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Final vote planned for large Lebanon apartment complex proposal

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/19/2020 6:45:58 PM
Modified: 9/19/2020 6:45:56 PM

LEBANON — City officials hope to decide this month whether to approve a Massachusetts developer’s plans to build 250 apartments on Mount Support Road marketed to hospital employees.

The Lebanon Planning Board voted last week to grant three waivers requested by Saxon Partners as part of its proposal to build two connected four-story buildings, parking and other amenities slated for a 75-acre parcel about a mile south of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Board members said they plan to next wrap up a roughly five-month review and take a final vote on the project during a Sept. 28 meeting.

The waivers — which allow Saxon Partners to forgo installing a sidewalk on Mount Support Road, documenting certain trees on the property and building a fire lane behind the apartment building — faced staunch opposition from neighboring Timberwood Commons and its residents.

Engineers and experts hired by the 252-unit Timberwood complex called the Saxon Partners proposal “monstrous” during a Sept. 10 meeting and worried it would negatively impact surrounding wetlands and wildlife.

The Planning Board should slow its review to allow for third-party investigations of those issues, pleaded Jeff Goodrich, president of Lebanon-based Pathways Consulting, who was hired by Timberwood Commons to examine the competing effort.

“I’ve never seen a project jammed through the planning process like this,” he told the board. “It makes me wonder what’s going on.”

“This is an incredibly overbuilt proposal, and I’ve worked on a ton of projects,” Goodrich added.

Meanwhile, landscape architects said the proposed development appeared to be “shoehorned” into the lot, and one wildlife expert worried about its impact on wetlands.

Wetlands on the property were likely filled in prior to the Saxon Partners project and could affect runoff elsewhere, according to Rick Van de Poll, the owner of Ecosystem Management Consultants in Sandwich, N.H.

Van de Poll, who authored Lebanon’s 2016 study on wildlife corridors, asked to examine the property this summer but was rebuffed by the landowners.

That study found that deer, coyotes and red foxes frequently cross the 375-foot Mount Support Road corridor. The Saxon Partners project is located on land that houses an extensive trail system that connects to the Dartmouth College-owned Landmark property and the city’s Boston Lot Conservation Area.

Saxon Partners has viewed Timberwood Commons’ involvement in the Planning Board process as stemming from competition. If approved, the two apartment complexes would be just across the street from one another.

“The only rational explanation for Timberwood’s newfound enthusiasm for the protection of wetlands and wildlife corridors is their concern with competition,” Don Smith, partner with Saxon, wrote to city officials in July.

Smith pointed out that Timberwood’s owners didn’t participate in the recent review of a 309-unit apartment complex put forward by Dartmouth College and New Jersey developer Michaels Student Living.

That project, which will be located on property abutting Saxon Partners’ apartments, is geared toward graduate students and therefore doesn’t intrude on Timberwood’s turf, Smith said.

Saxon Partners also accounted for wildlife concerns in its plans, which set aside 19 acres, or about 25% of the property, for animal crossings.

Smith told the Planning Board that his proposal is farther away from the road than Timberwood Commons and only overlooks its neighbors because of the higher terrain.

“It’s actually a smaller building area than Timberwood by a wide margin, and it’s spread over a smaller land area than Timberwood by a wide margin,” he said during the Sept. 10 meeting.

Saxon Partners also relocated some parking spots to better protect streams in the area, officials said. The development plans to build 306 spots, with 119 in a parking garage underneath the apartment buildings.

The company also would maintain the existing trail network, build a fenced-in dog park and run a shuttle service for residents.

While the Planning Board listened to both sides’ concerns, it declined to address issues about wetlands and wildlife in its review. Those will instead be addressed in permit applications with the state Department of Environmental Services, members said.

“This whole debate is between Saxon and NH DES and, to the extent that Timberwood wants to get involved, that’s fine. It’s up to them,” Planning Board Chairman Bruce Garland said in a video recording of last week’s meeting. “But it has nothing to do with this board.”

Other issues, he said, will be addressed in the board’s final decision. It meets next at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28.

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




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