Thank you for your interest in and support of the Valley News. We need to raise $60,000 to host journalists Frances Mize and Alex Driehaus for their one-year placements in the Upper Valley through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

Jim Kenyon: Twin Pines apartment plan faces a flat rejection from some Hartford residents

Valley News Columnist
Published: 2/20/2022 8:19:26 AM
Modified: 2/20/2022 8:19:05 AM

The plateau north of downtown White River Junction known as Taft’s Flat was once farmland that over the last century transformed into working-class neighborhoods.

In the early 1950s, Taft’s Flat — named after the farm family that settled the area — became home to Hartford’s middle and high schools. A decade later, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was built on ground near where the Tafts’ farmhouse once stood.

Other than acknowledging the fine work of the Hartford Historic Preservation Commission, which was behind a 2020 project that mapped out the evolution of Taft’s Flat, why bring this up now?

The prospect of change — as history shows is nothing new to Taft’s Flat — is again in the air along Hartford Avenue. Some Hartford residents argue it’s not change for the better.

The nonprofit Twin Pines Housing Trust wants to put up a three-story building with 18 one-bedroom apartments. For most opponents of the proposal, the apartment building itself isn’t the problem; it’s the people who would move in. They’re individuals who have experienced homelessness. Many have also “dealt with addiction, mental illness or both in their lives,” Twin Pines Executive Director Andrew Winter told me.

The parcel that Twin Pines plans to buy from St. Paul’s and then build on seems like an ideal location. The Upper Valley Haven, a Taft’s Flat fixture for 40 years, is next door. The nonprofit could provide valuable support services for Twin Pines’ tenants trying to get back on their feet.

During a walk around the neighborhood closest to the proposed project on Thursday, I bumped into Marie Alvin. She’s the third generation of her family to live on Demers Avenue, which bears her grandfather’s name. Starting in the late 1930s, J. Fulbert Demers built more than a dozen log and bungalow-style homes with lumber that came from his sawmill in Wilder.

“It was a great place to grow up,” said Alvin, whose 95-year-old mother lives down the street. “We could ride our bikes and walk to school.”

“There aren’t as many families living here now,” added Alvin, who worked for many years helping children with disabilities at the nearby White River School.

Alvin shared a letter she wrote to Hartford officials, explaining why she and neighbors object to what Twin Pines and the Haven have in mind.

“Many feel the Haven has outgrown this area and it is a magnet for all (Upper Valley) homeless and beyond,” Alvin wrote. “We are not heartless people as everyone likes to throw at us. We are concerned citizens who want to help keep the neighborhood and children safe in our town.”

The Haven already operates a pair of temporary shelters, including one for families, and a food pantry. In a proposal not yet before the Hartford Planning Commission, the Haven seeks to add a 20-bed emergency shelter for the unhoused next to Twin Pines’ proposed apartment building.

Judging from Monday’s commission meeting, it won’t be an easy sell. In a 6-0 vote, the commission denied Twin Pines’ request for preliminary approval for its project.

From talking with Alvin and other opponents, I sense they’re in agreement with Twin Pines about the Upper Valley needing more permanent housing for people struggling with homelessness. They just don’t want it near their neighborhoods, or arguably anywhere else in Hartford.

In an email she sent out ahead of Monday’s planning commission meeting, Cathy Melocik, who lives in Wilder, urged Hartford residents to speak up while there was still time. Proposed developments such as this “bring up the question of why it is Hartford in Vermont (and on the New Hampshire side, Lebanon) that is expected to be the seemingly sole solution to the housing issues in the Upper Valley.”

It’s a fair question.

Twin Pines, by far the Upper Valley’s leader in creating and managing affordable housing, features 25 rental properties on its website. Of Twin Pines’ 15 properties in Vermont, 13 are in Hartford. Seven of its 10 New Hampshire properties are located in Lebanon.

Placing affordable housing developments in the two communities makes a great deal of sense.

“Ultimately, development is going to be done in areas where there are services,” Winter said.

Lebanon and Hartford also have the infrastructure — primarily extensive water and sewer systems — to support larger-scale projects.

Still, as Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said in a recent interview, Lebanon and Hartford residents have reason to be “frustrated with Hanover and Lyme and Norwich because we’re not doing our share to develop workforce housing.”

In Hanover, Twin Pines has made a couple inroads. The 76-unit Gile Hill development near Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center was built in the late 2000s. Across from Hanover High School, Twin Pines recently added 24 apartments for older people and others with disabilities.

But it’s not enough, Griffin said. A few sites that show promise include an undeveloped portion of the Village at Velvet Rocks off Greensboro Road that could accommodate up to three dozen homes.

“We’re trying,” she said.

Which is more than I can say for Norwich.

The only affordable housing — a downtown senior complex and a small cluster of homes on the outskirts of town — went up decades ago. In the 25 years I’ve lived in Norwich, there’s been a lot of talk but no ground broken.

Winter, who has headed Twin Pines for close to 10 years, called the Hartford Planning Commission’s vote a temporary setback. He anticipates asking the town for another hearing to reconsider.

“These projects are complicated and often take years to come to fruition,” Winter said. “One hearing isn’t going to mean an end to the project.”

I applaud Winter’s can-do attitude. But not everyone on Taft’s Flat will.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy