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Lebanon to Back Apartment Grant Effort

  • 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: 7/21/2016 1:24:07 AM
Modified: 7/21/2016 10:27:01 AM

Lebanon — The City Council agreed on Wednesday to sponsor a federal grant application that could help fund a four-story apartment building in West Lebanon.

Twin Pines Housing Trust is hoping a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant can help finance a proposed $7.9 million project on Main Street. Under the group’s plan, a 31-unit building on what is now the Mascoma Savings Bank parking lot would offer a mix of workforce and market rate units.

Officials have said the project could help alleviate the city’s housing shortage.

“The fact that we are at a 2 percent vacancy rate or less is just indicative that we really need housing in Lebanon,” said Councilor Karen Liot Hill.

While councilors had general concerns about the building’s scale and character, all voted to sponsor the application, which has a Monday deadline.

“The size of it is something that, when we talk about the character of the village, I have some concern about,” said Councilor Suzanne Prentiss.

But answering questions about the project’s scope will be up to the Planning Board, she said, not City Council.

People who attended the meeting presented mixed views of the project. Some worried about parking plans and others said the proposed four floors would look out of character in a neighborhood of two- and three-story buildings.

Resident Barry McInnes said he was opposed to the project solely because of its location. With an Advance Transit terminal nearby, he said, Main Street is already congested.

McInnes also worried about pedestrian safety — especially that of children — in such a busy neighborhood.

The city should sponsor projects to help Lebanon residents only, said Dr. Walter Moore, who owns a chiropractic practice next to the project, said the housing should be reserved for Lebanon residents.

If people from outside the city are allowed to rent the units, “this project becomes not a benefit to the Lebanon area (but) a destination for those looking for this type of housing,” he said.

Consultant Shelley Hadfield said the federal government doesn’t allow for discrimination housing units, so people cannot be screened based on their hometown.

Andrew Winter, Twin Pines executive director, said that’s a good thing. Typically, workforce housing units go to those living in the Upper Valley, but occasionally people will move in who contribute greatly to the region.

When Twin Pines opened its building in Woodstock, a nurse who just received a job at the VA Medical Center in White River Junction was granted a space, he said.

State Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, was among the officials in the audience supporting the plan. She said there are two type of Lebanon residents: those living here and the people priced out of their homes and forced to move.

“This is one of the best possible plans,” she said. “We could put more affordable housing in Lebanon because of Advance Transit and the jobs that are nearby.”

Liot Hill also reminded people of what could take the building’s place. Left to the market, the lot could become home to another auto parts store, she warned

“I’m not sure that that is a preferable alternative,” Liot Hill said.

The grant application was the second hurdle Twin Pines cleared this week. On Monday, the Zoning Board approved a special exception for the organization to use an abutting Tracy Street property as parking.

Twin Pines plans to construct 58 parking spaces in the Tracy Street lots and around the building, 14 more spaces than what’s currently there.

The organization has an option-to-purchase agreement to acquire two parcels on Tracy Street from Lebanon real estate agent Patrick Flanagan. While both will be used for parking, nonprofit officials hope to merge one into the Mascoma Savings Bank lot. The other —16 Tracy St. —required Zoning Board approval.

The two are assessed at a combined value of $312,700, according to city records.

“What we want to do is make a number of those spaces available to Mascoma (Savings) Bank for its employees and its visitors,” Winter said, according to an audio recording of the meeting.

“Above and beyond that, those (spaces) will be open,” he said.

The notion of assigning spaces worried Zoning Administrator Tim Corwin, however. Under city regulations, all “parking facilities” must be public, he informed the board.

“It was our opinion that at least some of the spaces have to be truly public spaces that are available to the public to park there for whatever reason,” Corwin said in the recording.

He said Twin Pines officials and city staff met before the meeting and decided that four spaces in the 21-space lot would be made public, but nobody from Twin Pines spoke of the agreement in its presentation to the board.

“They seem to say ‘most of the spaces will be open to the public, some will be reserved to Mascoma (Savings Bank),” Corwin said on Monday, highlighting the project’s ambiguity on the spaces.

Parking was also a concern of developer David Clem, who lives across the street in the former West Lebanon Library. He said putting public parking on Tracy Street — behind both the bank and apartment building — would both make it virtually invisible to drivers on Main Street. How would the public know it exists, Clem asked.

Winter said the project intends to maintain an entrance to the bank and apartments off of Main Street. Once in the complex, cars will be directed to the spaces and an exit onto Tracy Street, where a light assists them back onto Main Street.

Ultimately, the board decided to approve the parking lot, on a condition that 15 of the 21 spaces be open to the public. The remaining six spaces are partially on the lot that will be merged with Mascoma Savings Bank’s Main Street parcel.

The Planning Board is expected to take up the project next when it meets at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 8. 

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




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