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Officials mull West Lebanon fire station deal, will reconsider other properties

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/22/2021 9:33:03 PM
Modified: 7/22/2021 9:33:14 PM

LEBANON — City officials will hold a public hearing next month on plans to purchase a nearly 2-acre Maple Street property, but it’s uncertain whether the parcel is still in line to become West Lebanon’s next fire station.

The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to schedule an Aug. 18 meeting to discuss the acquisition of 38 Maple St. from Hanover developer Jolin Kish.

The city is offering $775,000 for the property, which was once home to Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and is located about a block away from the current fire station on Main Street.

However, councilors said, setting a public hearing doesn’t mean the fire station project is a done deal.

“We’re going to have a public hearing on purchasing the 38 Maple St. property, but we’re not tying that to construction of the fire station at this time,” Mayor Tim McNamara said during Wednesday’s meeting, which was held both in person at City Hall and virtually.

Instead, he said, the City Council is encouraging municipal staff to explore other sites, including a parcel near the River Park development that was previously ruled out as too costly.

McNamara added that he’s “very interested” in acquiring a roughly 1-acre property, which includes a house, along Route 10, which West Lebanon developer David Clem says he’s open to selling.

The council’s decision to reexamine Clem’s Route 10 property followed a community meeting earlier in the week where Maple Street neighbors expressed opposition to relocating the station to the Holy Redeemer site, worrying it would bring increased traffic and noise to their residential street near downtown West Lebanon.

Fire officials say the current station, which dates to 1974, doesn’t meet accessibility or current safety standards and is no longer capable of serving a diverse roster of firefighters and paramedics (it doesn’t have gender-specific locker rooms or living quarters).

The Main Street lot is too small for an expansion and because the fire station is surrounded by businesses, officials say, there’s little hope of acquiring adjacent lots at a price acceptable to taxpayers.

By comparison, they argue, the Maple Street property could be developed for $6.4 million, $2 million less than competing sites, and would allow first responders access to downtown, the northern Route 10 corridor and Route 12A without having to jeopardize response times or increase home insurance rates.

But several residents at the community forum and during Wednesday’s meeting pointed to Clem’s parcel as better situated for a fire station, located on a main roadway between downtown and residential developments along Route 10 near the Hanover border, and abutting the future home of a mixed-use development 12 years in the making.

“This is a once-in-a-50-year type of decision,” Jason Achmoody, who lives on Maple Street, told the City Council. “I’m struggling with the idea that the best decision is in a residential neighborhood.”

But a deal with Clem, whose company, Lyme Properties, last year ended negotiations over relocating the fire station, is also not certain. Clem’s relationship with city officials has at times proved contentious over the last decade, and the developer openly disagreed Wednesday with Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos’ description of the Route 10 property as cost-prohibitive.

Lyme Properties, he said, “expressly never put a price” on 193 North Main St., which the company purchased for $240,000 in 2019 for development purposes. Clem added that the city’s offer wasn’t enough to recoup those and more than $31,000 in additional development costs that the company invested in the property.

“We’re not in the business of taxing people to meet our expenses. We have to make a profit, and that’s a no-win proposition for us,” Clem told the City Council on Wednesday night.

The resulting back and forth over costs ended with both Clem and City Manager Shaun Mulholland promising to publish emails surrounding the negotiations.

Correspondence obtained by the Valley News under a right-to-know request Thursday morning shows Lyme Properties valued its property and an adjacent lot, which could be developed together, at $1.25 million.

The company said last year it was open to selling it for less, though, so long as Lebanon committed to either help move the River Park project forward through the regulatory process or contribute to associated infrastructure work.

Ultimately, the city offered to purchase the Route 10 parcel for $300,000, to gift the existing fire station — which it valued at $300,000 — and extend the sewer along Route 10. Lyme Properties rejected the proposal, in part because developers felt it would unnecessarily duplicate their efforts to run sewer lines through River Park.

Phone messages and emails to David Clem and his son Chet Clem, president of Lyme Properties, were not returned Thursday.

Christopoulos, the fire chief, said Thursday he’s unsure whether further talks will prove fruitful.

“We’ll do our due diligence to move forward as best we can,” he said. “It’s obvious we need to explore all options a little bit more.”

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




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