Lebanon Residents Offer Mixed Reactions to Proposed Bank Street Apartment Building

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/27/2017 12:14:31 AM
Modified: 9/27/2017 10:32:47 AM

Lebanon — Plans to build a six-story apartment building behind Lebanon’s old junior high school received mixed reviews from city officials and neighbors.

At a Lebanon Planning Board meeting on Monday night, some members said the project proposed by developer Mike Davidson would be too large and would be out of place with Bank Street’s residential character. However, others argued an apartment complex is needed to draw young people downtown, where they could in turn attract more businesses.

“We have a decent amount of housing being built in Lebanon,” Davidson said in an audio recording of the meeting. “But it’s all up the hill where you can’t walk to anything (and) you don’t have access to the town.”

Davidson came before the board to discuss his early plans for the project, which calls for 66 one-bedroom and studio apartments situated just south of the Northern Rail Trail.

The building would stand at 75 feet tall on the old junior high property, which Davidson purchased from the Lebanon School District for $800,000 four years ago and has since converted into a mixed-use development with 43 apartments, a gym and special needs community center.

Davidson and his company, Ledgeworks, also own nine other properties in Lebanon, as well as others in Enfield and White River Junction.

Speaking before the Planning Board, Davidson said he’s not “into new buildings,” but feels there’s a need for a development that combines workforce and market-rate units close to downtown.

The building’s proximity to Colburn Park, he said, also would fit recent calls to infill the surrounding community.

“The idea here would be to build a building that’s as unobtrusive as possible, as far as new buildings go,” Davidson said in the recording. “I tried to find the least objectionable place you could put a building like this and try to make it as attractive a building as possible. We’re not looking to build a vinyl-sided wooden box.”

Davidson said the proposed location behind the old junior high school was chosen because it’s downhill, meaning the new building shouldn’t rise above the existing one.

Still, some Planning Board members felt the project would be too disruptive.

“I think that this building is definitely too high,” board member Joan Monroe said, according to the recording. “You can’t hide a building that’s this big.”

Monroe went on to say the surrounding neighborhood is largely made up of houses and small businesses, not large buildings.

“This is just too big a building to put in such a tiny, little spot. I think the proportion is wrong,” she said.

Board member Gregory Schwarz agreed, saying the proposal was “too big” and contained “too many apartments.”

“I thought it’s like a dormitory for Dartmouth,” he said during the meeting. “It should be about half the size.”

Some neighbors also spoke out about their concerns that the project would disturb views of the nearby playing fields and create more traffic.

“I am terribly afraid it’s going to take away the view that we enjoy,” said Sarah Chamberlin, who lives at 79 Bank St. “I’m going to be staring at the back of a very large apartment complex.”

But Planning Board member Bruce Garland countered those worries, arguing the building could play a role in creating a more vibrant downtown.

He has several children in their 30s “who would never think of living here” because the city doesn’t provide the housing and amenities they’re looking for.

“If we’re going to stop Lebanon from sliding into a very large old-folks’ community, we need projects like this,” Garland said.

Jeremy Katz, who lives at 98 Bank St., also told the board he sees Lebanon as a great place to raise a family or grow up. But “it’s actually a pretty lousy place to live if you’re a 20-year-old millennial single or 30-year-old single.”

“It’s actually kind of impossible to be 25 years old, single and enjoy life in the Upper Valley,” he said.

The city doesn’t offer the opportunities many young people are searching for, Katz said, adding he worries his children will move away for college and never come back.

“If we want this city to be better, and evolve and be really kind of an interesting place to be, we have to accept that the tastes are changing,” said Katz, who also works for BGP Properties LLC, which owns 77 Bank St. “What 25- and 30-year-olds are looking for now is not 3 acres down a rural road where no one ever comes by and no one ever bothers them.”

Davidson hasn’t submitted any formal plans for the building to city officials yet — he did give city officials a conceptual rendering by an architect — and Monday’s meeting was an effort to gain the Planning Board’s informal thoughts.

During the meeting, Davidson said he intends to take the public comments into account when crafting a final proposal, which could be made sometime either this winter or in the spring.

If the project were to go for a review before the city, it potentially would require several variances before the Zoning Board before a full site plan review at the Planning Board, according to Lebanon Planning Director David Brooks.

Brooks said on Tuesday that he isn’t sure how many variances would be required, though, or which specific waivers would be needed, mainly because the city doesn’t have formal designs yet.

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

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