Developer’s parking plan for proposed building in Hartford strays from rule

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/30/2019 10:07:43 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A major Upper Valley developer says there’s adequate parking in White River Junction to accommodate the 69 new apartments the firm plans to build downtown.

Mike Davidson’s company Execusuite said on Monday it’s prepared to set aside 69 parking spots — including 48 spots near the railroad tracks — for tenants of a five-story building proposed for South Main Street.

On top of those, company officials say there’s about 50 parking spots in the neighborhood that could be utilized by residents. The spaces now “serve retail, office and restaurant establishments, and most are available in the evenings,” Execusuite officials wrote in a letter to Hartford planners on Monday.

But it’s unclear whether Hartford’s Planning Commission will be swayed by that argument when members continue reviewing plans for 132 S. Main St. next week.

Concerns over parking appear to be the main issue holding up Davidson’s vision of turning what is now a vacant lot into 43,600 square feet of commercial and residential space.

Town regulations would normally require Davidson to provide 114 parking spaces for the building. The rules say there should be 1.5 spots for every apartment and 10 spots for the 2,800 square feet of retail planned for the first floor.

However, Davidson argues that figure should be cut by 35 spots because the studio apartments he intends to build would attract tenants with fewer cars. The building’s location near public transportation and other amenities also would discourage people from driving, the developer said in an August letter to planners.

Previous plans for the project said Northern Stage could lease 22 of the new apartments for visiting actors and production personnel. The nonprofit theater company provides vehicles in its own parking lot for employees to carpool.

Davidson did not return emails seeking comment on the project Monday.

Hartford officials last week warned the Planning Commission that parking in White River Junction is already tight, so much so that the town is considering building a parking facility or adding parking meters to the neighborhood to encourage turnover, according to meeting minutes.

The neighborhood also hasn’t experienced the full effect of new developments, such as the Village at White River Junction, an 89-bed assisted-living facility that has yet to hit its capacity, officials said.

Parking fears are shared by Bill Neukomm, executive director of COVER Home Repair, which is situated next to Davidson’s proposed project.

Visitors and businesses owners in White River Junction have long found there’s a parking shortage, he said on Monday.

“We may not agree on anything else in downtown White River, but there is clear agreement on that,” said Neukomm, who also took issue with the design of Davidson’s proposal.

The five-story structure would loom over nearby buildings and impede storm water runoff from neighboring properties, he said. Most surrounding buildings are two- to three-stories tall.

And the studio apartments would be priced at “market rate,” meaning many low- or middle-income Upper Valley residents couldn’t afford to live there, Neukomm said. The median rent for a studio apartment in the Hartford area is $1,088 a month, according to a May presentation on housing by real estate agents Buff McLaughry and Lynne LaBombard.

“It’s just patiently obvious that there’s not enough space for a building that large probably anywhere in downtown White River Junction,” he said. “It just seems to me the issues go well beyond parking.”

The Planning Commission will continue to review Davidson’s project when it meets at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7, at Hartford Town Hall.

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




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