Hanover board approves permit for Dartmouth dorm project


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-17-2023 3:19 PM

HANOVER — Over vocal objections from some neighbors, the town Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Thursday to grant Dartmouth College a zoning permit to build a 397-bed residential complex for students on Lyme Road.

The Zoning Board rendered its decision after a 90-minute deliberation, where the board finalized a number of conditions of the approval.

Those conditions include requirements that Dartmouth plans for providing “architecturally appropriate” safety lighting around the complex and creates a traffic improvement plan to address safety concerns where Lyme Road intersects with Reservoir Road and again at North Park Street, including sidewalk extensions and upgrades on the multi-use path along Lyme Road, which is used by pedestrians and cyclists.

Opponents pointed to increased traffic and the impact on “the character of area” as reasons to reject the project. But Zoning Board members explained during deliberation that when objectively examined through the lens of the town’s zoning ordinance, the college’s plan complies with regulations and would not have “an adverse” impact on the area.

“When I look at the character of the (Lyme Road) area, I see mixed commercial, municipal, single-family and multi-family homes, apartments, senior housing and long-term care, research and industrial uses, albeit a little further away, and some open space,” board member Jeremy Eggleton said. “I don’t see a student residence as being substantially out of conformity with that or threatening to destroy that area as an asset of the town.”

The development on the north end of the former Hanover Country Club golf course would consist of a three-story residence hall, a four-story residence hall and a 3,700-square-foot pavilion for student programs.

With Zoning Board approval secured, the college next is expected to go to the town Planning Board for site plan approval.

Dartmouth College required a special exception permit from the Zoning Board because a student residence is not a permitted use in the area. However, the town ordinance allows a range of other uses on the college-owned property, including educational programs, child care facilities, hospitals or medical centers, assembly halls, and outdoor recreation.

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Project opponents, including residents and several members of Dartmouth faculty, have argued that such a large-scale residential development is too far from the center of campus and would be out of step with the neighborhood, which includes a number of single-family homes.

Hanover residents conveyed their opposition during a lengthy public hearing held over three board meetings on Jan. 26, Feb. 2 and Feb. 9, as well as in letters to the Zoning Board and in a petition with over 400 signatures.

Board members said the only difference between the proposed complex and other uses that would be allowed in the area is the complex’s purpose as student housing. In its written decision, the board noted that Dartmouth provided an acceptable, peer-reviewed plan to control noise at the complex and that the college intends to provide the same level of residence hall supervision as its on-campus dormitories.

However, the board expressed concern about an increase of users on the multi-use path that runs parallel to Lyme Road to the north end of campus, including safety risks should the students be using bicycles or motorized scooters to travel.

Chairman H. Bernard Waugh noted the trail’s frequent use by children who attend Ray Elementary School and seniors who live in the area’s assisted living facilities.

“Some of those (senior) residents move slowly or use walkers,” Waugh said. “The students at the (project) are often likely to be in a rush to get to class or other appointments, consequently paying little attention to safety.”

Dartmouth College officials have said they will commit resources to make improvements to the trail to increase safety, including extending the trail near the north end of the campus. The Zoning Board members want to see a physical plan of what those improvements would entail.

“We are not asking Dartmouth to guarantee any specific improvement but only to present more detailed plans which it stands willing to implement if relevant town officials agree,” Waugh said.

Some residents fret that this initial residential complex will be the first of many Dartmouth projects to be proposed on the Lyme Road property, which ceased operation as a golf course in the early days of the pandemic.

“They aren’t really sharing that is just the tip of the iceberg about a dramatically larger project,” Barry Harwick, a Hanover resident and former Dartmouth College cross country coach, said after the meeting.

The Lyme Road property is included in Dartmouth College’s 2020 strategic plan, Planning for Possibilities, as a site for future expansion of the campus. The plan notes the golf course property could serve “a mix of campus uses,” including “academic, administrative and graduate or professional student housing.”

Diana Lawrence, vice president of communications at Dartmouth College, told the Valley News earlier this month that “the planners have floated many concepts” for the remaining Lyme Road property but “none are moving forward at this time.”

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