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Six-Story Apartment Building Proposed at Old Junior High Site



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Lebanon — An established Upper Valley developer is proposing to build a six-story apartment complex behind Lebanon’s old junior high school.

Mike Davidson said on Tuesday that the project on the 7.4-acre school property he acquired in 2013 would provide much-needed housing in the city without contributing to urban sprawl.

Plans call for 66 one-bedroom and studio units to be built in a roughly 75-foot-tall building behind the former junior high school, just south of the Northern Rail Trail.

“Our hope is to build a high-quality structure that takes advantage of the downtown amenities and infrastructure without harming the aesthetic of the surrounding area,” Davidson said in an email on Tuesday. “The location is tucked down behind the old junior high off to the side and at a lower elevation. It will be substantially shielded by the school.”

Davidson will go before the Lebanon Planning Board on Monday to discuss the project at a conceptual meeting, an early review process where developers receive input before filing formal plans.

Documents submitted to the city show the building accompanied by 13 new parking spaces, bringing the total on the property to 110.

There would be an additional 20 spaces available for renters offsite on Mahan Street, which puts the parking count at one space per apartment.

Plans also call for an extension to Suzor Court, which would cross the rail trail and provide a pedestrian connection to downtown.

 

“The recreation resources within a few hundred yards make this an ideal in-town housing location,” Davidson said in the email.

The building would not impact the former playing fields on the junior high property, he said.

Davidson and his company, Ledgeworks, own 10 properties in Lebanon, as well as several in Enfield and White River Junction. He purchased the old junior high school from the Lebanon School District for $800,000 four years ago, and has since renovated the 41,000-square-foot building into apartments and commercial space.

In April, Davidson proposed purchasing the city’s former public works facility on Spencer Street, with plans to build 100 to 200 housing units on the 1.7 acre property. However, those plans were put on hold when the City Council instead decided to issue a request for proposals for the property, opening the bidding to other developers.

This latest project at the former junior high site would be built from scratch using “materials complementing the colors and textures of the junior high,” according to plans submitted to the city.

Davidson said he’s working to provide 20 percent of units at a workforce rate.

And in a letter to the city, he said there’s a proposed partnership with Twin Pines Housing Trust to offer some apartments on a subsidized basis.

“We have had a brief conceptual conversation about Twin Pines participating, but I can’t really get into the specifics of the conversation at this time,” Andrew Winter, executive director of Twin Pines, said on Tuesday.

Generally, Winter said, the organization is looking to add additional subsidized units in the Upper Valley, and is open to speaking with developers about potential projects.

It’s unclear how the proposed building’s neighbors will react to the proposal. The junior high property is in the city’s residential-office zone, meaning construction of the apartment building would require a variance from the Zoning Board.

In 2013, neighborhood opposition helped kill Davidson’s plans to build a 30-seat barbeque restaurant in the former junior high school, with some arguing it would draw too much traffic and could attract others to build similar businesses in the area.

“I don’t want a six-story building there. I would be opposed to it,” said Karen Cervantes, who lives on Bank Street and operates the Harrison Insurance Agency out of the same building.

Cervantes said she likes Davidson and his work to redevelop properties throughout the city. She also was welcoming to the restaurant idea, but said a large apartment building wouldn’t fit in with the neighborhood.

“We’re all houses up and down the street,” Cervantes said. “We have enough traffic on Bank Street, please don’t add any more to us.”

Davidson countered that the building was designed to be “as unobtrusive as possible.”

He also cited the city’s recently completed Downtown Visioning Study, which calls for high density development downtown, as a goal for the project.

“We hope the neighbors and community will see this as a positive addition to the Lebanon downtown landscape,” Davidson said.

Meanwhile, Davidson’s plans for another project elsewhere in downtown Lebanon appear to have stalled before the Lebanon Zoning Board.

Davidson is proposing to convert space inside the former School Street School into 13 studio apartments. Currently, the two-story building has two apartments, a photographer’s studio and a Montessori school.

Converting to more apartments requires Davidson to obtain a variance for parking, which has proved to be a sticking point for some board members.

If the project is approved, construction is expected in two phases, according to Lebanon Zoning Administrator Tim Corwin. This fall, Davidson hopes to add two apartments to the building, with the remainder to be built in the spring after the Montessori school’s lease expires.

Corwin said Zoning Board members requested a parking plan for the interim phase, and that concerns were raised about how parking would work with students still using the building.

The next-door Lebanon United Methodist Church has objected to the project, arguing that their congregants should be allowed to continue parking at the property.

Around 1840, the First Methodist Episcopal Society donated land to the town of Lebanon that would ultimately become the School Street School, Jeanette Hutchins, chairwoman of the church’s board of trustees, said in a letter to the Zoning Board.

“From our records, we believe there is a settled right of use that dates back to 1834 for the church goers to park on the property for 22 School St., and that is our primary concern,” Hutchins wrote. “It has been consistently used by church goers for parking since then, including during the time the church was awaiting reconstruction.”

Corwin said the church’s letter amounts to a private disagreement between two landholders, and the city’s land use boards don’t typically get involved. However, in this case, he said, parking on School Street could be affected by the dispute, and the board has asked for a legal opinion.

The Planning Board will have a conceptual discussion about Davidson’s Bank Street project at 6:30 p.m. on Monday in City Hall. The Zoning Board is expected to continue a hearing on the School Street proposal at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16 at City Hall.

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