City Won’t Sell Parcel To Developer

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2017 12:20:41 AM
Modified: 6/9/2017 12:20:49 AM

Lebanon — The city’s former public works facility will soon be back on the market after the City Council on Wednesday declined to sell the property to an Upper Valley developer.

Councilors said they have faith Michael Davidson would construct quality buildings at 20 Spencer St., but questioned his offer and whether a proposed project would go forward if something were to happen to him.

Instead of selling the property to Davidson, the council asked that the city issue a request for proposals that will include an asking price, proof of financial backing and details on how it will develop the currently unused city lot.

“This is one of the last sort of readily developable pieces of property in the (Central Business District) and it’s controlled by the city,” Assistant Mayor Tim McNamara said in an audio recording of Wednesday’s meeting.

“I don’t think we’re well served at this point by negotiating with just one party,” he said.

Davidson, who owns the Lebanon-based Ledgeworks property company, came to the council in April with a proposal to infill the site, which was deemed surplus 2012.

Under his plans, the 1.7-acre property initially would be used by a commercial tenant, potentially employing between 30 and 40 people.

Long term, Davidson planned to construct 100-200 housing units on the property, with a quarter of those possibly set aside for workforce housing. There’s also plans to construct 20,000 square feet of commercial and office space on the site.

That would have been accomplished through the construction of three five-story buildings on the property, according to preliminary architectural drawings.

“People want to live in town where they can walk to the pub, walk to the coffee shop, walk to the rail trail,” Davidson told the council during its April 19 meeting.

But councilors were skeptical of Davidson’s $400,000 offer price for the property. It’s currently valued at $906,100, according to city assessing records.

“$400,000 for the Spencer Street property is not even close to enough,” Councilor Bruce Bronner said on Wednesday.

Others worried that without a concrete agreement on future plans for the site, Davidson’s proposal could go unfinished.

“I do think Mike Davidson is operating very much in good faith and I do trust that he would do a high quality project, but there’s nothing saying that something might not happen to him and the land is sold to somebody else,” Councilor Clifton Below said in the audio recording.

Davidson replied that the council was being fair. To get city officials to the negotiating table, he had to purchase an interest in neighboring 10 Spencer St. He said other companies have made similar investments and been successful following similar procedures.

“We are disappointed, but understand the City’s decision. Our redevelopment plan was an exciting prospect for Lebanon and for us,” said Tim Sidore, Ledgeworks property manager, in an email on Thursday.

The City Council’s decision also contradicted a determination of interim City Manager Paula Maville that merging 10 and 20 Spencer St. and selling the city-owned land would benefit the public.

Davidson’s goals for the site fit in with the city’s plan for downtown, Maville wrote in a memo to the council.

“The creation of jobs and the provision of workforce/affordable housing are both priorities outlined in the Master Plan, as is in-fill development within our established Central Business District,” Maville wrote. “The redevelopment of 20 Spencer Street in the manner which is proposed by Michael Davidson would afford all of these.”

Some councilors also angered Davidson by insisting that a possible deal include city access to the former Lebanon Junior High School playing fields. Davidson owns 10 properties in Lebanon, including the former school property.

“We’re not going to be generating more playing fields in the city of Lebanon. There’s no more ground that’s going to be slated over to us by some sort of magic where we get more fields,” Councilor Erling Heistad said.

However, Davidson and other councilors argued that since the fields are on a separate property, they shouldn’t be a part of the discussions surrounding Spencer Street. In past meetings, Davidson has said he doesn’t intend to forfeit rights to the fields.

Maville told the council on Wednesday that city staff would draw up a request for proposals designed to solicit more interest they could review in the coming weeks.

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




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