Developer Blames Lebanon for Stalled Project

Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Lebanon — Developer David Clem on Monday blamed city officials for causing construction delays of his proposed River Park development slated for West Lebanon.

A combination of mistakes and inaction on the part of city staff has prolonged negotiations, he told the Planning Board, adding it’s now unlikely construction will begin this year.

Clem went before the board hoping members would settle a longstanding dispute over how much money his company, XYZ Dairy LLC, is required to put forward for a performance bond before work can start on an extension of Crafts Avenue.

Infrastructure improvements, nine new homes and a cul-du-sac on that street are scheduled to be the first stages in River Park’s development.

The project is designed to ultimately encompass 840,000 square feet of retail, office and laboratory space on a 38-acre parcel nestled between Route 10 and the Connecticut River.

But before work can start, Clem needs an excavation permit and an agreed upon bond, which protects the city in the event he not complete the project.

However, Clem said it has been difficult to get answers from the city manager’s office or even a response to letters from his attorney.

“I cannot negotiate with an empty chair. I cannot get to ‘yes’ if the chief executive of the city is unwilling to meet, is unwilling to respond to a compromise, is unwilling to analyze the work of a staff department that we now know is in error,” Clem said. “I don’t think that’s my job.”

But it appears Clem will have to wait at least another month before he gets an answer to concerns.

Facing questions over whether they have up-to-date information, the board asked Clem to seek out more meetings with city staff as they in turn collect data. If a compromise cannot be found in that time, the board said, they’ll take up the matter again in September.

Monday’s meeting comes more than a year into negotiations between Clem and the city over construction on Crafts Avenue.

Hoping to begin work last summer, Clem hired contractors and began stockpiling materials at the north end of the street. But last September, he announced an excavation permit still hadn’t been obtained and the project would be delayed a year.

City officials have said two issues have to be agreed upon before shovels hit the ground.

A performance bond must be determined, they said, and there must be an agreement on how much the city will contribute to sewer upgrades on Crafts Avenue.

The disagreement regarding the city’s sewer costs can only be resolved by city staff or the City Council, according to Lebanon’s planning department. And so, that matter wasn’t discussed on Monday night. Disagreement over the bond has continued largely because the city has stood by “inaccurate” estimates to complete the project, according to Clem.

In the past, the city has set its recommended performance bond at nearly $1 million.

But in a memo this month to the Planning Board, the city estimated the work could be done for $789,295.

“Now we find in the staff report that in fact the city is reducing its estimate,” Clem said. “We thought it was excessive but now the city has all but confirmed that.”

Clem blamed past calculating errors on city officials including duplication costs in their estimates, as well as the cost for third party inspections.

“I think much of what Mr. Clem has said is reasonably accurate,” said City Planning Director David Brooks, who admitted there were errors in calculating a proposed bond.

However, construction costs are higher for the city than most developers, Brooks said. He added that Clem was also difficult to reach during negotiations.

Brooks said he wasn’t sure the most recent figure given to the Planning Board is accurate, and implored them to give his staff time to compile new numbers.

“We continue to remain committed to trying to negotiate,” Brooks said.

Carl Porter, the board’s vice chairman, said the group doesn’t have accurate information. So even if it wanted to settle the dispute, members would have a difficult time choosing a fair number.

With city officials willing to meet this month, Porter said, the two sides should also attempt to come to a solution before the board’s next meeting.

“It kind of sounds like we’re missing each other by about a week,” he said.

Clem also agreed that he would be open to talking, adding that’s been his goal for the past year.

The Planning Board is scheduled to discuss River Park again at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 in City Hall.

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