some talk of moving the building back 20 feet. But that would eliminate the already limited parking space. Encroaching further into the wetlands that sit behind the building to solve the space problem was not an option.
Offers for the fair market value of the land in question have been prepared and are ready to be mailed to all 18 property owners, including Arnold Goldstein of Bedford, who holds the deed to the Pinkerton property under the name L&A Realty. Streitburger and Lutzen said they signed a 20-year lease in 2002 to operate the tavern and restaurant.
On Monday, Town Administrator Gary Stenhouse explained the letters initiating that process have been delayed by the legalities of preparing for the “worse case scenario” – should Goldstein not accept the town's offer, then the town must be begin the process of taking the land by eminent domain.
“The building will either have to be moved or torn down,” Stenhouse said. “The site has a lot of historic value, but the building has been modified over the years to the point where it's no longer eligible on the state or federal registry as a historic building.”
He said it will be up to Goldstein to decide how he wants to move forward. Attempts by the Union Leader to reach Goldstein for comment were unsuccessful, as he has been vacationing outside of the U.S. He is expected to return this weekend.
“I don't have a solution for Mr. Streitburger and Ms. Lutzen. But we have some flexibility as to when they would have to be out of the building, should Mr. Goldstein accept the town's offer,” Stenhouse said.
Although the town's offer will be kept under wraps until it has been accepted or rejected, the current assessed value of the property, including the building, is $627,300. If the decision is made to sell the property to the town, Fairbanks would like to see the council consider selling the building to the couple – if they are interested – for $1.
“That is the precedent they set when they sold the Upper Village Hall to the East Derry Village Improvement Society. It seems only right that the same offer be made available to Guy and Jen,” Fairbanks said.
Stenhouse said he would not be opposed to such a deal.
“I would be happy to give the building away so someone could preserve it,” Stenhouse said.
Whether that is a feasible option remains to be seen.
According to Brian Payne of Payne Building Movers in Center Strafford, moving a large, historic building is not the hard part.
“When you're moving an old building off an existing site to a new one, it technically becomes a new building. And depending on what the building is going to be used for, it's up to the building inspector's discretion whether the old building is up to code by modern standards,” said Payne.
The feasibility of moving a big, old building such as the Pinkerton Tavern, would depend on how far it's being moved, what's in its path and the building's overall condition.
“A building like that could generally be moved in one or two pieces, but when it comes to cost, the sky's the absolute limit – there are so many things to consider,” he said. “It would be possible. But you have to ask yourself at some point does it make economic sense,” said Payne. “I love old buildings. But in these times, you have to consider the cost.”
It would also depend on whether Streitburger and Lutzen are in a position to purchase a property suitable for the building-- of if they can get along without an income while the process unfolds.
“Jen told me they've had people calling to ask if they will be available in August to do a wedding, and she has to tell them she honestly doesn't know. I don't think the town knows the answer to that, either,” Fairbanks said. “But we need to figure it out.”
Stenhouse said the town would work with the couple to look at alternate sites through its new economic development arm, the Rockingham Economic Development Corporation.
“First things first, though. Mr. Goldstein has to decide whether to accept our offer. Until we know that, we won't know how this is going to go,” Stenhouse said.
News that the Pinkerton Tavern was in jeopardy did not sit well with Reed Paige Clark, 80, of Londonderry. Of all those affected by the sale of the property and possible razing of the building, he said he and his family would be most upset.
“My family lived there and ran a farm there for two generations,” said Clark yesterday. “The people who were raised there who are still living – there are fewer and fewer of them with each year – will be totally distraught. I will be the one who has to tell them, and I don't look forward to that at all,” said Clark.