By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY — The road to widening three-quarters of a mile along Route 28 in Derry has been a long one.
Before any construction on the $5.8 million project can begin, the town needed to secure land from 15 separate property owners along the stretch of Manchester Road from Crystal Avenue to Ashleigh Drive. And after years of “friendly” negotiations, town staff say they have just two parcels to go.
But the town has yet to settle with Pinkerton Tavern, the most complicated property on that list.
The tavern building is the only structure standing directly in the way of the widening efforts, and with separate property and business owners, Derry Public Works Director Mike Fowler said negotiations have been tricky.
And now the Town Council is poised to initiate eminent domain proceedings to seize the Pinkerton Tavern parcel, along with 1,384 square feet from Sullivan Tire at 4 Ashleigh Dr.
“The town was attempting to try to get friendly deals on all of the parcels, but at some point, we felt it was necessary to send the message that we really need to get this project moving,” Fowler said.
While Fowler said the town has received no response after several attempts to negotiate with Sullivan Tire, talks with Pinkerton Tavern property owner Arnold Goldstein began in 2007.
By 2008, Goldstein said the town had offered him $910,000 for the property, as long as he terminated his 20-year lease with Guy Streitburger and Jen Lutzen, who have been running the tavern at its 13 Manchester St. location for the past eight years.
Before Goldstein could accept or reject the offer, the town put the project on the back burner in April 2008, after the withdrawal of plans for a new Walmart in the area, Fowler said. The council then revived the plan in late 2009, he said, and a new, though scaled-back, version of the Walmart project has since returned to the town planning board for preliminary design review.
In May 2010, Goldstein said he received and rejected the town’s repeat offer of $910,000, with the hopes that an agreement could be made that would include provisions for his tenants.
“I’m willing to transfer the property to the town anytime,” Goldstein said. “I would just love them to lift that requirement of having no tenants. If they took it over with Guy and Jen in there, they could work it out themselves.”
The town’s initial offer was based on a 2008 assessment, Fowler said, and with changes in the commercial real estate market since then, the town decided to reassess the property for a new offer in July. Goldstein said the second assessment came in at $700,000.
Goldstein said he rejected the reassessment, claiming it was too low, and also maintaining that he wants to see the town do more for Streitburger and Lutzen. Fowler said the town will have to assist the business owners with relocation to comply with state regulations tied to a $700,000 state grant used to partially fund the expansion.
“(Goldstein) has been sensitive, as has the town, to the plight of the tenant,” Fowler said.“We’ve been trying to work out ways to relocate the building and ways to work with them relative to do they want to be relocated to another business location in Derry or do they want to try to retain the building.”
Fowler said the town looked into several options for moving the existing building to another location on the property, but that the limited parking area and nearby wetlands made a relocation impossible. In lieu of that option, Fowler said the town will cover the expense of moving the restaurant’s physical equipment to a new location.
At this point, he said, Streitburger and Lutzen will be able to stay in the building until at least Jan. 4, with the potential to extend for a few months.
But settling up with tenants becomes a separate process from using eminent domain to seize the physical property, Fowler said. And the council will have the chance to formally initiate eminent domain proceedings at its Nov. 3 meeting, after earlier tabling those talks last May. If approved by council, the town will forward its assessment to the New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals, Fowler said.
Ultimately, the state board will decide how much the town will pay Goldstein for his land.
Fowler said he hopes to have the Route 28 widening project out to bid by March, with construction under way in April.
By then, he said, the tavern will be evacuated and hopefully auctioned off to a buyer interested in moving the building to a new location. If no one is interested in the building, Fowler said, it could be knocked down as a last resort.
Though most work will be completed by November 2011, Fowler said some final paving and cleanup efforts will likely continue until April 2012.
And though the end is in sight, Goldstein said he’s been frustrated with town efforts to keep the Pinkerton Tavern alive.
“I’m not too happy with the way things are going and Jen and Guy can’t scream too much because they do business in town,” he said. “The town is supposed to be supporting business, but right now they’re not being very supportive of the tavern.”
Streitburger declined to comment on the pending case, saying only, “There’s two sides to every story.” And while Fowler said he understands the sensitivity of the subject, he said he’s optimistic that everything will work out in the end.
“Derry wants to be a place where business is conducted that brings in good jobs and good operations,” Fowler said. “We want it to be that if you’ve been here for a long time, we’ll help you, but there’s always new ideas and businesses that can only help the community. I think we’re striking a balance between old and new.”