City Contemplates Vacant Property

West Lebanon — Some city representatives are pondering how to boost the quality of life on the city’s west side by utilizing a small parcel of city-owned property that borders one of the area’s busier intersections at the juncture of South Main Street and Seminary Hill.

Members of the Pedestrian and Bicyclist Advisory Committee think the half-acre lot, which was seized due to back taxes and currently provides the footing for a dilapidated 19th century structure, could benefit the community as a possible facet on the Mascoma Greenway — the proposed four-mile recreational path that would connect West Lebaon with downtown.

“This could be a bit of the softness that West Lebanon is missing,” said Erling Heistad, a city councilor who serves on the committee. “You have one image straight ahead of you as you’re going on South Main Street and that is right now a scruffy, scrubby, run-down lot and building that needs a lot of help.”

The City Council tonight could vote on whether to retain the property or to authorize the city manager to sell the land.

The council’s Public Facilities Committee, the main entity charged with guiding the parcel through the process to where it could potentially be sold, has deemed the land “surplus property.”

That committee recommended that it be utilized by the public works department as a storage site as it works on a nearby bridge and sewer projects in the coming years.

But the Pedestrian and Bicyclist Advisory Committee, as well as the Conservation Commission, both voted unanimously to retain the property, which they see as a potential site for a park that would help connect the Greenway to downtown West Lebanon.

Lebanon Recreation and Parks Director Paul Coats said yesterday that the proposed path of the Greenway comes out on Elm Street West, which borders the city property, and ties into the sidewalk .

He said that the land, which has a steep slope, could nonetheless serve as a link for the path and the proposed Westboro Park, which would be located in the rail yard along the Connecticut River .

Coats added that such a link could probably be accomplished by establishing an easement on the property.

The Recreation Commission voted against retaining the land after discussing the issue in an April 2010 meeting.

For his part, Heistad envisions a city park, complete with a curving path to help pedestrians and bicyclists traverse the steep slope, benches and perhaps a swing set. He said such an investment would encourage Lebanon residents young and old to be outside and active.

“West Lebanon deserves to have some attention paid to how the environment feels to people, and you should have a friendly feel,” he said. “And certainly, that corner is not very friendly, and we could abate some of that by having a soft spot just beyond it.”

He cautioned against the development of the land, which he said would “push people away from the outdoors and involvement with their own environment.”

At a Public Facilities Committee meeting in December, Lebanon Planning and Zoning Director Andrew Gast-Bray noted that the central business district could be extended “to the point which might help the 3 Seminary Hill property become more marketable.”

The property sits in a residential district.

The half-acre lot was last assessed in 2011 at a value of $120,800, according to city records.

The records also show that the building there was built around 1830 and contains two units and 12 rooms.

According to city documents, two city departments — Public Works and Assessing — have recommended that the city keeps the land, along with recommendations to retain from the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission made in 2010.

The Lebanon School Board also considered the property in a September 2011 meeting and voted unanimously to express its disinterest in keeping the land.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.