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Dartmouth Athletic Facility Draws Intense Debate

  • The proposed 70,000-square-foot indoor practice facility located near Tyler Road in Hanover, N.H. (Courtesy Dartmouth College)



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hanover — The Planning Board on Tuesday night heard another round of concerns, reassurances, arguments and rebuttals over a 70,000-square-foot athletic facility that Dartmouth College proposes to build near a residential neighborhood.

The indoor practice facility would stand close to Tyler Road, where neighbors have banded together to oppose the project, citing its dimensions and its proximity to their homes. Because town employees have determined the building already complies with zoning code, it faces approval from the Planning Board before construction.

The board made no decision Tuesday night, and instead decided to continue the meeting until July 5.

Planning Board member Kelly Dent, who is one of the closest abutters, recused herself at Tuesday night’s meeting. She then gave a detailed presentation to her colleagues in which she argued that they were obligated to reject Dartmouth’s proposal.

If the Planning Board approves the design, Dent said, “You will be going against widespread public opposition to this application. ... You will be favoring Dartmouth’s development pressures over the extreme and permanent damage to our neighborhood.”

Dent contended that the Planning Board had not just the authority but the “duty” to deny the application — even though it meets code — on the grounds that it would adversely affect neighbors.

Hanover site plan regulations say that a proposal may receive approval “only” if it meets a list of requirements, including three that Dent cited: conformance with the town master plan and local ordinances, the likely impact upon the abutters and “the relationship of the project to the harmonious and aesthetically pleasing development of the town and its environs.”

But Ellen Arnold, Dartmouth’s associate general counsel for campus services, argued that the overall goal of site plan review was to ensure that uses permitted in a district are implemented safely and don’t create danger or injury to health, safety or prosperity — issues such as lighting, drainage and traffic.

In response to Dent’s reference to the master plan, Arnold said Dartmouth’s legal analysis had indicated that the town cannot “directly apply” the plan in its consideration of the project.

 

As for the neighbors’ concerns over size, “We understand that,” she said. “What they overlook is the significant fact that the neighborhood also includes the (campus) institutional zone, and it includes an athletic complex that has been there for decades. We’re part of the neighborhood, too.”

Tuesday night’s meeting was not billed as a public hearing, but about 40 residents packed the hall to listen in nonetheless. Several times, Planning Board Chairwoman Judith Esmay reminded the audience that comments and argument were out of order, and that a hearing would be scheduled later.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth brought out a team of experts to gauge the practice facility’s potential impact on the neighborhood: an architect, a property appraiser, a sound expert and the college’s own deputy director of athletics.

Each one testified to the limited effect he or she believed the project would have on surrounding residential areas. The appraiser, Brian Underwood, of Rye, N.H. countered another point of Dent’s, saying he did not anticipate the athletic building would lead to lower real-estate values in the Tyler Road neighborhood.

In her presentation, Dent had compared South Park Street’s assessments to those of North Park Street, which lacks large athletic facilities and has higher property values per square foot.

Underwood, for his part, said the disparity was due to mixed use on South Park Street, including office space, and particularly to the heavy traffic that passes through the corridor daily.

“If you’re trying to correlate property values of South Park to any of the other residential neighborhoods in Hanover, I think it’s inappropriate and doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Underwood said.

But his own analysis, which included a comparison between the Occom Ridge neighborhood and Tyler Road, met with pointed criticism from residents who said Occom’s multimillion-dollar homes had little in common with the more modest houses near the athletic complex.

After spending at least two hours listening to presentations and discussion, the Planning Board had overrun its alloted time and voted to continue the meeting until July 5. That meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Hanover Town Hall.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.