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Lebanon board holds off on DHMC traffic request

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2020 9:45:00 PM
Modified: 5/12/2020 9:44:54 PM

LEBANON — Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s request to delay traffic and pedestrian improvements so it can start work on a $130 million expansion project was put on hold by city officials, who asked this week to see alternative plans being crafted for the Route 120 corridor.

Members of Lebanon’s Planning Board said Monday that they are sympathetic to DHMC’s desire to kick-start construction of a new five-story patient tower, which was first approved in January.

But before work can go ahead, board members want to discuss a proposal being drafted to mitigate traffic surrounding Route 120 and Mount Support Road, where three developers have pitched plans for hundreds of new apartments.

Lebanon’s planning staff say they’re working with developers, including the medical center, on a joint traffic project that could pool funding. They said an initial proposal could be made to the Planning Board during its May 26 meeting.

That offer, combined with allowing more time for public input, led the Planning Board to put off DHMC’s request until its next meeting.

“I would rather wait a little bit longer and have the best alternative come out than to take the best we can find right now,” Planning Board member Kathie Romano said during Monday’s meeting.

Romano urged her colleagues to ultimately accept DHMC’s request to work with developers and the city on improvements, but she also called for strong protections that would tie the parties to a future project.

The tower could add as many as 112 new beds, and is expected to draw an additional 270 vehicles an hour during peak morning and evening commutes.

“I want to make sure that when we come to a conclusion on this, that it isn’t just a couple months of talking, but that they’re going to have to contribute to the improvements for the problems that they’re causing,” she said.

D-H went before the Planning Board to ask that its approval of a roughly 200,000-square-foot expansion slated for the existing northern entrance to DHMC be amended. Instead of presenting traffic mitigation plans before construction, the hospital asked that those plans be submitted later — before the building is occupied.

Eric Gerade, an engineer with the Massachusetts-based firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, said the hospital wants to start work “relatively quickly,” and the traffic stipulation could push a planned June groundbreaking back by months.

“The hospital is still very committed to being a great partner here, doing the right thing and participating in that mitigation,” he said.

Lebanon Senior Planner Tim Corwin told the Planning Board that he is “comfortable” with the hospital’s request, saying it will allow additional time for D-H to participate in a larger project being negotiated.

The city, he added, plans to “suggest physical traffic improvements that should be made as a condition of approval for” several planned developments.

The Planning Board is reviewing 309-unit development intended to house Dartmouth College graduate students in four apartment buildings at 401 Mount Support Road, as well as 250 apartments pitched by Massachusetts-based developer Saxon Partners on a neighboring piece of land.

Meanwhile, Vermont-based developer The Braverman Co. also has pitched a proposal to construct two buildings at 402 Mount Support Road, each housing 48 to 50 units, although those haven’t formally come before the Planning Board.

The projects, which may not on their own trigger the need for traffic improvements, resulted in discussions about a coordinated response to increased commuters traveling between Lebanon, the hospital and Hanover.

Both Corwin and Senior Planner David Brooks have declined to say what that traffic project would entail. However, the upgrades could require a city bond that would partially be paid off by the developers, they told the Planning Board.

Board Chairman Bruce Garland said during Monday’s meeting that he is also inclined to vote for D-H’s request, but he warned that putting off traffic improvements could put the hospital at the mercy of a future planning board. The patient tower is expected to be completed in 2022, when the hospital would apply for a certificate of occupancy.

“There could be a horrible scenario if you have your building up and, for whatever reason in 2022, a Planning Board says, ‘No, the mitigation doesn’t work and we want something different,’ ” he cautioned.

The Planning Board will continue reviewing D-H’s request to change its site plan approval when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 26. People can find instructions to access the meeting at LebanonNH.gov/Live.

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

Valley News

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