Neighbors organize to fight Dartmouth’s plan for dorms along Lyme Road

  • Two stars on a map of Lyme Road show possible sites where the college is interested in building dormitories for students across from the former Dartmouth golf course. (Dartmouth College illustration) Dartmouth College illustration

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2022 7:07:22 AM
Modified: 1/25/2022 9:41:00 PM

HANOVER — A proposal by Dartmouth College to build a student housing complex on playing fields on Lyme Road is running into a rough reception.

Nearby residents have begun coalescing around an effort to challenge Dartmouth’s plan.

Hanover resident Rebecca Hooper Holland said when she first read last fall that Dartmouth planned to build new student housing across from the Hanover Co-op and Hanover Country Club, not far from her home on the east side of Lyme Road, she and her neighbors thought it was “a typo.”

“We had only heard about development on the west side,” Holland said.

In July, Dartmouth had unveiled a new master plan, which envisions expanding Dartmouth’s campus footprint north from its downtown core. The document showed a “spine” of academic and administrative buildings along the west side of Lyme Road on land that had been the longtime home of the country club golf course, which the college closed for good in the early months of the pandemic.

Although nearby residents weren’t thrilled with the prospect, they assumed Dartmouth would be confining development to the west of Lyme Road, Holland said.

Then in October, Dartmouth revealed plans to build undergraduate housing for up to 400 students on one of two parcels on the east side of Lyme Road, at a site currently used for athletic fields, including a driving range and practice course for the college’s golf team.

“Now they’re going to build on the east side? Closer to where people live?” Holland said.

The north parcel, an open, flat space known as Garipay Field, is a popular recreation destination for the public and a practice area for the Ford Sayre Ski Club youth program.

In the weeks following the announcement, Holland and neighbors, many of whom have gotten to know one another from socializing at Garipay Field during the pandemic, banded together to form the Garipay Neighborhood Association “so we could address our concerns with Dartmouth as a united group.”

According to Dartmouth officials, the parcel, which is located across Reservoir Road from the Hanover Co-op and across Lyme Road from the former golf course, is one of the few, large flat tracts remaining in Hanover and the most suitable for a new “apartment-style” residential complex.

“The housing need is acute right now. We really need to start building something later this year or early next,” said Josh Keniston, vice president of campus services and institutional projects at Dartmouth.

Keniston, who oversees the college’s facilities and real estate operations, said the housing situation at Dartmouth, while long a challenge, has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has led to more students remaining in Hanover. Although the pandemic disruption was initially seen as a short-term problem, college officials now expect the housing crunch will persist even as the pandemic subsides.

“Our assessment is that we need to bring somewhere near 400 beds online in the next 24 to 30 months,” Keniston said. “We don’t have the luxury to pause.”

But hitting the pause button is exactly what some Lyme Road area residents want Dartmouth to do.

The group’s concerns, outlined in a Jan. 13 letter to Dartmouth officials, center on two issues: environmental impact — the east side of Lyme Road is a wildlife corridor and habitat — and “community disruption” from noise, increased traffic within walking distance of Ray Elementary School and Richmond Middle School, increased risk of late-night and post-party incidents caused by students traveling back and forth from the core campus, the loss of a cherished Nordic ski area utilized by youths and adults and “negative impact on property values.”

“We understand Dartmouth needs to expand. There’s a housing shortage in general in the area. But we felt this proposal on the east side is coming out of nowhere,” said Holland, adding that the neighborhood group now has more than 100 members whose reaction to the student housing proposal ranges from “concern” to “horrible idea.”

One of the group’s members who falls into the latter camp is Russ Muirhead, a government professor at Dartmouth and neighbor of Holland’s.

Muirhead said his opposition to the project is not grounded in concern about home values or the landscape — “I don’t think it will adversely affect my neighborhood,” he said.

He’s worried about what the housing means for the students themselves.

“This will introduce a new form of class-based residential segregation on campus,” he predicted, with wealthy students able to find ways to avoid living so far from the heart of campus and leaving financially unprivileged students having to accept their housing assignment by the college.

“If they do it right, build out sidewalks and infrastructure, it could be good for the neighborhood. But no matter what, it’s bad for the students,” Muirhead said. “I’d be surprised if there are many students that want to live a mile-plus from campus.”

Meanwhile, Barry Harwick, a retired Dartmouth track coach who lives on Reservoir Road opposite the Dartmouth Rugby Football Club, believes the proposed student housing complex would be decidedly bad for the neighborhood.

Harwick said he is aware that residents opposing a student housing complex in their neighborhood could foster “the perception that this is a NIMBYism situation,” but he said the college’s plan for the east side of Lyme Road is out of scale with the area.

“I was in favor of the rugby club,” Harwick said, noting how the building and playing fields blend with the landscape. But with hundreds of students commuting to campus, “traffic is going to be the main issue,” he said.

Around 8 a.m., as buses and parents are dropping off their kids at Ray Elementary, “it’s already bumper-to-bumper” Harwick noted.

“I’m 100% in favor of new dorm. It’s just hard for me, as someone who follows the college and is an alumnus, that this is the best location they can come up with,” he said.

Dartmouth’s Keniston said there are other undergraduate housing plans in the pipeline, including construction at the corner of East Wheelock Street and Crosby Street next to Alumni Gymnasium and replacing the low-slung dorm known as The Lodge on Lebanon Street. But both of those projects and additional locations are saddled with “encumbrances” that prevent near-term development.

“All those other sites have two to three steps that are required to unlock them,” he said, extending their horizon beyond the immediate need.

On Thursday evening, the college hosted an online “community meeting” attended by 230 residents to preview the apartment proposal.

A majority of the event involved a real-time poll, with one of Dartmouth’s planners asking participants questions about how they use Garipay Field — skiing and walking were the most common replies — and why the open area was important to them.

Participants typed one- and two-word phrases that were projected in a word cloud on a shared screen, with the size of the words varying based on how popular they were.

When the planner asked for single-word responses for the types of “amenities” Lyme Road neighborhood residents would like to see that are not currently available, a sprinkling of small-size words flashed across the screen: “cafe,” “coffee,” “restrooms,” “bank,” “cleaners,” “ice cream.”

But in the dead center of the screen, bigger than all the other words, one reply stood out: “none.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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