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W. Lebanon Apartments Get Review

  • An artist's rendering, center, of a proposed 31-unit apartment building on Main Street in West Lebanon, N.H. At left is the Mascoma Savings Bank building. (Courtesy Twin Pines Housing Trust)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2016 11:59:12 PM
Modified: 8/8/2016 11:59:13 PM
Lebanon — Residents offered mixed opinions on Monday of plans to construct a four-story apartment building on Main Street.

Some called Twin Pines Housing Trust’s proposed West Lebanon project too large, and worried it could make traffic worse while not providing enough parking.

Others said the project is needed to keep people in the region, and spoke of their own struggles to find affordable housing.

“What I hear a lot of is ‘I can’t find housing,’ ” said Amy Smith, the director of care management at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

She moved to Lebanon about a year ago after living in the Philadelphia, St. Louis and Newark, N.J., areas. Smith told the board she’s paying far more for rent in the Upper Valley. It’s not just a personal struggle, she said of the proposal, but one that impacts hiring at the hospital.

Across DHMC’s entire system, there’s about 1,000 job openings, she said, and a 30 percent vacancy rate in the environmental services department alone.

It’s those difficulties in retaining working families that Twin Pines is trying to overcome, according to Andrew Winter, the organization’s executive director. New Hampshire has a rental vacancy rate hovering around 1 percent, he said, while a “healthy” rental economy boasts rates of 4 to 5 percent.

If approved by the board, the apartment building would provide a mix of workforce and market-rate housing in 31 units on the current Mascoma Savings Bank parking lot.

The project’s parking plan was partially reviewed by the Zoning Board last month, and received City Council support that same week to seek federal funding, but it’s at the Planning Board level where the scope and shape of the project will be decided. Board members approved a lot line adjustment that delineates the proposed apartment lot from Mascoma Savings Bank on Monday, but did not finish a site plan review because of time constraints.

Twin Pines also hopes to set aside 2,750 square feet of first-floor office space for Child and Family Services of New Hampshire, a nonprofit that provides social services to struggling families. Overall, the property would share 65 parking spaces with the bank and include bicycle storage, an informal garden area and patio.

What the Housing Trust saw as abundant space in its multiple driveways and parking lots in its Monday night presentation, Perry Seale saw as a possible traffic problem.

“The challenge is five curb cuts within about 150 feet. (It’s) hugely challenging” said Seale, who owns several properties on Main Street.

He said multiple entrances to the apartment building could confuse drivers on Main Street and slow down traffic, especially when many people turn on their turn signals well in advance of turning.

“It creates chaos and it creates challenges,” Seale said. “(The) less entrances and exits, the better.”

Curt Jacques, who owns West Lebanon Feed and Supply, also worried about the traffic.

“Main Street is the next nightmare the city’s going to have to address,” he said, adding that the planned parking lots wouldn’t be enough.

There could be about 88 people living in the building, West Lebanon resident Kathy Romano told the board. She worried there wouldn’t be enough parking spaces for residents, and said the scale of the building of out of character with the rest of the neighborhood.

“If this were a three-story building and everything else were the same, I think I would be greatly in favor of it,” she said.

Winter contested views that the building is too large. It’s only one story above its nearest neighbor, he argued, and is under the city’s height regulations.

“We’re not talking about putting a 10-story building next to a one-story building,” Winter told the board.

Resident Kate Rohdenburg said she’s glad that most of the discussion has been over parking and space, items that are fixable. When she was getting ready to move into her own space, high rent prices forced her to live in a camper on a front lawn.

She eventually bought her own home, finding the mortgage cheaper than area rents, but said she stuck it out in Lebanon because of the community’s dedication to finding solutions.

Rohdenburg said the Twin Pines Housing Trust and other organizations that work to make sure there’s a place for everyone give her hope.

“I’ve stayed in this community despite the camper for more than 10 years because I believe in this community,” she said. “I am impressed and really proud of a community that can put this (project) together.”

The Planning Board will continue its review of the apartment project when it next meets at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 22 in City Hall.

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


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