Neighbors Not Thrilled with Dartmouth Field House Plan

  • Dartmouth College is proposing to build a new indoor athletic facility next to the college’s existing tennis center. This artist’s rendering shows a view of the southwest corner of the project from the parking lot hat serves Thompson Arena and other existing athletic fields.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, April 08, 2016

Hanover — A plan by Dartmouth College to build a $20 million indoor athletic facility east of campus has neighbors worried about the size and appearance of the building.

The 70,000-square-foot field house would be located off South Park Street, a half mile from the Dartmouth Green — and just beyond a row of trees that shades a residential neighborhood.

Residents of nearby Tyler Road, which runs behind the site, have met with college planners multiple times to hear more information and voice their concerns, but some remain unsatisfied.

“The overall reaction is sort of incredulity, to tell you the truth,” said Nina Lloyd, whose house is one of the closest to the proposed site. “The size of this building — it’s just enormous.”

Dartmouth’s application for a town site plan review says the building will cost roughly $17.5 million to construct and will include a synthetic turf field, hitting tunnels and multipurpose and training rooms. Dartmouth hopes to begin work in November and end in November 2017.

The purpose of the facility, Dartmouth sports administrators have said, is to allow athletes, particularly those who compete during the spring, a longer window to practice in cold weather.

Dartmouth’s renderings show a modern, utilitarian facade framed by trees, but as Lloyd and others noted, residents on Tyler Road will only see the back.

Lloyd called it “the kind of building you’d install if you were building a recycling center or a trash reclamation center.”

“It’ll be like being in back of a Wal-Mart,” she said later in the conversation.

For its part, the college emphasized that it has worked with neighbors.

“From the outset of the project, Dartmouth has committed to an open and ongoing discussion with the neighbors to provide detailed information about the facility, answer questions, and respond effectively to their concerns,” spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said in an emailed statement. “We held three evening meetings — in November, January and February — with neighbors, and our architect and landscape architect; conducted two morning site walks and meetings with the neighbors and the landscape architect; and held four one-to-one meetings in the homes of abutting neighbors.”

Based on the abutters’ input, Lawrence said, the college has increased landscape screening and has modified the building’s design.

Another close neighbor, Jeff Doyle, noted that this may be the best the abutters can get.

“Dartmouth has represented to us that there is nothing we can do about this,” he said, and “from a zoning point of view, they’re correct.”

The project appears to meet Hanover’s height and setback requirements, Zoning Administrator Judith Brotman noted in an email available in town records, and therefore likely will not need zoning approval.

With the meetings, college officials “are trying to be good neighbors,” Doyle said.

All the same, the longtime resident lamented what he saw as an ongoing encroachment on the college’s part toward his neighborhood.

“This will be the fourth large building in what I see as a sequence of buildings,” said Doyle, whose parents bought his house 40 years ago.

First, 50 years ago, there was Leverone Field House, located across South Park Street near Alumni Gym.

Then, in what had been an open field, came Thompson Arena, the hockey rink. Next, in 2000, was the Alex Boss Tennis Center, which further filled the meadow in front of Doyle’s house, and would be adjacent to the proposed practice facility.

“Each one of these went down a notch on the aesthetic scale,” he said, “and this last one was even more appallingly, shall we say aggressively, economical” in terms of appearance.

Despite the project’s compliance with zoning regulations, Doyle said he hoped the Planning Board might address such concerns during its site plan review.

Planning Board Chairwoman Judith Esmay, however, said her panel doesn’t have statutory authority over a proposal’s aesthetic qualities — except as it concerns the character of a neighborhood.

“We can consider whether the character of the neighborhood can be affected as the design goes forward,” she said by phone Thursday, “but it would have to be pretty extreme.”

Dartmouth was scheduled to present its plans to the board on Tuesday, but ended up postponing the hearing until May.

Given that she had heard neither the school’s presentation nor the residents’ concerns, Esmay declined to comment on the merits of the case.

Incidentally, one of the closest abutters to the proposed facility site is Planning Board Vice Chairwoman Kelly Dent.

She could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

The indoor practice facility is one of many construction projects Dartmouth has going in Hanover, including a $50 million renovation of the Hood Museum of Art and a string of faculty and student residences across town in support of the college’s new “house” system.

Nor is this project the only one to draw criticism from neighbors.

On the other side of campus, Dartmouth recently scaled back a proposed zoning amendment that would have extended the “institutional” district near the Thayer School of Engineering out to West Wheelock Street, allowing the construction of a parking garage.

After neighbors complained, the college revised its amendment to ease setback and height requirements to within the existing “I”-zone.

The Hanover Planning Board’s next meeting is scheduled for May 3; Town Meeting, where voters will address zoning amendments, is May 10.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at 603-727-3242 or at rwolfe@vnews.com.