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Developer plans workforce housing in New London to serve senior living staff

  • An architect's rendering of a residential complex planned for Merrimack, N.H., is similar to one recently brought before the New London, N.H., planning board. (Courtesy John S. Jordan Design)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/13/2019 10:06:11 PM
Modified: 6/13/2019 10:06:00 PM

NEW LONDON — A Maine-based senior housing developer is working on a proposal to build 40 units of workforce housing in New London, in part to house workers for the 139-unit assisted and independent living development the developer plans to construct near New London Hospital.

According to the conceptual design the Lewiston, Maine-based Continuum Health Services presented to the Planning Board in late May, the group would construct eight, two-story buildings, each containing five units, on property currently owned by the Dorothea G. Bewley Revocable Trust. The property, which consists of three parcels totaling 11.5 acres, is listed for $459,000 and sits near the roundabout on Newport Road in between downtown New London and Little Sunapee Lake.

“We pursued it because it seems like a good partner thing to do,” Sarah Adams, Continuum’s director of sales and marketing, said in a phone interview this week.

While the company will hire about 80 people to staff the senior living facility, New London Place, which she expects to be completed in 2022, workforce housing also would benefit the community as a whole, Adams said.

New London, which has a population of about 4,500, had just 32 units of affordable housing, all of which is for adults over the age of 55, according to a housing needs assessment conducted by the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission in 2012. A state law, RSA 674, that went into effect in 2010 requires New Hampshire municipalities to allow for “reasonable and realistic opportunities” for the development of homes that are affordable to low- and moderate-income families.

Rental workforce housing is affordable for families of three whose income is 60% of the median income level for a specific region, according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority’s website. In Merrimack County, where New London sits, 60% of the median income is $50,060; in Grafton County, it’s $48,550 and in Sullivan County, it’s $39,740.

Housing is considered affordable when combined rental and utility costs or combined mortgage loan debt services, property taxes, and required insurance do not exceed 30% of a household’s gross annual income, according to NHFA’s site. The estimated maximum monthly rent for an affordable unit in Merrimack County is $1,250; in Grafton County, it’s $1,210, and in Sullivan County it’s $990.

This project, which would only include rental units and would be managed by a company other than Continuum, would be the first the Planning Board would consider under the town’s workforce housing ordinance, which has been on the books for about 10 years, town planner Adam Ricker said.

Steve Schneider, the executive director of the regional planning commission, welcomed the project.

“It’s a wonderful thing that’s happening in New London,” Schneider said. “I hope it continues to be replicated in other communities.”

The 2012 needs assessment conducted by the regional planning commission showed that the region as a whole is short about 5,000 such units.

New London Realtor Dan O’Halloran said he supports the project because the available housing stock in the region does not match the demand.

“If we ever list something for under $300,000 in New London, it’s gone in a second,” said O’Halloran, who is president of the New Hampshire Association of Realtors.

He said he recently had seven offers for a property in one of the communities surrounding New London that was listed for $180,000.

“It’s insane,” he said.

O’Halloran also said he thinks the site Continuum has chosen for the project is appropriate. It is walkable to the shops and services in town but will not intrude on the appearance of the main street, he said.

“That location is really pretty perfect,” he said.

Not everyone agrees. Others at the May 28 meeting, including residents of the neighboring 147-unit Hilltop Place condominium development, expressed concerns about the project, though they did not detail them, according to minutes of the session.

Reached by phone this week, Hilltop resident J.L. Tonner, who said at the meeting that she was representing several other residents, declined to describe their concerns.

June Fichter, executive director of Lake Sunapee Protective Association, said her group is not opposed to the project but is following the process in hopes of ensuring that stormwater is properly managed so excess nutrients such as phosphorous, which can contribute to algae blooms, do not flow into the watershed and create water quality problems.

“Untreated stormwater runoff is the number one problem for New Hampshire lakes these days,” Fichter said in a phone call this week.

The County Road property where Continuum aims to build is near Little Sunapee Lake, which runs into Otter Pond and eventually into Lake Sunapee, Fichter said.

It can have a “whole chain of effects,” Fichter said.

Continuum’s preliminary plans, drawn up by Stratham, N.H.-based Jones & Beach Engineers, include a retention pond to catch stormwater.

Employers in town seem to welcome the project. At the May Planning Board meeting, Colby-Sawyer College President Sue Stuebner and New London Hospital CEO Bruce King both voiced their support. The college employs almost 300 people, while the hospital employs about 600.

“I think New London is a beautiful area in which to live,” Stuebner said in a phone call. “While we have some (employees) that can afford the housing that’s available here … having some additional options would really benefit our recruitment.”

In addition, Stuebner said having places for people of a wider range of incomes to live in the community would add to the town’s diversity.

“The vibrancy of our town (is) really a critical piece of the health of the institution,” she said.

Stuebner said she was not tied to this specific location and she welcomes the community input that will be a part of the town’s review of the project.

But, she said, “I just hope that the core reasons why we need the workforce housing continue to stay at the forefront.”

To advance, the project will need Zoning Board approval of a variance to allow the developer to construct multi-family housing in the R2 zone, Ricker, the town planner, said in a phone call this week. If that is not successful, the developer could seek to have the property rezoned, Ricker said.

If Continuum receives Zoning Board approval, it could come back to the Planning Board for site plan review, Ricker said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.


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