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Lebanon officials to hold meeting on Dartmouth building project

  • Developers have proposed constructing a 309-unit development to house Dartmouth College graduate students in four apartment buildings on Mount Support Road in Lebanon, N.H. (Courtesy City of Lebanon) City of Lebanon photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/2/2020 10:01:47 PM
Modified: 5/2/2020 10:01:45 PM

LEBANON — City officials this month will hold special meetings on a proposed 309-unit development intended to house Dartmouth College graduate students in four apartment buildings on Mount Support Road.

Lebanon’s Planning Board already discussed the project twice during regular meetings last month, but board members say they need more time to delve into plans and review concerns brought up by other boards and city staff.

Those concerns include worries that parking makes up too much of the 18-acre development, which is located about a mile south of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and that construction would encroach on surrounding wetlands.

“Well, we’ve been at this for the better part of two hours,” Planning Board Chairman Bruce Garland said at the end of a meeting last week. “I think it was a very, very useful discussion but it does illustrate the amount of time that we’re going to need.”

Garland set a Monday, May 18, date to continue talks, which are expected to focus largely on the development’s impact on taxpayers.

The project was initially floated by Dartmouth College last year as part of an effort to find housing for its students and, in turn, lessen the Upper Valley’s housing crunch.

In December, Dartmouth announced a deal that allows New Jersey-based developer Michaels Student Living rights to build the $50 million housing complex. The company will also manage and collect rent as part of a long-term lease.

It proposes building four L-shaped four-story apartment buildings, a clubhouse and a small maintenance facility on what is now fields and forests.

The layout is designed with open spaces between the buildings to encourage a “park-like” setting with a main road and parking lots surrounding the property, according to engineers with the Massachusetts-based consulting firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin.

The lot will also have a “spine” road that runs up the middle to provide emergency access to first responders, VBH said in a Feb. 10 letter to the city.

Meanwhile, trails will continue to connect the lot to Lebanon’s nearby Boston Lot Conservation Area and the Upper Valley Mountain Bike Association’s trail system.

Engineers say the 309 units would accommodate 638 bedrooms, which would be rented out by the bed.

Rents would be similar to Dartmouth-owned Sachem Village in West Lebanon, where prices range from $1,100 a month to $2,225, according to the college’s website. But unlike the townhomes at Sachem, the new buildings won’t be geared toward married couples and young families.

“The new project is more for young, single graduate students who are looking to get paired,” Project Manager David Fenstermacher told the Planning Board last week.

Fenstermacher said units would be available via a “leasing waterfall” that would see units first rented to graduate students, then DHMC employees and finally Dartmouth College employees. Undergrads won’t be eligible to live at the housing complex, he added.

Because apartments will be occupied by singles rather than couples, developers say they will require more parking. They’re proposing to build 582 surface spaces surrounding the buildings.

Michaels also plans to offer a shuttle service that would run every half-hour during peak times and deliver residents to Hanover or the nearby medical center.

The developers say the shuttle should help to reduce the traffic impact along the Route 120 corridor. They predict the development will result in an additional 139 cars on the road during peak weekday hours.

Fenstermacher said the development would take two years to build and require roughly 20% of the site’s woodland to be cleared.

The plans have faced opposition, though.

Lebanon’s Conservation Commission wrote a March 13 letter expressing concerns with the “extraordinary amount of parking spaces” proposed, and saying the developers should consider building a parking garage that takes up less space.

They, along with the city’s planning staff, also recommend conditions preserving 35 acres of the 53-acre parcel that aren’t slated for development.

Steve Schneider, executive director of the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission, had similar concerns. He proposed that the developers build garages underneath planned apartments.

“Mount Support Road is becoming a sea of apartment complexes and the topography does not lend itself to create a ‘downtown feel’ very well, but not having giant parking lots between the buildings and the road would help to improve the look and feel,” he wrote in a March 27 letter to the city, while alluding to other large-scale construction projects planned for the road.

Massachusetts-based developer Saxon Partners has pitched plans for a 250-unit complex specifically marketed to hospital employees on a 75-acre abutting property, and the Vermont-based The Braverman Co. hopes to build a 202-unit multifamily development on the same road.

The Planning Board will begin to tackle those concerns and several waiver requests when it meets at 6:30 p.m. May 18.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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