Road closure and mixed-use plans for West Lebanon lots head to City Council

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-07-2023 1:49 AM

WEST LEBANON — The City Council next month will consider whether to sell three city-owned properties on Main Street to a private developer — and whether to join the properties by closing Church Street, which intersects the parcels.

The West Lebanon Revitalization Advisory Committee, a group tasked by the City Council with seeking community input on how to use the three city-owned commercial lots — 14, 28 and 30 Main St. — is recommending a mixed-use development that provides housing, commercial offerings that attract visitors and outdoor space for informal gatherings.

The committee finalized its recommendations to the council at a meeting on Monday at City Hall.

The City Council will discuss the committee’s recommendations and whether to seek proposals from developers at a meeting on Jan. 17.

The city also is looking to redevelop vacant properties in downtown Lebanon, including 20 Spencer St., which the City Council aims to develop into affordable housing.

In June, the city purchased the three Main Street lots from real estate firm Chiplin Enterprises for $1.75 million.

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The city intends to raze the commercial buildings on those lots — which are all over 120 years old and in deteriorating condition — and to either build a new West Lebanon fire station, or develop a commercial or public project that will help spur economic revitalization in the area, according to Mayor Tim McNamara.

“We were concerned about someone else buying (the buildings) and leaving them as is, milking every nickel out of them but doing nothing in the way of improvements,” McNamara told the West Lebanon advisory committee members on Monday.

The city is still leasing out the commercial spaces to the tenants who occupied the buildings at the time of purchase, including Vintage Home Center, a furniture reseller at 14 Main St., and Lebanon Sewing & Vacuum Center at 28 Main St.

The advisory group based its recommendations on feedback from residents, businesses and stakeholders, including that received via an online survey launched in October.

Of the 350 individuals who completed the survey, 180 lived in West Lebanon, 94 were Lebanon residents and 73 either owned a business or were employed in West Lebanon. Three survey-takers said they did not live in the city.

Sixty percent of the survey-takers said they would like the properties developed into a mixed use of housing and retail, while 28% said the properties should be used to build a new fire station.

A 2019 study of Lebanon’s public safety buildings conducted by Manchester-based Lavallee Brensinger Architects found that both city fire stations — including the West Lebanon station on Main Street — do not meet modern safety and operating standards.

McNamara noted on Monday that the City Council is nearing approval of a $22 million project to replace the central fire station in downtown Lebanon. That project, if approved, will be funded in next year’s city budget.

“We haven’t done the final vote yet but my sense is that is going to go forward,” McNamara said. “If that does, the replacement of the station in West Lebanon is a long ways off because we won’t be able to borrow enough money (to replace both stations).”

Twelve percent, or 42, of the people surveyed about the West Lebanon parcels said they preferred neither of these options.

In a space for comments, some individuals said they would like to see a public park or greenspace, while others indicated the properties should be only for housing or for retail, but not a mix of both.

In addition, 78% of the survey respondents said they would support closing Church Street to allow the three parcels to be joined.

At present, 14 Main St., a parcel just over one-tenth of an acre in size, is separated by Church Street from the other two properties. Combined, the three lots total just over 1 acre.

Barry MacInnes, who owns two businesses on Church Street — Television Service Clinic, an electronic repair shop and The Foxhole, an Army-Navy surplus store — voiced opposition to closing Church Street at a committee meeting on Nov. 20.

“I don’t know if we are going to make it if that street was closed,” MacInnes told committee members.

Committee members explained on Monday that joining the properties is partly aimed at encouraging developers to include 14 Main St. in their project proposals.

“We want to make sure we don’t end up with a useless little lot,” committee Co-Chairwoman Kim Chewning said.

However, committee members said that incorporating 14 Main Street in proposed projects would be optional for developers.

“That (lot) could just end up being parking or additional space,” noted committee member James Mashal.

Pending approval from the City Council, city staff plan to submit a request for proposal, or RFP, by Feb. 1, according to Assistant City Manager David Brooks.

The City Council will discuss a plan for the Main Street properties on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@ vnews.com or 603-727-3216.