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Ex-Library In West Leb. 
Up for Sale

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
West Lebanon — After failing to receive a building permit necessary to convert the former West Lebanon Library to an office and residence, developer David Clem has opted to sell the historic building he purchased from the city two years ago.

“(I’m) interested in doing a mixed-use development, which (the city) would not allow without imposing conditions that I do not believe are reasonable,” Clem said in a telephone interview on Sunday from Lewiston, Maine, where he is working to restore the 1880s-era Dominican Block.

Clem had planned to renovate the old library to house Lyme Properties on the first floor while he and his wife, Kathy, had planned to live in the former library’s second floor.

The company had planned to develop a nearby 38-acre River Park mixed-use complex off Route 10 in West Lebanon during the library renovations. Clem won permitting for the River Park project in 2011.

Clem said that instead of altering his plans for the library to meet Lebanon’s code requirements — including recommendations such as the installation of a sprinkler system and a fire barrier between the office and residence — he would rather “invest in (a) community where (my) capital is appreciated.”

Clem’s company, Lyme Properties, was the highest bidder for the 2,876-finished-square-foot brick building on Main Street in West Lebanon in 2012, with a bid of $141,000. The bid was $1,000 higher than the only other bid the city received for the property, which was in need of improvements such as a handicapped ramp, repairs to the slate roof and lead paint and asbestos removal.

In 2012, Clem said the purchase emphasized Lyme Properties’ commitment to restoring the business district in West Lebanon. Clem’s disagreement with the city’s building code department came into the public view when Clem waged a “citizen protest,” refusing to mow the grass outside the library for several weeks last summer while he waited for the city to approve his building permit.

This spring, he appealed the city building inspector’s interpretation of the building code to the city’s Building Code Board of Appeals, arguing that in the case of historic structures the building code official has discretion to waive certain requirements, such as the timing of the sprinklers’ installation and the need for a protective fire barrier between the first and second floors. After two meetings, in which the board debated whether it had the ability to rule on the matter, Clem rescinded his request.

Clem said Sunday that working with Lebanon’s building codes department was “not worth the frustration.”

In addition to the city’s refusal to apply the discretion he felt it had, Clem said inconsistencies between the city and the state’s building codes made it “hard to understand what the rules are.”

“Two and a half years is enough time for me to waste,” he said.

Andrew Gast-Bray, a consultant for the city on planning matters who recently left the post of planning director, said he feels bad that Clem was “frustrated with his plans.”

He agreed that some of Clem’s points regarding discrepancies between state and city building code regulations are well founded, but said the challenges were not intentional.

It’s “not anything we’re trying to do or make difficult,” Gast-Bray said.

City building code officials presented Clem with options it thought were reasonable that complied with building regulations, but Clem did not find them attractive, “based on his number crunching,” said Gast-Bray.

In the future, Gast-Bray said the city is planning to provide developers with development templates demonstrating “how to make something mixed-use and viable.” Moving forward, Gast-Bray said he was hopeful that whoever the new owner may be will find a way to allow the “beautiful historic building to (continue to) exist in some form.”

Curt Jacques, owner of West Lebanon Feed and Supply located behind the former West Lebanon Library, said he was disappointed that Clem’s project had fallen through.

“I’m disappointed that David was not able to see his project to fruition,” he said.

Jacques lamented the fact that there are a “lot of rundown buildings on Main Street” and said he was hopeful that the library’s next buyer would create a retail space on the first floor.

He said such a space would “encourage more foot traffic on Main Street, which is what builds community.”

The property is listed with Jerry and Debbie Rich of West Lebanon-based Boxer Upper Valley Property Management. There is no list price and interested buyers will be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement before discussions of price begin, Clem said. In 2013, the property was assessed at $175,900.

Clem said his goal is to “recapture as much of my expenses as possible.”

In addition to the library, Clem has also put a nearby half-acre Railroad Ave property on the market.

Clem said he plans to relocate the office of Lyme Properties to River Park once construction there begins. Clearing on the River Park parcel, located between Route 10 and the Connecticut River, is underway, and Clem said he anticipates construction of the first building to kick off next year.

The city granted Clem a two-year extension for River Park last year because he and the New Hampshire Department of Transportation had not come to an agreement about the need to widen Route 10 in the area along the planned development. Clem said he is awaiting a final decision from DOT.

Having given up efforts to convert the West Lebanon Library to multi-use, Clem said he plans to devote his attention to River Park and development projects outside of Lebanon.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

Valley News

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