River Park Seeks Smaller Right of Way

West Lebanon — Developer David Clem has asked the city’s Planning Board to consider reducing the width of the right of way for an approved road extension, one piece of his 38-acre River Park development to the west of Route 10 in West Lebanon.

In a phone interview last week, Clem said he is skeptical that the city will need the 50-foot right of way to maintain its infrastructure because utilities, including water, sewer and electrical lines, will all be buried underground along the length of the Crafts Avenue extension.

“Protection for future utility poles doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me,” he said.

But city staff have expressed a reluctance to deviate from the 50-foot standard for right of way widths for new roads. They say that width is necessary for the Department of Public Works to conduct maintenance without the hassle of getting permission from each individual landowner first.

The existing Crafts Avenue right-of-way — which includes sidewalks, drainage pipes and utility poles, as well as the road itself — is 40 feet, 10 less than the 50-foot area reserved for the same purposes for the extension.

Because differences in the right of way widths would prevent sidewalks from lining up between the existing street and the extension, the right-of-way widths should match, said Clem.

Clem also expressed a concern about a “no man’s land” between residences and the road way — predicting residents would come to think of the outer edge of the right of way as part of their properties only to discover that the city can use the space to conduct maintenance on its infrastructure.

“People who mow the grass think it’s their land, when in fact it’s not,” he said.

Particular features Clem said he hopes to protect by reducing the width of the Crafts Avenue extension right of way are some “very mature” red pine trees planted by the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s. Clem said a prospective buyer for two of the residential lots on the extension would like to keep the trees, if possible.

The city has reduced right of way widths in the past for The Falls, off Route 10, and Rock Ridge, formerly Sleeper Village, said David Brooks, the city’s senior planner and interim zoning administrator.

But, said Brooks, in both these circumstances the roads are privately owned and on-street parking limitations are in place.

The Planning Board’s 2011 approval of River Park included a 50-foot right of way for the Crafts Avenue extension and required that the city own and maintain it, said Brooks.

Mike Lavalla, the city’s director of public works, said he saw no reason to deviate from the standard in this case. He said the width is necessary for the department to do its work.

“We don’t want to be in a position where we need to do something (and) we can’t do it,” said Lavalla.

He refuted Clem’s claim that the sidewalks between new and old portions of Crafts Avenue wouldn’t line up. If anything, Lavalla said, the additional right of way width “gives more latitude” for installing sidewalks.

As the Planning Board considers the width of the Crafts Avenue extension right of way, discussions between Clem and the New Hampshire Department of Transportation are ongoing. The unanswered question of whether the anticipated increase in traffic for River Park warrants a third lane on Route 10 is the primary remaining hurdle before the project can move forward.

The Planning Board is scheduled to review Clem’s Crafts Avenue extension proposal at its meeting at 6:30 tonight at City Hall.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.