Council mulls 'domain' over Peirce land: Portsmouth NH Herald News, 10/16/06

By Adam Leech

The [Portsmouth] City Council will receive a report tonight from City Attorney Bob Sullivan on the use of eminent domain, then vote on a tabled motion that could guarantee the city never seizes the Peirce property by way of eminent domain to expand Portsmouth Middle School.

The motion was tabled at the Oct. 5 meeting by a 6-3 vote, with a majority of the council saying it needed more information before saying decisively it has no intention of using the Peirce land.

The report the council will receive tonight will echo what Sullivan already told the Joint School Advisory Committee - the group looking at the future of the Portsmouth Middle School - at a meeting in September.

Although many have assumed the 4.3-acre parcel was off limits because the Peirce family gave it to the city in 1913 with the restriction it be used as a park, Sullivan said the city has the legal right to acquire the property. The city would have to pay for the land, which has informally been assessed at approximately $2 million. The city would need permission from the state attorney general's office because it enforces the Peirce deed restriction.

Councilor Laura Pantelakos, who made the motion to eliminate the possibility of seizure, said she doesn't need to hear a report to know taking the land would not be the right thing to do.

"There's nothing that Bob can say that will change my mind. I've seen the deed. The land was given in good faith," she said. "No matter how you use the term (eminent domain), it's a lot of bull - a lot of lawyer talk. The fact of the matter is the man gave it to the city for open space."

She said she was disappointed a majority of her fellow councilors - Councilor John Hynes and Harold Whitehouse were the only councilors who voted with Pantelakos - would not vote to put the issue to rest and "ease a lot of people's minds."

Assistant Mayor Tom Ferrini said popular assumptions about the restrictions on the deed may not be accurate in terms of what can be done with the parcel. He thought the council should hear Sullivan's presentation, as he did at the joint meeting, before making a decision.

Portsmouth NH Herald News: http://www.seacoastonline.com