Two years ago, a preliminary report recommended further environmental testing at the former Kingsbury Corp. site in Keene, a 22-acre property that has long been eyed for redevelopment.
A regional planning agency had a $200,000 EPA grant to do the initial study and the additional environmental testing it suggested.
But that so-called Phase II assessment never happened. The Southwest Region Planning Commission had to return the money earlier this year, after the landowner refused to grant access to his property for environmental work, Keene City Manager Elizabeth A. Dragon said Thursday at a meeting of the City Council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee.
Dragon's update was informational, and the committee took no action on the matter Thursday night.
The Kingsbury property has been a thorn in the city’s side for years. One of Keene's largest employers, Kingsbury Corp. made machine tools before declaring bankruptcy in 2011. Brian J. Thibeault, a Manchester businessman, bought the site at auction in 2013. The site and its 300,000-square-foot facility have sat mostly vacant since.
Previous groundwater testing found contaminants, possibly from the site’s century of industrial use.
The goal of the Phase II assessment would have been to get a better handle on the exact scope of the contamination there. That would inform what if any cleanup actions are needed.
Dragon also updated councilors on a few other issues related to the Kingsbury property.
For years, it carried a hefty property-tax debt, much of which Thibeault inherited when he bought the site. After the city began the tax-deeding process last year, he reached an agreement to pay almost $700,000 over six months for back taxes, interest and penalties dating to 2009 and 2010. He made the last of those payments in February.
On Thursday, Dragon said the property is still behind on taxes — but not so behind that it is subject to tax deeding, which kicks in after three years of nonpayment.
“Since then, Mr. Thibeault continues to pay the oldest of the most current three years, which keeps the property from moving to tax-deeding status again,” she said. “This is approximately $100,000 per year.”
The city has also long been interested in extending Victoria Street south through a slice of the property to connect with Marlboro Street and acquiring an easement along Beaver Brook for reasons including waterway maintenance and potentially a multi-use trail.
Dragon said that Thibeault rejected the city’s latest offer on those matters in April. She said she asked him to submit a counteroffer, but he has not done so yet.
Also in the spring, a representative of August Consulting PLLC contacted the city, saying Thibeault had hired the Rye-based company to work on developing the property, according to Dragon.
Dragon said city staff met with Thibeault and someone from August Consulting in early May and felt encouraged that they would follow up with the Keene Community Development Department. She said that has not happened yet.
Thibeault said in 2013 that he has experience redeveloping distressed properties. He has since floated various possibilities for the Keene site, including a mixed-use development with housing and businesses.