Peterborough committee seeks time for alternatives to demolishing homes

The house at 24 Gulf Road is one of four the Dubois family is looking to demolish.

The house at 24 Gulf Road is one of four the Dubois family is looking to demolish. —STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FONDA


Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-12-2024 10:32 AM

Modified: 02-19-2024 4:30 PM

The Dubois family has a permit to demolish the houses they own at 23 Gulf Road, 24 Gulf Road, 1 Gulf Road and 26 Crosby Road, and Our Town Landscaping has been working on the properties.

However, because of the size of the properties and age of the buildings – the home on 24 Gulf dates back to circa 1780 and 23 Gulf to circa 1890 – Peterborough’s Demolition Committee is allowed to weigh in, and members used that opportunity Thursday night to ask for a delay in demolition in order to seek other alternatives, including moving the homes.

The Demolition Committee is a subcommittee of the town’s Heritage Commission.

Craig Donais of Wadleigh, Starr & Peters in Manchester, a lawyer representing the Dubois family, said the family has owned the properties for decades, but inspections revealed asbestos that needed to be removed, water leaks and mold damage.

“You open the door, and you can smell the mold,” he said.

Donais said the houses also had significant structural problems, including floors that were tilted and bouncy and windows that need replacing.

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“Given the condition, we don’t think these houses can practically be moved,” he said. “At this point, we think the houses are hazardous to health.”

The houses are on conservation land, and Donais said the family will continue to own the property, as their only plan is to remove the buildings.

“Rumors about investors or sale of the property are simply not true,” he said.

After Donais’ presentation, Select Board Chair Tyler Ward, the board’s representative to the Heritage Commission, said: “I don’t want to sound like a wise guy, but you described what I love about old houses.”

Given the area’s history as part of the town’s Happy Valley neighborhood, Ward said he would plead for time to find out what options are available to move the houses and that the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance was willing to provide assistance.

Subcommittee Chair Jason Pelletteiri read a letter from alliance Executive Director Jennifer Goodman stating that the organization appreciates previous creative solutions for historic property stewardship and reuse, and that the organization has developed “a toolbox of incentives” over the past two decades.

“We hope that stakeholders will explore alternatives to demolition that include traditional or preservation-related ‘curatorship’ leases, subdivision to separate structures from other property assets; moving structures to new locations; and/or other ideas,” Goodman wrote. “We can help provide planning resources if needed and have robust networks to aid as a ‘matchmaker’ to new owners, investors or stewards.”

Subcommittee member Carol Nelson said that during a visit to the properties, she saw only minimal water damage and didn’t smell mold, and that windows get old and need to be replaced. She said that was not enough reason to tear down the houses.

“From what we could see, they were possibly habitable,” she said.

Donais said he had been at the properties in the hour before the meeting and saw several instances of damage, and Anthony Guadagno of Our Town Landscaping said there were signs of water damage before the asbestos was removed, including four inches of water in the basement of 26 Crosby, a house that dates back to 1965.

Subcommittee member Carl Staley said that during his days as a building contractor, he tore down a lot of timber frames in worse shape than 24 Gulf, and that even if there is structural damage, the houses could be moved.

“All of these houses are valuable houses,” he said.

Nelson said there are 70 houses in Peterborogh that were built in the 1700s. Eleven of those are in Happy Valley, and now one of those is targeted for demolition.

“This is one of the original villages in Peterborough, and it is being dismantled piece by piece,” she said.

Resident John Trautwein said that all the discussion of saving the houses is great, but that the town needs to give the Dubois family a reason to do something different with their own houses.

“The commission needs to find a way to get to that point,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, Ward had suggested seeking tax abatements for the properties during the process of exploring other options. Director of Planning and Building Danica Melone said that while the town was not ready to submit a formal proposal, she asked if it would be feasible to put off demolition for 180 days, checking in after the first 30 to provide an update on any progress.

Donais said he thinks the “thumb is on the scale” for the Dubois family to demolish the houses, “but I understand the energy and desire to preserve them,” and so he would take the request back to them.