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Zoning Board Approves AVA Gallery Studio Expansion

Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Lebanon — AVA Gallery and Art Center is one step closer to creating its new three-dimensional art studio to the north of AVA’s main building on Bank Street after receiving Zoning Board approval on Monday.

Though some neighbors expressed concerns that the project might diminish their quality of life and property values, the board was able to find a solution to satisfy those present.

The Zoning Board voted, 4-0, to approve a special exception to allow AVA to locate studios for artists working in metal, wood, clay, glass and stone on 9 Bank St., directly to the north across the parking lot from AVA’s main building, the former H.W. Carter & Sons factory at 11 Bank St.

The property, which sits in the central business district and abuts residential properties to the north and east, contains a vacant single-family home.

AVA plans to demolish the house to make way for a single-story, 3,950-square-foot commercial building.

“We are very excited about this opportunity because it will provide a number of programs for our artists and our community,” AVA’s Executive Director Bente Torjusen said, according to an audio recording of Monday’s meeting.

The new space would allow AVA to expand its educational offerings, Torjusen said.

She estimates it will cost $1.8 million to build, furnish and equip the new three-dimensional studio center.

Neighbors Richard Langdell and Deborah Howe, who live in the condominium at 8 Elm St., directly to the east of the proposed studio space, said they support AVA, but were concerned that power tools would produce noise and the new building would block sunlight, affecting their quality of life and property values.

They expressed concerns about the encroachment of a commercial uses in a residential neighborhood.

“I’m concerned about the unliveability of the downtown,” Langdell said.

Howe shared Langdell’s concerns about noise and worried that the new building and the activities therein would have a high impact on her daily life.

“Essentially this is going to be in our face,” she said.

She said late-night use of the studio would be particularly disruptive and asked whether the building would be equipped with a noisy air conditioning system.

“All of the windows we have — I don’t want to open them to hear that,” she said.

AVA’s engineer Kevin Worden, of Engineering Ventures, and architect C. Stuart White Jr. said they had taken neighbors’ concerns into consideration in designing the building. It is intended to be constructed of “well-insulated concrete” to contain the noise, they said. In addition, they said, the ventilation system using a forced air heat pump will not be noisy.

The neighbors’ view of the building would include the green roof filled with plants and additional landscaping on the property, Torjusen said.

As part of the process of constructing the new studio, AVA plans to merge the lot containing the main gallery building and the new studio space, according to materials provided to the Zoning Board.

“It should be considerably more pleasant to look at than it is now,” she said.

The Zoning Board took the neighbors’ concerns into consideration in crafting its decision.

“It’s always challenging when (you) cross from one zone to the next,” Chairman Jeff Halpin said, referring to the lot’s proximity to a predominantly residential zoning district.

Halpin said he often considers how he would feel about living next to something himself when making zoning decisions, but his Dulac Street property does not abut the central business district as Langdell and Howe’s Elm Street property does.

The board incorporated conditions into its decision to prevent the building from being overly disruptive to neighbors. The board required that AVA avoid locating dumpsters, external mechanical equipment and fuels and hazardous liquids to the north or east of the building, the sides of the property which are adjacent to residential neighbors. The board also required quiet hours from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m.

“I think your interest is to be good neighbors here,” board member Al Patterson said.

In an email on Tuesday, Langdell said the board’s decision satisfied his concerns.

“AVA has always made efforts to be a good neighbor and I support their mission,” he said.

Torjusen also is content with the board’s decision and conditions, she said on Tuesday.

“It’s not going to be a place where artists will work with power tools at midnight,” she said. “I don’t think the neighbors have reason to worry.”

AVA will continue to reach out to the neighbors as the project progresses, she said.

The next step would be the Planning Board’s site plan review, for which Torjusen anticipated applying soon.

AVA is still fundraising, but Torjusen said she hopes to begin construction this fall. The work should take six months, she said.

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

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