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Developer looks to experiment with ‘micro-loft’ housing near River Park in West Lebanon

  • An artist's rendering shows the compact housing proposed for 215 North Main St., located north of River Park in West Lebanon, N.H. (Courtesy Lyme Properties)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2021 9:40:08 PM
Modified: 5/1/2021 10:01:26 PM

WEST LEBANON — The developers behind the River Park subdivision proposed for West Lebanon are teaming up with a Boston-based startup to experiment with a new form of compact housing on a nearby parcel along Route 10.

Lyme Properties — the firm responsible for River Park, redevelopment of the West Lebanon Library and renovation of the Wilder Center — hopes to build two “micro-loft units” on a 1-acre property it purchased on North Main Street nearly a decade ago.

The units would be built by Bequall, creators of the 345-square-foot “BePod,” a manufactured tiny home that made its first appearance in Chelsea, Mass., earlier this year.

The company’s creators have touted the home as a potential solution for housing shortages, taking little time to build and costing less to rent than the average apartment.

On its website, Bequall says the homes are geared to single adults and couples without children, with a specific eye to renters who cannot afford the down payment for a traditional home.

“We saw a sort of philosophical alignment, if you will,” Chet Clem, president of Lyme Properties, said in a phone interview Monday. “They’re trying to solve a really important nationwide issue now in terms of housing shortages. We like to be experimental and push the envelope, too.”

A 2019 housing survey commissioned by Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock found there was a demand for 1,300 units between the two institutions.

Since then, people have continued moving to the area during the coronavirus pandemic, and a new report issued recently by three regional planning commissions in the Upper Valley found that 10,000 new housing units will be needed by 2030.

While Clem’s proposal is based on the “BePod,” the homes that would be installed at 215 N. Main St., would be roughly double in size — 690 square feet.

“It’s a very efficient space, but it’s very large,” said Bequall co-founder Scott Bailey.

He said the homes come fully furnished, with a complete kitchen, bathroom and “large windows on the side.”

Renderings submitted to the city show two two-bedroom units connected by a shared patio and a shared parking lot with two parking spots for each unit.

They would replace two manufactured homes built in the mid-1960s that were demolished in 2018 because of their deteriorating condition, according to Clem.

He said Bequall was chosen to build the new homes after Lyme Properties looked at several possible replacements and found that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the costs of steel and traditional building supplies were rising to historic levels.

“The market’s been so crazy that the availability of materials and talent was hard to come by,” Clem said. “With the rising cost of traditional construction and the (housing) shortage, here’s something that can be dispatched really quickly.”

Bequall touts that its housing can be shipped in as little as two weeks and, because of its small size, could be rented for about 75% to 85% of a typical apartment’s cost.

Bailey said the company is largely targeting California, where they can be used as accessory dwelling units — also known as granny flats, in-law apartments and sometimes backyard cottages.

He said the Golden State, like New Hampshire, has over the past few years loosened its zoning regulations, allowing for more accessory dwelling units in residential areas.

“Our goal was to use this for ourselves and for Bequall as an experiment and as a market test to see if this is something that could work ... and to try something different,” Clem said, adding that other Upper Valley developers could follow suit.

However, Clem has at least one regulatory hurdle to clear before construction can start. He’s asking the Lebanon Zoning Board to issue him a building permit that would allow him to build both units on a single lot.

The parcel is within Lebanon’s rural lands district, which requires 3-acre lots for homes. The previous buildings were grandfathered, having been completed before that zoning rule took effect.

If the Zoning Board approves of his plans Monday night, Clem hopes to start construction this year and be completed by the start of Dartmouth College’s next academic year in the fall.

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




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