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Lebanon Refuses Extension for Developer Seeking to Revamp Project

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/11/2018 12:19:47 AM
Modified: 12/11/2018 10:55:39 AM

Lebanon — The city on Monday effectively killed a developer’s plans to build 306 single-family homes in a proposed subdivision off of Mechanic Street, saying he hadn’t made an adequate effort in the past year to address planners’ concerns.

In a 6-3 vote, the city Planning Board denied Doug Homan a two-year waiver needed to continue work on the development dubbed Houses on the Hill.

Homan first submitted plans for the project more than 3½ years ago. He said he spent nearly $500,000 on design and engineering work.

Changes to the city’s zoning regulations since Homan first made his proposal would make it nearly impossible to revive the project as originally submitted, Homan said prior to Monday’s vote. He declined to comment after the meeting.

Even if he were to attempt to resubmit the project, the city’s review would start from scratch, and he would be required to provide planners with updated studies.

“Overall, it’s historic because it just wasn’t a can being kicked down the road,” said Dean Sorenson, a Wellington Circle resident and former member of both the Planning Board and City Council, after the meeting. “We’re not kicking the can down the road anymore and that’s literally what’s been going on.”

It’s been just over a year since the Planning Board ended a preliminary review of Houses on the Hill by issuing a 17-page document that cites issues with lot and street design, wetland protections and stormwater management.

Planners expected Homan to address at least some of those concerns ahead of an October deadline. But instead, he chose to focus on an entirely new proposal.

In a letter to the board, Homan outlined a mixed-use development that he was considering in place of Houses on the Hill.

Concept designs of the “Kings Grant Village Neighborhood” call for 186 senior housing units and 400 apartments on 86 acres off of Route 4.

A neighboring 11-acre lot would be home to a 300-seat restaurant and 60,000 square feet of retail space.

That mixed-use proposal, Homan said, was an attempt to show planners that he hadn’t been idle while awaiting a resolution to the city’s ongoing sewer capacity problems, which he said was an obstacle to his earlier proposal.

“Expecting us to move ahead and to continue to spend money at the pace that we were without the city being able to provide necessary service to the project is, in my opinion, not something that we were prepared to do,” Homan told the board.

It was deficiencies in Lebanon’s sewer system that ended the Houses on the Hill preliminary review last year, as engineers and planners began to question whether there’s enough capacity to accommodate all the subdivision’s new homes.

A water study performed as part of the Planning Board review found that the sewer system was reaching 80 percent capacity, a city-mandated red line.

In response, the City Council adopted a partial moratorium on new sewer hookups for portions of city east of the Terri Dudley Bridge. Officials now appear to be approaching a concrete solution.

As part of its annual budgeting process, the City Council is debating a $2.5 million construction project that could be the first step in improving the sewer system, and there’s an upcoming hearing that would extend the moratorium until July 2019.

But because it could be another two years until there’s enough capacity for a large subdivision to tie into the system, Homan said it’s pointless to move forward with another review.

“You cannot expect us to invest the time and money that we have invested with the uncertainty that the city has generated because of the sewer,” he said.

Planners disagreed, and questioned whether Homan had worked at all to improve the design on the subdivision or simply planned to abandon the project in favor of something else once the sewer issue is resolved.

“I see it as a simple question, which is ‘What are we here deliberating a waiver for; the Houses on the Hill or the Kings Grant Village Neighborhood?’ ” Planning Board member Laurel Stavis said.

Residents, who packed the Council Chambers in City Hall, also took aim at Homan’s request.

“It doesn’t cost anything to write answers to the board’s concerns,” said Louisa Spencer, the co-owner of Farnum Hill Ciders. “I’m reading (an application) that says, ‘We’re not even going to try to build these houses.’ ”

Ultimately, the board decided that the city’s infrastructure problems weren’t enough to justify Homan‘s lack of progress on his design.

Planning Board members Stavis, Carl Porter, Karen Zook, Joan Monroe, Kathie Romano and Matthew Cole voted to oppose the waiver, while members Keith Davio, Bruce Garland and Matthew Hall supported the request.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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