Proposed development could bring 2,000 jobs to Upper Valley

A $400 million development planned on the banks of the Connecticut River in Lebanon has the potential to create more than 2,000 jobs in the area by the end of its 15-year buildout, according to the developer.But while the development of River Park would be a boon to the regional economy and could bring as much as $1.7 million in taxes to Lebanon, officials are struggling to ensure the benefits of the project outweigh the costs such a large development would have on local services and way of life, they said.”On one side of the scale is the interest of the developers which I am supportive of,” said Lebanon City Manager Gregory Lewis. “On the other side of the scale, Lebanon has 13,000 people living here — people are basically providing the property taxes that provide for public services. And with the economy and the shifting of costs from state to city, the costs are going to have to come from property taxes to provide for those services.”Hanover-based Lyme Properties LLC has proposed a seven-phase, mixed-use project on North Main Street in West Lebanon. The company plans to include four life science research labs, retail and office space, an apartment complex, 11 single-family homes and a small intermodal hub.For 60 years, the property — a sprawling 38-acre parcel with almost a mile of frontage on the Connecticut River off of Route 10 in West Lebanon — was home to Bailey Bros. Auto Parts, a manufacturer.When the owner passed away, the land went up for sale. Seeing the potential in the site and the area for life science laboratories, the land was purchased by Lyme Properties owner David Clem under the name XYZ Dairy LLC. “It’s our specialty as a developer,” Clem said of the research facilities. “But also because we believe there is a small but growing research cluster associated with Dartmouth College, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the Thayer School of Engineering. And we think that group is likely to expand and grow.”Those research companies include Lebanon-based Glyco Fi Inc., which was recently purchased by drug conglomerate Merck, as well as the growth over the past few years of facilities like Adimab and Mascoma Corp., he said.Clem and Lyme Properties – once a subsidiary of The Lyme Timber Company — have carved out a niche of acquiring, developing and leasing life science and related mixed-use properties. That includes development of 1.5 million square feet of life science space in Cambridge, Mass. — including the headquarters of biotech giant Genzyme in Kendall Square. The company also has built the headquarters of Vertex Pharmaceuticals next to MIT’s University Park, and the Center for Life Science Boston, a project with research facilities for Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Children’s Hospital and CBR Institute for Biomedical Research.In West Lebanon, most of the development will be for research laboratories as well. But another building, near Route 10, will have service retail on the ground floor and two floors of offices above that.The buildout is expected to take 15 years to complete, but if the Lebanon Planning Board gives the project final site plan approval in July, construction on phase one may begin as early as spring 2012.Phase one will start with two prototype houses and the mixed-use retail building.Clem said that, based on previous experience, life science research space generates three permanent jobs per 1,000 square feet. Therefore, he said, he anticipates the development to generate 1,500 to 1,600 permanent jobs — half research scientists the other half lab techs and support positions. The first round of hiring may start as early as 2013.Construction will also likely generate “hundreds” of jobs, said Clem. And while building laboratories is specialized, sophisticated, work, Clem said he will try to give preference to local builders when he can.Clem also projects that, “for every job on site, there is at least an additional job related to vendors and the service industry. So we think there are about 2,000 jobs being created here.”Clem additionally is proposing an 80- to 100-unit apartment complex to house the lab workforce and 11 single-family homes built at the end of an abutting neighborhood.”That was a major objective of that neighborhood that we maintain the primary access and egress to the site from Route 10 and not through the residential neighborhood,” Clem said. “We agreed to that and designed an extension of Craft’s Avenue, which abutted our property as a cul de sac.”Clem said the property will also have two structured parking garages so that the majority of the site remains open as green space and isn’t covered with surface parking lots.It also allows paves the way for an intermodal transportation system, in conjunction with the Upper Valley’s Advanced Transit, on the property.This is an important aspect of the project, since an intermodal system would alleviate current congestion of buses that stack up on Main Street in town and would allow people who wanted to take advantage of a park-and-ride opportunity to do so.Clem said he would also allow public access to the Connecticut River via a network of on-site streets.”I think it will be a very positive development if it’s finalized, and I’m pretty confident that it will be eventually finalized,” City Manager Lewis said. “It will provide opportunity for business, and opportunity for housing.”But, Lewis added, “the issue is finding a balance. It is a very significant, substantial size, and it’s multi-phase. So the balance is a little more difficult to work to resolution.”Paul R. Boucher, president of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce, said he sees the project as good for the community.”I think it’s a great project, good mix of uses, and manages to keep a good bit of land near the river set aside for conservation,” he said. “It would bring jobs, property taxes… that’s a big chunk of taxes.”The exact amount of those taxes is a matter of debate.According to a fiscal impact statement provided by XYZ Dairy, the current assessed value of the property is $304,000. The projected value at the end of the build out is about $159 million. Of that, taxes to the city and school are projected to be about $3.2 million. Local expenses for services are expected to be about $1.5 million, leaving a roughly $1.7 million surplus for the city in taxes.But, city planners argued in a letter asking for more details, that those numbers were fuzzy, since they were based on 2009 tax rates — the only rates available at the time the statement was produced.They did not produce alternative numbers, however.Then there’s the traffic. Even Clem acknowledges that any new, large development is going to increase traffic.Initially, regional planners believed that there would be a significant impact on the neighboring town of Hanover as well, in particular with traffic cutting through downtown.However, Christine Walker, executive director of the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission — which was asked to look at the project last fall — said a lot has changed in the year since the commission made its findings.More recently, Walker was complimentary of the project and praised the housing element in Clem’s plan.”I think that it’s really extremely helpful anytime there’s a large development proposed that there’s a housing element with it,” she said. “(Housing on site) means less reason to have people coming and going.”