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Lebanon Board Approves Plaza Addition

Lebanon — The Planning Board last night unanimously approved a new commercial addition to the Upper Valley Plaza shopping complex, representing the final hurdle for a proposal that has been in the works for nearly a decade.

City planners had asked the plaza developers to consider a different location for the addition, which will be adjacent to the JC Penney store, due to concerns it was situated in an area that sustained heavy flooding during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. But Barry Schuster — the Lebanon attorney who represents the Upper Valley Plaza — said that there was no other physical site for the proposed building, which has been reduced in size from 23,000 to 20,000 square-feet since it was last proposed.

“We made some adjustments to bring it down (in size),” Schuster said, “To make it a little bit smaller.”

Robert Frazier — vice president of WS Development, the Chestnut Hill, Mass. developer of the Upper Valley Plaza — said last night that the 20,000 square-foot addition could anchor either one or two tenants, and that he is still working out the details. Frazier told the Valley News earlier this month that he expected to line up the potential tenants and coordinate the financing during the next few months, in time for construction to begin in spring and a potential store to open by fall.

Planning Board members Joan Monroe and Nicole Cormen raised concerns about potential safety issues that could go along with having an added storefront near where the underpass that connects the Upper Valley Plaza to the K-Mart Plaza. Cormen raised the issue of glare from storefront lighting, and Monroe suggested a covered sidewalk to provide more protection for pedestrians.

The plaza addition has run into numerous hurdles in the past.

The city initially approved a developer’s permit in 2004, but it later denied issuing a building permit for the addition after seeking to have the building constructed at an elevation six feet higher to comply with foodplain standards. The Upper Valley Plaza took the decision to the state’s Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in favor of the developers in 2009.

The addition was also delayed by the Interstate 89 Exit 20 improvement project, and was used as a staging area during the construction that created the underpass which now connects the two shopping complexes.

When Tropical Storm Irene flooded the plaza, the city again requested that the building be constructed above flood level, relocated to another part of the plaza, or modified. But given last night’s approval, it will ultimately remain in place.

Also last night, the Board endorsed new fees to be levied on future commercial construction in an effort to help fund the Mascoma River Greenway project, a 4-mile network of shared pedestrian and bicycle trails that would connect the downtown area to West Lebanon.

When completed, the Greenway would connect several neighborhoods with businesses, parks and schools. The Recreation Department estimates that more than 50 percent of the city’s residences are within a half-mile of the proposed path of the project, which picks up where the Northern Rail Trail ends in downtown Lebanon.

Monroe said it made sense to raise revenue from commercial construction projects because the Greenway represents a “really strong component” of the business community by interconnecting neighborhoods and commercial centers, as well as encouraging physical activity for local employees.

“Some of the businesses (in Lebanon) have specifically put in shower facilities, becasue they assume that the workers are going to be using it,” she said.

The new fee schedule for commercial development, which still requires approval by the City Council, would also streamline the way impact fees are applied to residential construction by reducing the number of categories a potential home could fall under.

The city has spent about $260,000 annually on recreational facility improvements since 2000, and officials anticipate spending about $270,000 per year through 2030, which would represent an overall investment of $8.5 million over a 30-year period.

Under the new fee schedule, the city would raise about $1.2 million from non-residential construction through 2030 to be used to help fund the Mascoma River Greenway. In that same time period, the city expects to raise $7.2 million for the trail project from residential construction.

The cost-share for the $2.4 million trail project represents an 85 to 15 percent split between residential and commercial development, respectively.

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