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Developer given OK to build West Lebanon apartments, temporary parking lot



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 10, 2019

WEST LEBANON — City officials this week OK’d plans to move up construction of a 125-unit apartment building at River Park, nearly nine months after developer David Clem first proposed reordering the project.

The Planning Board voted, 5-2, on Monday night to approve a new schedule for the roughly 840,000-square-foot subdivision along the Connecticut River, saying it will help to ease the region’s housing shortage.

“The city has made it very clear that housing is a priority in the community, and I think that essentially the goal of this rearranged project is to prioritize housing,” Planning Board Vice Chairman Matthew Hall said in an audio recording of the meeting.

Monday’s approval allows Clem to construct the 125,125-square-foot apartment building and temporary parking as the second phase of River Park, which will house nine structures — a mix of retail, office and biomedical space — along a new road off Route 10. The apartment building was originally slated to come last.

The decision also advances plans for a 95,800-square-foot office and retail building needed to meet a growing demand for biomedical and life science space in Lebanon.

Clem first proposed the changes in January, saying he was in talks with a “major international high tech company” to lease 100 River Park, the first mixed use building to be developed. In a letter to city officials, he predicted other companies would soon follow suit.

Clem’s request quickly became bogged down as planners sought to work updated language into River Park’s 2011 approval.

The Planning Board then spent months debating the developer’s plans to use temporary parking lots until he can build two large parking garages on the property.

During several meetings, board members asked that Clem provide designs for the temporary lots and state how long they would be used, while he contended that such decision making was largely their responsibility. Demand for the buildings will determine the pace they’ll be built, he argued.

Clem had hoped to start work on the foundation and infrastructure for 100 River Park this fall, but it’s not clear whether that will go forward. He told officials in May that the project recently lost potential tenants because of the delays.

On Monday, city officials and Clem agreed on a compromise allowing the first parking lot to be used until Dec. 31, 2038. The deal appeared to shock some board members, including Gregory Schwarz.

“I don’t know how a temporary parking lot could exist for 18 years,” he said.

Schwarz said he appreciates Clem’s “good work” on River Park but doesn’t understand why discussions over temporary lots caused months of deadlock.

“I think that I would ask that the (temporary) parking lot be built as a permanent lot,” he said. “That way, if the garage is delayed more or never built, everyone is still happy.”

Board member Joan Monroe agreed. She said that by allowing temporary lots, the city was allowing Clem to forgo regulations surrounding wetlands, drainage and landscaping that normal parking lots are subject to.

Both Schwarz and Monroe voted against Clem’s proposal.

Meanwhile, Clem told the board that more stringent time limits could hamper financing and scare away tenants. The compromise was “acceptable to me,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Emails requesting comment from Clem were not returned on Tuesday.

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