Board votes in mall foe

By PATRICK MEIGHAN, Telegraph Staff
Published: Friday, Apr. 28, 2006

MERRIMACK – Nancy Harrington, president of a grass-roots citizens group that has been fighting a regional outlet center, was appointed to the board of selectmen Thursday.

Earlier in the meeting, before Harrington’s appointment, Selectmen’s Chairman Dave McCray announced that in a closed session, the board voted 4-0 not to appeal a Hillsborough County Superior Court ruling that will allow plans for the 550,000-square-foot center to go forward.

Harrington was sworn in shortly before 10 p.m. after the board heard from 10 of the 11 residents who had applied for the seat. The 11th, who couldn’t attend the meeting, submitted a letter that McCray read.

Harrington replaces former Selectman Chuck Mower, who resigned April 13. She’ll serve the remainder of Mower’s term, which expires April 2007.

On July 1, she and the other members of the five-member board of selectmen will become members of the town’s first council because of a charter approved by voters April 11. Two additional council members will be elected June 13.

Speaking to reporters during a recess in the meeting, Harrington said she would recuse garding the mall or its developer, Chelsea Property Group Inc. of New Jersey.

She also said her involvement in the issue as president of the Concerned Citizens of Merrimack Alliance would prevent her from serving as the selectmen’s liaison to the planning board.

With the court ruling last month, Chelsea can present formal plans for the outlet center to be built off of Exit 10 of the F.E. Everett Turnpike to the planning board, which would have to approve its site plan and examine issues such as traffic and impact on an important aquifer.

“We all want what’s best for Merrimack,” Harrington said, adding that she was surprised she was selected from the 11 candidates.

Selectman Betty Spence nominated Harrington, who initially was chosen by a 3-1 vote, with Selectman Tom Koenig voting against her.

Koenig said that while he thought Harrington was well qualified to be a selectman, he supported Finlay Rothhaus, a former selectman and member of the nine-member commission that drafted the town charter.

However, Koenig asked his board members for a re-vote, so he could make Harrington’s appointment unanimous.

Koenig then congratulated Harrington and welcomed her to the board.

Before nominating Harrington, Spence said all of the candidates were excellent, and she hoped all would consider running for the town council in the upcoming election.

“This is one of the hardest decisions I will be making on this board,” said Spence, who was attending her fourth meeting as a newly elected selectman.

Spence said picking a selectman was more difficult than the decisions the board made during a special meeting Wednesday night, when they reduced town spending by $1.5 million to fulfill a mandate by voters.

Praising all the candidates, McCray noted that the first rule in business is to “hire someone smarter than you.”

Whoever was picked would “hit that bull’s eye,” he said.

Besides Harrington and Rothhaus, the other candidates were budget committee member Rick Barnes, businessman Bob Bevill, parks and recreation commission Chairwoman Janet Cormier, businessman Doug deBruyn, businessman and former selectman’s candidate Dan Dwyer, charter commission Chairman Tom Mahon, Merrimack Youth Association Vice President Michael Ruggiero, and financial manager and business owner James Smalley.

In announcing the board’s decision not to appeal the Chelsea ruling, McCray said the selectmen would work with other town boards and abutters to make sure the developer has a positive impact on the town aesthetically, financially and on the quality of life in the community.

Meanwhile, the Concern Citizens are awaiting word on an appeal the group filed to the state’s highest court, because the group was denied intervener status in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

Briefs by the Concerned Citizens and by Chelsea have been filed with the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the issue. If the court grants the intervener status, then the Concerned Citizens group may file an appeal of the ruling, which overturned a “protest petition” that had negated a town vote on a zoning change the developer needed to build the outlet center.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or