River Park Developer Requests Extension
West Lebanon — Developer David Clem has asked the Planning Board for a two-year extension for the 38-acre River Park development in West Lebanon due to a state requirement that a section of Route 10 be widened to three lanes. Without the extension from the board, Clem would have to reapply for Planning Board approval for the project.
Clem wrote in an Aug. 12 letter to the Planning Board that the New Hampshire Department of Transportation condition “would eliminate significant parking spaces” at Route 10 businesses Allard’s Furniture and Computac Inc., as well as cut into the front yards of three private homes north of the entrance of The Falls housing development.
“I have been working with the new DOT commissioner since the fall of 2012 to resolve this matter, and felt we had reached a satisfactory compromise,” Clem wrote. “However, based on a recent communication from staff engineers to our consultant, I do not believe the issue can be resolved by October of this year.”
October is the deadline for Clem to meet certain milestones outlined in the 2011 Planning Board approval for the project. Planning Board member Nicole Cormen said if the board denies the extension, Clem would be back to square one on the project.
“If you don’t grant an extension, the application is basically no longer valid and they have to resubmit and start over,” Cormen said.
Clem did not respond to phone calls requesting comment. In the letter requesting the extension, he also listed pending Crafts Avenue sewer work that is still in the design phase and the possible reorientation of a private roadway inside the development as other factors influencing his request for more time.
Plans for River Park include 840,000-square-feet of office, laboratory and retail space, as well as single and multi-family homes and two parking garages totaling 500,000 square-feet.
The DOT has jurisdiction over whether to allow the development to make “curb cuts” — entrances and exists onto Route 10, which is a state highway. Clem called the widening “a solution I do not endorse.”
DOT District Two Engineer Alan Hanscom, explaining the need for the widening, said about 7,000 vehicles travel past that section of Route 10 daily. He added that River Park would add about 670 vehicles to afternoon rush hour traffic, which would be more than half of the current traffic levels.
“This additional traffic would have impacts up and down (Route 10),” Hanscom said. “It would make it that much more difficult for vehicles trying to turn into and out of the 11 driveways located between the two intersections as well as intersections and driveways all along the corridor.”
Hanscom said the third lane, which would be placed in the center of the road, would create a spot out of the travel lanes for vehicles to wait while attempting to turn left into driveways. It would also allow for a vehicle to wait for a gap in traffic after having turned left out of a driveway.
Hanscom said the widening would begin just south of Chandler Street and extend north to a point about a quarter mile north of Allard’s Furniture.
“Without the third lane, left-turning traffic would wait in the travel lane while through-traffic would travel around the turning vehicle on a paved shoulder,” Hanscom said. “This would increase the potential for rear-end crashes as well as conflicts with pedestrians and bicyclists using the paved shoulder, and result in an overall degradation of the safety and capacity of the roadway.”
Hanscom said the state right-of-way extends about 11 feet beyond the edge of the existing pavement and would accommodate the additional lane.
Wayne and Tina Churchill live on Route 10, also known as North Main Street, and would lose a good chunk of their front yard to the road widening project. The couple learned of the situation on Thursday night, when Clem stopped by to inform them.
They would lose roughly a third of their yard, about five feet. Their home is currently set back about 15 to 20 feet from the road’s edge, depending on where it is measured.
The Churchills said they would need to cut down a large lilac bush that provides a sound and privacy barrier. They also would have to reconfigure their loop driveway.
“It would be a raw deal for us; it would be,” Tina Churchill said on Friday. “I pay my taxes on time and when we bought the house, yes, we knew it was close to the road, but we also saw the setup and it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Tina Churchill said that she supports the River Park project but doesn’t see a need for an additional lane on Route 10. If anything, she’s worried that the widening might encourage drivers to go faster.
“People are going to go speeding by worse than they already do, and I have a 9-year-old son who likes to play in his yard,” Churchill said. “You’re taking part of his yard away to widen the road, and for what?”
John Hochreiter, who owns the information technology company Computac, said he too has met with Clem and that the state’s requirement to widen the road did not come as a surprise. Hochreiter said the company has been in business at the West Lebanon location since the 1960s and has always known that part of its parking lot was situated on the Route 10 right-of-way, which the state controls.
“We knew someday, somebody would knock on our door and say that we’re in the right of way,” Hochreiter said.
Hochreiter said he is concerned about losing parking spaces because his existing lot barely meets the minimum required under city zoning, which is based on the square-footage of the building. He added that the company employs about 35 people at the offices, which take up about 9,000 square feet.
“We’re now aligned for all of the spaces we need for our current zoning,” Hochreiter said. “So depending on how (the city) reacts to this, that could be a question.”
Like the Churchills, Hochreiter said he is “absolutely in favor” of the River Park development.
“I think that will be a very good thing for the area and for West Lebanon,” he said.
The Planning Board will consider Clem’s request for additional time to satisfy approval conditions and obtain building permits on Monday at City Hall at 6:30 p.m.
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213