Valley News – Wetlands a theme for proposed 436-dwelling complex in Lebanon

LEBANON — A proposal to build a 436-unit apartment complex in a former brick factory on Hanover Street needs to address a number of public concerns, including the potential impact on wildlife and traffic congestion, according to city planning officials.

The proposed site, across from Lebanon High School and Hanover Street Elementary School, is in a wetland and high-traffic area and is already facing opposition from Lebanon residents. An online petition launched on Saturday had 264 signatures as of Tuesday morning, and that backlash was evident at a meeting between property developers and city officials Monday night.

“We value our wetlands as a community,” Cori Hirai, a member of the Lebanon Planning Board, told the developers. “It could even be a PR effort where you engage by saying you really respect this issue and then take the floor.”

Monday’s meeting came at the suggestion of Lane NH Holdings, a Nevada-based company that plans to build a multi-family condominium on about 30 acres of its 133-acre lot across from the two schools.

On Monday, project manager David Fenstermacher of VHB, a Burlington development firm, and Timothy Boisvert, representing property owner Richard Marchese, met with the planning committee for a preliminary project briefing where developers can receive recommendations and feedback from planning officials before submitting their formal project application.

The project, which is still in the concept phase, will consist of five four-story apartment buildings and a separate building with tenant facilities and a total of around 650 parking spaces.

The site would include two access points, one at each end of the complex. A ramp at the south end would connect to Hanover Street at the intersection with Evans Drive. A ramp at the north end would connect to Hanover Street at the junction with Old Etna Road.

Fenstermacher said developers are working to minimize the impact on the wetlands.

The concept plan calls for new buildings to be constructed around Densmore Pond, the main body of water on the property which was once a source of clay for brick manufacture. The land known as the Brickyard was once the site of the Densmore Brickyard, which manufactured bricks from 1883 until the early 1970s.

The greatest impacts on the wetlands would occur at two stretches of stream where access points would cross, said Fenstermacher. The developers said they intend to create a design plan that uses recommendations from wetland scientists and New Hampshire Fish and Game to mitigate the impact on the wetlands.

Board members also expressed concern about the potential impact on traffic; The area is already heavily congested in the morning on arrival in the morning and in the afternoon on discharge from the two schools.

“If you try to get out of school and onto Route 120, you can sit there for 15 minutes just with[the traffic]we have now,” Hirai said. “The number of cars we already have is an issue, so adding cars will be a significant (issue).”

Board members also noted the heavy traffic on Route 120 “for much of the day,” particularly during commutes.

“Attempts to get to 120 from both Old Etna and Evans streets have failed,” said board member Thomas Jasinski. “That will make it enormously worse.”

Fenstermacher said the developers were conducting a traffic study as part of their application, but are aware of the high traffic volumes at these intersections.

Speaking to the Wetlands, Tim Corwin, Lebanon Zoning Director, noted that crossing wetlands is permitted if a special exemption is granted by the Lebanon Zoning Board and a permit is obtained from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

“By the time (the motion) gets to you, the matter will have been decided,” Corwin told planning committee members.

The city planning administration also reminded the board to avoid speaking to residents about the project outside of public meetings, after some board members said they had been contacted.

“It is only fair to the applicant, all members of the public and the board that we are all on the same playing field,” planning director Nathan Reichert said. “The only way we can have a level playing field is for all of our communications to be in writing and submitted to the board as a public record or communicated orally as part of the public hearing.”

The Board did not solicit public comment at Monday’s meeting because the discussion was informal, as opposed to a public hearing to consider a formal motion.

In addition, letters, emails, or petitions from residents cannot be considered public records until a complete application has been submitted.

“At this point, there is nothing for the Board to consider other than what the applicant is submitting,” Corwin said. “If such a petition or public comment to employees is made available to employees, we will provide you with that information in an agenda pack. But that’s not the phase we’re in.”

Once an application is submitted, the project is sent to the Lebanon Conservation Commission for review and then to the Zoning Board. At that point, the city will accept public letters or the petition as a public record, and there will be public hearings for residents to comment.

Fenstermacher did not want to answer whether the apartment rents are subsidized or offered below market level. The project figures would still be analyzed.

Units will be a mix of one to three bedrooms, although final numbers have not yet been determined.

Patrick Adrian can be reached at 603-727-3216 or [email protected]