Dartmouth Neighbors Fight Athletic Facility

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/3/2016 12:06:51 AM
Modified: 8/3/2016 11:05:05 AM

Hanover — Neighbors of a proposed 70,000-square-foot athletic arena east of downtown Hanover are fighting Dartmouth College’s plans through their lawyer, who last week filed a request with the Planning Board to find the school’s application for the project incomplete.

Dartmouth is seeking to build a roughly $17.5 million indoor practice facility, which it says athletes need to train in cold weather, in an open field off South Park Street. The property is a stone’s throw from a residential neighborhood that says the college is encroaching on its quality of life.

The attorney, Philip Hastings of the Concord-based firm Cleveland, Waters and Bass, is representing a neighbor who also is vice chairwoman of the Planning Board: Chase Road resident Kelly Dent.

Hastings’ letter, dated July 26, says Dartmouth’s application for site plan review by the board lacks information in numerous categories, and also asks that much of the college’s research — including studies on sound, neighborhood impact and shadows — be redone by independent entities.

“In light of the numerous, serious deficiencies in the application identified above,” the letter said, “it is necessary and desirable for the Planning Board to require additional information regarding the proposed (indoor practice facility) and ... independent review of the application (and related information submitted by the applicant) before determining that it is complete.”

Among the many areas where the neighbors’ lawyer requests additional information is the possibility that Dartmouth could erect a temporary “bubble” structure instead of a permanent building.

Over the past several months, administrators have met with the neighbors and made mitigating changes to their plans — increasing tree shielding and marginally reducing the structure’s height, for instance.

But the neighbors’ objections are of another scope entirely: they object to the presence of what they call a “warehouse-style” building, more than 60 feet high, near their homes.

Dartmouth made more concessions at a Planning Board meeting on Tuesday.

Speaking before an audience of about 40 people, Ellen Arnold, the college’s associate general counsel for campus services, said Dartmouth would shorten the north facade of the building — the one that faces the neighbors — to 50 feet from about 70 feet.

The college will accomplish this by changing the shape of the roof, Director of Campus Design and Construction John Scherding said: where it once was pitched on two sides, it now will slope on all four, reducing the height of the wall neighbors would see.

Dartmouth also will seek to minimize the amount of light that shines onto the neighborhood from inside the building, administrators said.

“Our goal really is to provide the board and the neighbors with as much information as is reasonably necessary to complete this application,” Arnold said at the meeting.

As in past discussions before the board, Dent recused herself on Tuesday. But she spoke out as a member of the public, asking the college to provide more information about whether the building would cast a shadow on her house.

“I’ve been told by a realtor that my property value will decrease significantly if that shadow touches my house,” she said.

For several minutes afterward, Dartmouth and the neighbors watched an animated graphic generated by one of the college’s shadow studies, pausing and unpausing it to see whether the building, on one of the shortest days of the year, would put a neighbor’s house in the shade.

The college also presented new sound surveys that, their consultant said, indicate the increase in noise would be barely perceptible.

The neighbors did not appear satisfied.

“I really beg the board to request an independent evaluation of this sound study,” said Nina Lloyd, one of the closest abutters.

Drawing applause from other residents, Lloyd said that what the college called “ambient” noise from existing equipment already was disruptive, and warned that the college could “destroy this neighborhood bit by bit” by adding equipment that would increase background noise over time.

About an hour into the discussion, Hastings, the attorney, spoke up to reiterate his request that the board commission independent studies.

“There is no way that you can make an informed decision with the information before you,” he said.

Planning Board Chairwoman Judith Esmay asked the other board members whether they felt the application was complete. “Is there more information you need?” she said.

Before they answered, Arnold urged them to move forward.

“Let’s get into the detail as we discuss the merits,” she said.

After a short discussion, board members agreed to continue the meeting to another date to further consider Hastings’ requests.

After the meeting adjourned, and all but one member of the public had left, board members continued to discuss the project, including what Dartmouth might do to relocate the facility or decrease its stature.

The discussion was not one of the project’ s merits, but rather of the board’s process, Esmay later said.

The practice facility discussion will continue on Aug. 16.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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