Editorial: The Upper Valley’s Growing Wave of Development

  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center seen from the air during a 20-minute scenic flight over Lebanon on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017, from the Lebanon Municipal Airport in West Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Charles Hatcher

Published: 12/12/2018 10:10:00 PM
Modified: 12/12/2018 10:10:09 PM

News that Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health is planning a $130 million expansion at its 220-acre Lebanon campus is the latest indication that the Upper Valley is potentially on the verge, if not already in the midst, of a transformational wave of development. How well prepared the region is for such a boom remains to be seen.

As a result of increased demand for services, D-H plans to construct a new, four-story tower that would add 60 inpatient beds to the 396 already in place at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, New Hampshire’s only Level-1 trauma center. The expansion plan also envisions a 400-space parking garage and 14 additional evaluation and treatment rooms for the emergency department. The health system expects on the order of 3,000 additional inpatient admissions a year when the expansion is complete in 2023, and is planning in the meantime to recruit and develop the workforce necessary to provide that care, staff writer Nora Doyle-Burr reported Saturday.

The following day, staff writer John Lippman detailed the convergence of six existing or planned auto dealerships on Sykes Mountain Avenue in Hartford, which is fast becoming another thriving commercial hub in the Upper Valley — as well as the location of two significant affordable housing projects, one under construction and one that has its permits in place. Just down the hill from Sykes Mountain Avenue, the remarkable revitalization of the village of White River Junction continues apace.

Over Bridge Street from White River Junction in West Lebanon, developer David Clem’s proposed 840,000-square-foot River Park project between the Connecticut River and Route 10 appears close to launch. Its focus is the creation of biomedical and life science space, although it also has housing and retail components. Clem reported in October that he was in negotiations with a major international high-tech company to lease the majority of the space in the first mixed-use building planned for the project. Not far away from the River Park site, on Tracy Street, the estimable Twin Pines Housing Trust is constructing a 29-unit mixed-income housing project.

On the other side of the city, New London developer Doug Homan has outlined new plans for his Carter Country Club project. These call for 400 apartments, 186 units of senior housing, a 300-seat restaurant, 60,000 square feet of retail space and 400 parking spaces between Mechanic Street and Buckingham Place. As staff writer Tim Camerato reported, the Planning Board earlier this week effectively killed an earlier iteration of this development, and the future of the new version is unknown.

The Lebanon City Council has moved to form a commission to promote the city’s artistic and cultural assets, and City Manager Shaun Mulholland has ambitious plans to market the city to tech businesses and startups in an effort to become a high-tech hub. In that vein, 18 businesses are already renting space at the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center, a nonprofit business incubator in Centerra Marketplace on Route 120 across from DHMC.

This is but a sampling of Upper Valley development activity and does not even take into consideration Dartmouth College, which seems to be deploying its vast resources in a building spree without end in Hanover.

It’s far from a slam dunk, of course, that all these plans and projects will come to fruition in the near future, or ever. Among other factors, the current Wall Street jitters suggest that the long economic expansion fueled by low interest rates may have peaked, which has implications for all sorts of developments. And local obstacles can also derail ambitious projects.

But there is enough activity on the ground and on the drawing board throughout the region so that planners should assess its implications in coordinated fashion. For instance, is adequate infrastructure in place to accommodate development on this scale? What about municipal services? What can be done to ameliorate a current regional housing deficit of 5,000 units, and how much more housing will be needed to meet future demand? How can the costs that development brings be spread out so that local property taxes do not soar? How can increased development co-exist in harmony with the semi-rural attractions of Upper Valley life that many who currently live here cherish?

These are not questions easily wrestled with, but it is time to do so. The Upper Valley is on notice that its evolution from the present to the as-yet-undetermined future may be rapidly picking up speed.

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