Lebanon considering city ownership of roads in River Park development

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 10-16-2023 8:13 PM

WEST LEBANON — A proposal to place River Park’s future road under city ownership is anticipated to open new funding sources and project opportunities, including the creation of a new mass transit hub in West Lebanon.

On Wednesday the Lebanon City Council will consider whether to accept River Park Drive — a planned private road serving the mixed-use development, River Park — as a public street.

Developers of River Park plan to construct eight buildings totaling 840,000 square feet of office, retail, research and residential space, as well as two parking garages and a park with public river access. The property also has nine lots for houses, which have already been sold to individual buyers.

The development’s primary access, River Park Drive, will be a looped road whose ends intersect with Route 10 to create entrances at the southern and the northern end of the property.

Dedicating River Park Drive as a public street would enable River Park to qualify for federal funding intended for projects that would serve both the public and the development, according to Chet Clem of Lyme Properties, which owns River Park.

One long-discussed project is to build a four-line multi-modal transit hub for Advance Transit, a public transportation company that provides bus services to Upper Valley communities that include Lebanon, Hanover, Hartford and Norwich.

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The proposed hub would replace a transfer stop at Kilton Library on Main Street where riders in West Lebanon may switch to other bus routes.

At a July 5 meeting, city councilors expressed support for moving the transfer stop to River Park, as Main Street is too congested to support the current volume of bus traffic.

“You’re still going to have your Main Street stop (at Kilton Library),” City Councilor Chris Simon said. “You’re just not going to have the confluence of six buses all at the same time clogging up the entire Main Street.”

Lyme Properties has been in discussion with Advance Transit since 2009 about a transit hub at River Park. But to qualify for federal funding, the current City Council must reverse a decision by the council in 2011, who voted, 5-3, against accepting River Park’s roads as public streets.

“We have sought to address that multiple times and were ultimately told to bring it back to the City Council,” Clem said in an email.

A number of councilors at the July 5 meeting said they would support accepting River Park Drive as a public street.

“I think this development could be a large boon, not just to West Lebanon but the entire Upper Valley,” Mayor Tim McNamara said at the meeting. “This is not miles of road. It’s a pretty short stretch of road close to North Main Street. I don’t think our costs are going to be significant compared to the benefits that would be derived from this.”

City Councilor Karen Liot Hill, who voted in the minority in 2011, said that dedicating River Park’s roads to the city is long overdue.

“The vision for River Park is to provide much-needed housing for families, space for businesses who wish to remain or expand in our community, recreational access to the Connecticut River for the public, as well as a potential location for a public transit hub in the business part of the Advance Transit system,” Hill said in a written statement.

Under the proposed agreement, the city will only accept River Park Drive if the street’s design and construction comply with the city’s standards for public streets.

Because River Park Drive will be constructed in phases, the city will accept each segment of road as they are completed.

The first phase of construction at River Park is still in progress. Water and sewer infrastructure have been installed but the first building, a mixed-use facility with offices and retail space, has not been erected. The first phase of River Park Drive will include the southern entrance on Route 10 and a segment connecting to the first building.

On Oct. 9, the city Planning Board rejected a request by Lyme Properties to remove a restriction from the site plan preventing the transfer of lots until the remaining infrastructure in phase one is either complete or guaranteed in a performance bond.

Lyme Properties had hoped to expedite construction of a 125-unit apartment building — scheduled in the second construction phase — by transferring ownership of the lot to a private developer.

Asked about Lyme Properties’ “for sale” signs currently posted on Route 10 next to River Park, Clem said that neither River Park nor its parcels are being sold.

“The properties we have put on the market are not part of the core River Park project,” Clem said. “They are investments we made in West Lebanon toward bigger picture goals — including adaptive re-use and trail connectivity.”

Two properties for sale include the former Westboro Rail Yard ticket office, a restored historic building on North Main Street, and the former West Lebanon library on Main Street, which was fully renovated in 2015.

The City Council will meet on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.