Lebanon to hear design proposals for parcel between City Hall and river


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 01-24-2023 1:43 PM

LEBANON — City economic development officials will meet with three property development firms this week to discuss ideas to redevelop a 2.9-acre piece of property between City Hall and the Mascoma River that currently serves as downtown parking.

On Wednesday the Lebanon Economic Development Council and the Downtown TIF Advisory Board will hear presentations from three developers who have submitted conceptual designs for how to maximize use of a city-owned piece of riverfront land off Flynn Street.

The boards, tasked to study the interest in developing the property, began meeting jointly in 2022. During that time they gathered community input through studies and public discussions and reviewed the goals of the city master plan, to compile a list of priorities to incorporate into the property’s vision.

In August, the joint board submitted a Request for Information, or RFI, a formal written request to developers for conceptual designs. The board’s request sought a multi-use property that creates riverfront access, connects bike and pedestrian paths between the Northern Rail Trail and Mascoma River Greenway, enhances the downtown vibrancy and could create “opportunities for economic development,” such as the construction of a commercial retail space or apartments.

Three developers who submitted designs to the city last fall will give presentations to the joint board on Wednesday. These developers are the Housing Initiative, an Etna firm that specializes in affordable and workforce housing; a team composed of developer Jon Livadas and two Boston firms, RODE Architects and OJB Landscape Architect; and KaTo, a national firm.

Wednesday’s meeting will be the first opportunity for direct dialogue between the developers and the board members, who expressed dissatisfaction with the design proposals when reviewing them in November.

The joint board’s central criticism was that these designs were primarily proposals for residential housing construction, as opposed to the board’s vision of a public park with a commercial or residential component.

Board members hope on Wednesday to convey to the developers “what they were hoping to receive” and to see if the board’s vision has enough economic viability, according to William Dunn, chairman of the Economic Development Commission.

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“I don’t think anyone’s surprised that when you give an opportunity to a developer, the first thing they are going to do is to propose the largest and most financially beneficial thing to them, which is not what we were looking to do,” Dunn told the City Council at a meeting last week.

Board members in November were the most receptive to the design submitted by the Housing Initiative, which members felt placed more focus on the riverfront and public green space than the other designs. The board also complimented the use of brick in the apartment building design, which fit better with the existing downtown structures. But the board still wanted the design to place the main emphasis on the public space and the trail connectivity, rather than the building.

In sharp contrast, the KaDo design devoted so much space to its building that board members equated it to “a wall’ that appeared to block the public from the river entirely. However, board members appreciated the design’s suggestion of building bridges over the Mascoma River, which would provide pedestrian access to the other side of the city.

Notably, the design team of Livadas, RODE Architects and OJB Landscape are currently building the 196-unit apartment complex at the former KLEEN laundry facility on Mechanic Street.

While many residents have expressed concerns about the property being overtaken by commercial developers, Dunn reiterated last week that these design reviews are only “step one” in what will be a long process.

The request for designs was to give the board “a vision of what the property might look like” if it incorporated all those goals identified by the community, Dunn had told the public in November.

The joint meeting and presentations will take place at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon.

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

CORRECTION: The meeting of the Lebano n Economic Development  Commission and TIF Advisory Board will be held at Kilton Public Library in West Lebanon. An earlier version of this story reported an incorrect meeting location.