The Hinsdale Convenience store in Hinsdale, N.H., suffered severe damage after a late night fire last August. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer
The Hinsdale Convenience store in Hinsdale, N.H., suffered severe damage after a late night fire last August. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer file photo)
Thursday November 22, 2012

HINSDALE, N.H. -- The land upon which a convenience store, damaged in a fire last August, now sits may soon become the site of town's police station, as the property's owner wants to donate the space to the town.

Two public hearings are scheduled so townspeople can learn more about the matter and have their voices heard. The first one is slated for Monday, Nov. 26, at 6:30 p.m., and the second is set for Monday, Dec. 10.

Lewis Major owns the building at 8 Main St. and rented out the store space to Nafiz Alkhatib until August, when a two-alarm fire broke out in an uninhabited apartment on the second floor. No one was harmed in the blaze but Hinsdale Fire Chief Jay Matuszewski said the building suffered some water damage after firefighters from various departments extinguished the flames.

The convenience store has not re-opened.

Major, who has owned the building for about 10 years, said he would like to see a new station built on the lot, as it would likely help beautify Main Street.

"My wife and I were born and brought up here and if there is something nice we can do for the town, we want to do it," he said, adding that he is too old to stay in the rental business and does not want to rebuild. "I'm 74 years old and I've had enough of it."

He said he is not sure what Alkhatib will do when the building is torn down. He said he hasn't spoken to him in a month because Alkhatib's cell phone is out of service.

Peter Zavorotny, chairman of the Hinsdale Police building committee, said he has looked into five locations, including two spots on the New Hampshire Route 119 corridor and a space next to the current police station on River Road. The committee -- made up of Zavorotny, Vice Chairman and Hinsdale Senior Patrolman Mike Bomba, Joe Conroy, Chris Roberts, Katherine Cunningham, Jeanna Major (representative to Hinsdale Middle/High School), and Selectmen Mike Darcy and Richard Schill -- had previously recommended the River Road site.

He said the lot that hosts the convenience store would be fine for a police station but the town would have to purchase the former apartment facility next door to have enough space. The wooden-frame building was damaged in a winter fire a few years ago and has not had any tenants since that time.

Darcy said the building used to house a veterinary clinic years ago and town has the option of purchasing it for $39,000. That possibility is slated to be one of the topics at each public hearing. He said he expects the hearings to be held on the second floor of Town Hall and hopes both have good turnouts because "the voices that are heard, the better."

The public hearings are meant to gauge citizens' support or opposition to developing on the site.

Darcy told the Reformer the town is set up to accept the donation and there is a decent chance the land will eventually hold a new police station. He said a building there would meet all expectations and concerns expressed by townspeople in a survey at Town Meeting a few years ago. Voters also appropriated $25,000 into a Capital Reserve Fund in order to construct a new station by a 103 to 15 margin.

In 2011, the Reformer reported that a townwide questionnaire indicated 11 percent of the town's 314 residents thought the current location was excellent. Nearly 200 rated its condition as fair or poor, more than 60 percent supported the idea of building a new structure and more than a third in favor of a downtown location.

Darcy, like Major, said constructing a police station on the site could help revitalize Hinsdale's downtown area. He also mentioned that it is inspiring anytime something positive can come out of a building being gutted by a fire.

"It seems like a good fit," he said, adding that there would be minimal site costs.

Darcy said the convenience store site is one of a handful the Hinsdale Board of Selectmen have been considering.

Hinsdale Police Chief Todd Faulkner said he is much more focused on getting a new station built than where it would be located. The town's police department have operated out of a temporary facility at 102 River Road since the 1980s.

"We do need a new police station. That has becoming overwhelming abundantly clear," he said, adding that the department is busier than it was two decades ago. "We've outgrown it. It's not safe for us. Every day our officers have to change their tactics to remain safe."

Faulkner said the building is accessible to the public but a bit out of the way.

He said he has heard rumors about a new station being built on the Major's land but has not been approached about it.

Major said if Hinsdale does not accept the land he will have the house taken down before the winter. However, the three-bedroom house (10 Main St.) he rents to family behind the convenience store will remain standing.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.