Lebanon — A major Upper Valley developer brought forward plans on Wednesday to construct several new residential and commercial buildings on a downtown property that once served as a city public works facility.
Michael Davidson, who owns the Lebanon-based Ledgeworks property company, is offering the city $400,000 for 20 Spencer St., a 1.7-acre parcel across the street from the Emerson Place Apartments.
City assessing records currently value the property at $906,100, half a million more than Davidson’s offering price.
In a letter to city officials, Davidson said he has both short- and long-term plans for the property. Initially, he said, it could be used by a commercial tenant that employs 30-40 people.
But Davidson also has hopes to redevelop the site to hold 100-200 new housing units and 20,000 square feet of office and commercial space. Preliminary architectural designs show that would be accomplished by constructing three five-story buildings on the property.
“The vision, if you will, is to infill downtown,” Davidson told the Lebanon City Council on Wednesday.
“People want to live in town where they can walk to the pub, walk to the coffee shop, walk to the rail trail,” he said, adding that more residential units would help meet those needs.
The City Council voted unanimously to begin exploring the sale, and requested Interim City Manager Paula Maville make a determination as to whether selling the lot will benefit the public, a step required before city properties can be sold.
“I think this is a wonderful vision and it really does respond to a lot of things in both our downtown vision and our master plan,” said Councilor Clifton Below, who asked whether Davidson plans to pursue energy-efficient building practices.
Davidson said he intends to set the pace for further development downtown. He said that includes leading the way in environmental considerations.
Davidson is well known in the region for purchasing historic properties. According to city assessing records, he currently owns 10 buildings in Lebanon, including the former Lebanon Junior High School.
Davidson also owns several properties on Main Street in Enfield and South Main Street in White River Junction, among other holdings. He told the council most of those projects included energy-efficient upgrades, where they could be added.
Some councilors also wondered about Davidson’s $400,000 asking price for the property. Others asked whether he would be interested in striking a deal on other projects they consider important, such as one that permanently opens the old junior high school’s playing fields to the public.
“As we all move on, if we don’t have a concept of time, you never know what the next generation is going to see as a value,” said Councilor Erling Heistad, whose father helped build the fields.
“I’m not into quid pro quos,” Davidson said. But he assured the council that the fields have a special place in his heart and he has no intention of closing them.
As to the price, Maville told the council that the city hasn’t begun any negotiations and it’s not certain that $400,000 will be the final offer.
Several councilors on Wednesday also praised Davidson’s plans for closely following the recently completed downtown visioning study.
In the study’s final report, consultants refer to the old public works property as a potential “opportunity site,” ripe for development.
It has the ability to hold 60,000 square feet of housing, office space or both, according to the Massachusetts-based consulting firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin.
The study also called for a new sidewalk, lighting and other street improvements on Spencer Street. Consultants estimated those improvements could cost between $200,000 and $500,000 to complete, however.
“A mix of commercial and residential use will keep the street active at different times of the day and week, spread out traffic and support economic development in Lebanon,” the report said.
“It’s pretty much an overlay of the vision study,” Davidson said on Wednesday.
The study “actually bore out what we’re looking for, the things that we want downtown.”
Given the chance, Davidson said, the Spencer Street development is one of several ways he hopes to revitalize downtown.
In his letter to the city, Davidson said he also is working to purchase neighboring 10 Spencer St. and intends to work with officials to clear some 1,000 feet of space near the Northern Rail Trail to create the “Lebanon Low Line,” a new, 2-acre park.
He also recently acquired Roy’s Auto Service on North Park Street, and said he likely would build a 40,000-square-foot residential building behind the old Lebanon Junior High School, “if market conditions allow.”
A new website for the business slated for Roy’s location, calling itself Lucky’s Coffee Garage, recently went live. The website says the shop could open as early as this June.
This is the second time in a year that Roy’s has been on the market. Last spring, owners Cathy and Gregory Giguere signed an option-to-purchase agreement with the Lebanon Housing Authority, which hoped to construct a four-story apartment building on the lot.
However, the application for that proposal was withdrawn in May, after city officials voiced concerns about a lack of parking for residents and worried the new building could appear out of place next to the Soldiers Memorial Building.
Davidson said he hopes to complete the Spencer Street project sometime between two and 22 years. But, he said, the need for housing and office space downtown should spur the project along.
Tim Camerato can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.