Hanover residents pan Dartmouth’s plan for residence hall

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-02-2023 9:16 AM

HANOVER — Dartmouth College’s request for a town zoning permit to build a 397-bed student residence on Lyme Road faced heavy opposition on Thursday from Hanover residents, who challenged the thoroughness of the college’s considerations for traffic safety and neighborhood impact.

The Hanover Zoning Board of Adjustment held a three-hour public hearing on Thursday to consider a special exception permit for Dartmouth College, which seeks to build a three-building residential complex to house approximately 400 undergraduate students on property the college owns on Lyme Road. The plan includes a three-story residential hall, a four-story residential building and the future construction of a 3,700-square-foot pavilion for student programs.

The new plan will also provide 26,000 square feet of common space separating the buildings to allow for scheduled events and social interaction “in a friendly park-like setting,” according to the application’s project narrative, and 110 on-site parking spaces.

According to Patrick O’Hern, senior director of project management at Dartmouth College, the student residents would be allowed to have cars at the complex, though undergraduates are not permitted to park their vehicles on campus.

The college is asking the Zoning Board to grant a special exception because a residential development is not one of the pre-approved uses of the proposed site.

The Zoning Board, which will continue the public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 2, may consider four criteria when deciding to grant a special exception. Those criteria require that the project conforms to the town’s zoning standards for a residential complex and that the project will not adversely affect the area’s highways or sidewalks, the area’s “character” or the operation of public services, such as fire, police or medical assistance.

Hanover residents who spoke in opposition to the project contended on a variety of grounds that Dartmouth’s housing proposal failed to meet these criteria.

Kristine McDevitt, a resident who lives on Lyme Road, noted that the proposed structures are not in scale with surrounding buildings, which she said would have “a serious, adverse effect on the character of the area.”

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McDevitt presented charts to show that the proposed building heights, each at least 60 feet, would be vastly taller than the area’s next tallest building, the Hanover Terrace and Rehabilitation Center at 45 Lyme Road, with a height of 36 feet. In addition, McDevitt said the project’s total square footage would be twice that of other neighboring apartment complexes, such as New Hampshire House Apartments on Reservoir Road or The Greens, a retirement community on Lyme Road.

Attorney Philip Hastings, representing Dartmouth College, contended that the project did fit into the area’s character, noting that area is already pre-approved under the town’s zoning ordinance for a variety of university-related uses, including classrooms, laboratories or athletic or medical facilities.

This project “is not unlike other educational uses to which the college could put this property without the need for a special exception at all,” Hastings told the Zoning Board.

Hastings also pointed out that a student residence would be keeping to the area’s residential use, which includes “over 540 residential apartment units” and “another 100 single-family homes.”

Many residents questioned the projections of a traffic study by VHB Engineering, a Bedford, N.H. firm, which concluded that the project would not have a “noticeable traffic impact” on the existing roadways.

Engineer Jason Plourde of VHB said that traffic volume was analyzed in five surrounding locations, including the roundabout on Lyme Road, at Frances C. Richmond Middle School and at Bernice A. Ray Elementary School on Reservoir Road, as well as student traffic at the Summit on Juniper, a 309-unit apartment building for Dartmouth graduate students in Lebanon, which also currently houses about 100 undergraduates.

Project opponents argued that the VHB study failed to factor in a number of variables, such as the means of transportation that students on Lyme Road might utilize or the frequency or times of travel.

Barry Harwick, a Hanover resident and former Dartmouth College cross country coach, noted that campus classes and activities operate from early morning hours until late at night, including late-night campus dining services that run until 1:30 a.m. In addition, college athletes frequently need to be on campus as early as 7 a.m. for practices and sometimes return from away games as late as 2 a.m.

O’Hern, asked by the Zoning Board about the shuttle services, said that Dartmouth College plans to provide “a robust” shuttle schedule.

“I wouldn’t anticipate 24-hour (services), but I would expect a robust schedule to meet the student needs, whether that’s early in the morning to late at night,” O’Hern said. “We want to facilitate safe (travel) from point A to point B.”

Residents also faulted the traffic study for not factoring the impact of other means of student transportation, such as bicycles or motorized scooters, which could potentially have an adverse impact on the multi-use recreational path along Lyme Road.

“The fact that there’s back-and-forth traffic, and that there’s not (always) great respect for the rules of the road or uniform conformity, I think there is significant mitigation that would need to be done alone that route,” said resident Tom Tomai, a frequent user of the multi-use trail.

Residents also raised concerns about the students traveling at night after drinking at a downtown establishment or at an on-campus party. Though the students are not permitted to bring a car on campus, O’Hern acknowledged that the college cannot prevent the students from parking their cars downtown.

A handful of individuals spoke in support of the project, including a few Dartmouth students.

Nicolás Macri, a Dartmouth junior, said he does not believe the project would have an adverse effect on the neighborhood nor its character.

Citing his own experiences with the on-campus dormitories, including the college’s supervision system, Macri said he does not anticipate the complex resulting in neighborhood disturbances such as excessive noise or unruly student conduct.

“Students are not ‘adverse effects,’ despite what some people may think,” Macri told the board. “They are human beings who also need housing.”

The Zoning Board will resume its public hearing on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Hanover Town Hall. The agenda will include an opportunity for the project managers to respond to the public’s questions and concerns.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at 603-727-3216 or at  padrian@vnews.com.

CLARIFICATION: The Hanover Zoning Board will continue its public hearing of the Dartmouth housing project on Thursday. A previous version of the story included an incorrect day for the meeting.

CORRECTIONS: This story has been corrected from a previous version to state that Dartmouth College is the owner of the Lyme Road property on which it plans to build the residence hall. Nicolás Macri is a junior at Dartmouth College. A previous version of this story was incorrect in Macri's class year.

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