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Lebanon Board: Store Raises Traffic Concerns

Lebanon — The developers of a proposed Tractor Supply store on the Miracle Mile must wait at least two more weeks for a yes-or-no vote from the Planning Board. During that time, they’ll need to further fine-tune their design for the flow of vehicles between Route 4 and the property’s long, crowded driveway

“We like the (overall) plan,” Planning Board Chairman Tim McNamara told a quartet of the developers’ consultants and experts near the end of the board’s second discussion of the project Monday night. “We have some issues with traffic.”

The project, which the board is scheduled to take up again on March 10, calls for The Richmond Co., a Massachusetts-based retail developer, to replace the existing D&B Outdoor Power Equipment store of 15,000 square feet with a 19,000-square-foot retail store.

Tractor Supply sells products ranging from power equipment and farm supplies to outdoor clothing and pet food. In addition to delivery trucks, the store would attract customers in vehicles ranging from family cars to pick-up trucks hauling livestock trailers.

In a traffic study done for the developer, Massachusetts-based engineering consultant Ron Muller & Associates estimates that the new store would attract 10 more entering and 10 more exiting cars during each weekday rush hour than D&B does now, and 22 more entering cars and 23 more exiting cars during the busiest hour on Saturdays.

At what McNamara conceded already is “not a great intersection” on the busy Miracle Mile, a convenience store and a car dealership are directly across the street, and a neighboring convenience store sits smack at the left side of the entrance to the new store’s access road.

While the developers’ experts focused on their proposal to separate Tractor Supply customers from customers of the neighboring convenience store — including lane markings in the entry road and extending a traffic island to prevent convenience-store customers from cutting across the entrance as they do now — board members zeroed in on the Miracle Mile itself.

“One accident in this particular location could be calamitous,” board member Ken Morley said, citing reports from police of four collisions over the past three years.

Pointing to how quickly existing traffic and road sand and salt already wear away the paint on the Miracle Mile’s center-turn lane, board member Joan Monroe said, “I think a lot of people don’t use (the center-turn lane at that location) because they don’t know who has the right of way. Once the paint’s gone, it’s a free-for-all.”

David Baxter, a real-estate broker for Tractor Supply, told the board that his team will work with the city Planning Office on potential solutions in and along the entry road.

After the hearing, Baxter was reluctant to commit to paying for improvements in the center lane. Lebanon attorney Barry Schuster, representing The Richmond Co., pointed to “the long history” of businesses using the site, particular those involving large trucks.

“It’s hard when you’re dealing with a public right of way,” Schuster said. “(Keeping up a center-turn lane is) part of the city’s normal maintenance.”

After the hearing, McNamara said he wouldn’t rule out the board using its authority to approve the plan on condition that the developer do “off-site work” when the planners take it up again on March 10

“We’re able to require them to do that if we deem it to be necessary,” McNamara said.

The Tractor Supply chain, based in Brentwood, Tenn., operates 15 stores in New Hampshire — the nearest in Claremont, Walpole and Plymouth — and six in Vermont, among them Montpelier. Founded in 1938 as a mail-order supply store in North Dakota, it now runs more than 1,000 stores in 38 states.

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304.