Lebanon Prospect Hills development runs out of time

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/14/2021 10:53:28 PM
Modified: 3/14/2021 11:06:12 PM

LEBANON — City officials have signaled that they’re tired of waiting on a major developer from Manchester to deliver on its promise to build 117 new homes near Lebanon Middle School, deciding to effectively kill the 15-year-old project.

The Lebanon Planning Board voted unanimously last week to deny Brady Sullivan an extension that would have allowed it to continue work on the Prospect Hills subdivision into 2024.

Construction on the project’s second phase, 43 single-family homes and 74 townhouse-style units on a 40-acre wooded parcel, was supposed to be underway in December.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic and unexpected problems wrapping up the development’s first phase — 54 homes around Mountain View Drive — delayed that work, according to Brady Sullivan’s representatives.

“We’ve been working for years to basically clean up all the issues, record all the plans, have all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed on phase one,” Jon Rokeh, a Chichester, N.H.-based engineering consultant, told board members at the meeting last Monday evening.

Rokeh said infrastructure work on phase two could start this summer, with construction finished in 2024 depending on how financing and homes sales go.

But board members said they’ve given Brady Sullivan enough chances to follow through, pointing out that the company made similar promises when the project was up for renewal in 2018 and during a 2016 city review.

“I’m just kind of concerned that it’s been dragged out and if you were close, then maybe it would be less of a problem,” said City Councilor Jim Winny, who also sits on the Planning Board. “But if you haven’t broken ground yet in two years and it’s going to be months before you can now, I’m not sure I can support (the extension).”

The Planning Board’s decision means that Brady Sullivan would have to present fresh plans and go through Lebanon’s site plan review process from scratch if it hopes to revive the project.

City Planning Director David Brooks said Thursday that while the neighborhood’s zoning hasn’t changed, the city updated its regulations on large developments in 2017.

“We don’t know yet how the prior design fits with the new regulations or whether the Board’s review will be different,” he said in an email.

It’s not yet clear whether Brady Sullivan will choose to submit a new application. Phone messages and emails left for Rokeh and Brady Sullivan attorney Marc Pinard were not returned.

The Prospect Hills project dates back more than a decade, starting with Lebanon natives Erik and Treff Moulton’s 2005 plans to build and sell homes at the site. Their company, M&M Equities, began work on the first phase until the project fell on tough financial times during the Great Recession.

By the summer of 2009, the Moultons filed for bankruptcy with only six homes complete. The mortgage deeds were sold a year later to Brady Sullivan, which changed the development’s scope to houses in the $180,000 to $255,000 price range.

Single-family homes in the project’s first phase have sold for about $315,000 in recent years.

While Brady Sullivan completed the first phase of Prospect Hills, the company has maintained a rocky relationship with city officials and residents.

In 2016, some people who purchased homes around Mountain View Drive complained to the Planning Board that Brady Sullivan utilized shoddy materials and cut corners that resulted in thousands of dollars of repairs later on. They also complained that the company continued to hold a majority position in the homeowners’ association.

This time, neighbors argued that extending Brady Sullivan’s approval would be detrimental to the city and expressed skepticism about the company’s promises to finally start construction.

“This is not the type of development we need in Lebanon,” Prospect Street resident Rory Gawler wrote in a Feb. 8 letter to the Planning Board. “Putting more poorly built, expensive single-family homes and duplexes here would not solve the housing crunch in Lebanon. We need affordable housing in dense, walkable areas.”

Others asked the Planning Board to preserve the wooded area that currently exists, saying it’s home to native wildlife and should serve as recreation space.

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

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