Editorial: Proposed Twin Pines project in Wilder a good thing in a small package

  • Shannon Harrington, a representative for Engineering Ventures, helps show property lines at a site visit held by the Hartford Zoning Board of Adjustment at the empty lot of 1965 Hartford Ave. in Wilder, Vt., on Jan. 23, 2019. There is a zoning application to develop a four-family 2,180 square foot building on the former site of Tip Top Tire and Wilder Automotive, which is a brownfield on the state's list of contaminated sites. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Joseph Ressler

Published: 2/7/2019 10:09:54 PM
Modified: 2/7/2019 10:10:03 PM

If the Upper Valley is to continue to prosper, boosting the supply of affordable housing is imperative. Doing so will require initiatives both large and small.

We noted with approval recently a proposal by Dartmouth College to develop hundreds of units of graduate student housing along Mount Support Road in Lebanon. These would be advantageously sited close to both Centerra Marketplace and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which, with its plans for a $130 million expansion, has also acknowledged the role it must play in increasing the region’s housing supply.

We also noted the efforts of Twin Pines Housing Trust, which over the last nearly 30 years has developed more than 400 affordable rental units across the Upper Valley, including major projects like the 100-apartment Village at Crafts Hill in West Lebanon. The White River Junction-based nonprofit also has more than 100 units in separate projects now under development, including 47 mixed-income units off Sykes Mountain Avenue in White River Junction and 29 on Tracy Street in West Lebanon.

But many of the affordable housing projects Twin Pines undertakes are far smaller, with some totaling fewer than 10 units. These small projects are important because they add to the total available housing supply, of course. But small projects have other advantages: For one thing, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the housing shortage and small projects offer the opportunity to develop a variety of housing options to suit a particular community. Also, small projects often can be completed more quickly, and they often can enhance a neighborhood by restoring a property that has been underutilized.

That’s the case with a proposed Twin Pines project in Wilder Village, which late last month received conditional approval from the Hartford Zoning Board of Adjustment. (The project still requires an OK from the Planning Commission and would need to comply with Zoning Board conditions.) As staff writer Jared Pendak reported, Twin Pines wants to build a two-story, four-unit apartment building for mixed-income residents at 1965 Hartford Ave. Now a vacant “brownfield” lot less than half an acre in size, it was the site of an auto repair shop that burned down in the 1990s. Given its former use, the property was targeted long ago by the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Planning Commission for cleanup and remediation. As Pendak reported, that process would in part involve removing and replacing the top 18 inches of soil — not a negligible task, but certainly not an unusual one, either.

Neighborhood residents, several of whom attended two public hearings and a site visit, have understandably expressed concerns about the potential release of airborne contaminants during the remediation and construction phases of the project, should it win final approval. But Andrew Winter, executive director of Twin Pines, said his organization is taking the cleanup seriously. Kevin Geiger, senior planner with the regional planning commission, expressed confidence in the remediation process and explained that both the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal Environmental Protection Agency would be involved.

Neighbors have also worried about the design of the proposed 4,360-square-foot building, saying its flat roof, balcony-style porches and center staircase would clash with the rest of the village, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places for 20 years. “It isn’t about the development. We’re excited and happy to be developing and with the idea of bringing affordable housing to Wilder,” resident Cynthia Monroe told Pendak. “But it is a historic mill village that is defined by houses with four basic designs, and the neighborhood is on the cusp of revitalization. … The plan as proposed does not look like it belongs in the heart of a historic village.”

Winter told Pendak that the neighbors’ concerns are being heard. While the building, if approved, likely will have a flat roof to accommodate solar panels at some point in the future — now a key component of Twin Pines projects — other aspects of the design could be modified. It’s worth noting, also, that the proposed apartment building would sit directly across the street from a flat-roofed commercial building with a brick-and-stone facade. It seems there is ample opportunity for Twin Pines and the neighbors to reach an accord on the new building’s design.

If so, it would result in a vacant lot being cleaned up and put to much better use than it is now. The region would gain four units of affordable housing, two of which would be designated for individuals or families earning less than about $45,000. And that housing would be steps away from an Advance Transit bus stop — a vital consideration when it comes to affordable housing — and within walking distance of the Wilder School, the Wilder Club and Library and the Depot Street post office.

Here’s hoping Twin Pines can bring this project home.

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