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New plans unveiled for retail building

December 30, 2009
ALTON — In view of the concerns prompted by his initial plan to construct a 10,000-square-foot retail building at the Homestead Place complex, resident Bob Bahre unveiled a new proposal during a meeting with the planning board on Dec. 15.

Surveyor Mark Sargent, representing Bahre Alton Properties LLC, explained that the company had chosen to retreat from the 10,000-square-foot design after hearing the concerns it raised among board members with regard to wetlands impact and traffic flow.

What Bahre's firm was now proposing instead, Sargent said, was the construction of two new retail buildings on either side of the access road that leads into the Hannaford parking lot from Route 28, with the "pad-out" at Homestead Place (which was originally proposed as the site of the 10,000-square-foot building) dedicated to overflow parking from Hannaford.

The proposed building on the north side of the access road, he said, would measure 2,460 square feet, while the building on the south side would measure 6,000 square feet.

Both buildings would have requisite parking, he added.

As was the case with the 10,000-square-foot proposal, Sargent explained, pervious pavement, rain guards, and infiltration basins would be used to handle drainage.

Commenting that the new site plan would entail some impact on surrounding wetlands, Sargent turned the presentation over to wetlands scientist Cindy Balcius of Stony Ridge Environmental.

Balcius explained that the new design would involve approximately 33,360 square feet of additional wetlands impact — 14,000 from the 2,460-square-foot retail pad, and 18,000 from the 6,000-square-foot pad.

Informing the board that she and representatives from Bahre's company had held preliminary meetings with both federal and state regulators to determine whether the new proposal would even be possible, Balcius said she conducted the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and NH Fish and Game on a site walk of the property in November, and had met with the state Department of Environmental Services (DES) the following week.

She received favorable feedback from the federal officials, she said, adding that she was still in the process of working with the state to minimize the additional impact as much as possible.

Explaining that the developers were still early in the process, and wanted to present their plans to the board in the hope of getting some input as to whether they were heading in the right direction (and if not, what direction they should be heading in), Sargent turned the floor over to Bahre.

Pointing out that nothing had been made official yet, Bahre explained that Hannaford recently expressed its desire to pursue an expansion by persuading Meredith Village Savings Bank to move out into one of the new retail buildings.

Stating his belief that the bank would be "better off" in one of the new spaces, Bahre said the pad on which the 10,000-square-foot building would have been located would be used instead for overflow parking during the summer and snow storage during the winter.

Board Chairman Bill Curtin asked whether the septic system proposed for the two new buildings would function in the same manner as the system already at the site, with waste piped into a tank on the far side of the bank.

Sargent said the system would be the same.

Noting that a number of trees would have to be removed to create space for the new buildings, board member Tim Roy asked whether anything had been said about screening when the board approved the original site plan for Hannaford in 2004.

Bahre replied that some trees would have to go, but "not a lot."

Sargent explained that there had been some discussion in 2004 about screening the property from view, and assured the board that the developers would take landscaping into consideration.

Curtin recalled that when the Hannaford site plan was initially approved, the board requested that the building not be visible from the Traffic Circle or from Route 28.

Sargent commented that Hannaford's owners originally wanted to clear the entire site out so that the store could be seen.

Board member Tom Hoopes said he had worked with the designer from Hannaford, and explained that the board's intention was not to limit the store's total visibility, but simply to maintain some screening.

"You didn't need to be able to see Hannaford at all; you would have found it that's not the problem," he said, adding that from his perspective, the new proposal would entail clear-cutting the entire lot.

Sargent replied that the developers had no intention of clear-cutting.

Interrupting Sargent, Hoopes said he was embarrassed by the new application, and shocked at the percentage of development that had been suggested on a roughly 13-acre site with a large area of wetlands.

"I can't believe this," he said.

Sargent commented that only four acres of the property have been designated as wetlands.

Pointing out that the developers were suggesting three quarters of an acre of additional wetlands impact, Hoopes said that regardless of whether or not federal officials had approved of the plan, it made no sense to him.

Explaining that the wetlands impact had been part of the discussion when the developers met with federal officials, Balcius said that at the time Hannaford was designed, low-impact development designs (or greener technologies) were not widely used.

"Since then, they've come a long way," she said, adding that the use of permeable pavers, permeable concrete, and specialized infiltration techniques could almost nullify Hoopes' concerns.

Hoopes replied that when the original site plan for Hannaford came up, he was under the impression that it represented the maximum amount of development allowable on the property.

The plan for the two new buildings, he said, is "going too far."

Commenting that he had done his own coloring, and found "substantial" wetlands on the property, Hoopes pointed to the site plan prepared by Bahre's firm and noted that there was no indication of wetlands in the legend, making the wetland areas and culverts difficult to map out.

Explaining that the developers had originally planned to come in for a conceptual review, but found that the requirements for a conceptual were essentially "a sketch on a napkin," Balcius said they had instead opted to come in for a design review.

The plan Hoopes was referring to, she said, was not the final site plan, but something more along the lines of what she would call a conceptual design.

Asked by Bahre whether he was saying he didn't want to see any of the existing trees cut, Hoopes said his concern was that clear-cutting the area would leave an unobstructed view of the Hannaford parking lot all the way around the traffic circle.

Commenting that the commercial zone in Alton is very limited, particularly near the circle, and that the land on either side of the access road is essentially all the developers have to work with, Sargent recalled that early on, they had looked at a few other sites around the circle, which were "knocked out" because of wetland issues.

Hoopes replied that 15.8 percent of the town is wetlands.

Bahre pointed out that Hannaford currently employs a number of local residents, and suggested that there would be more jobs available if the new proposal went through.

"If you don't think [people] should have [those jobs], I'm not going to fight with you," he said, addressing Hoopes.

Hoopes said he was not looking at jobs, but simply trying to examine the situation from the perspective of a planning board member.

Bahre said he understood that, but suggested that if Hoopes didn't favor the plan, he could simply vote against it.

Hoopes replied that he was one member of a board.

Bahre questioned why Hoopes didn't seem to appreciate the potential benefits of more jobs becoming available in town.

Hoopes recalled being looked at "as a pariah" when he suggested to representatives from Huggins Hospital that the state would never issue a permit to build on the "wet" area next door to Homestead Place where Huggins hoped to construct a new wellness center.

"Yes, it would be nice to have a medical center in town, but not where that site is," he said. "It all depends on what the sites are. Not all land is equal."

Balcius said it was for that reason that the developers had met with state and federal officials for site walks.

Dave Hussey, the selectmen's representative to the board, asked whether all the existing trees between Hannaford and Route 28 would, in fact, be taken down to create room for the new buildings.

Bahre said not all of them would be.

Following up on his previous question, Hussey asked whether there would be some sort of vegetative buffer between the highway and the front of the proposed buildings.

Sargent suggested that if Hussey were to look at the site plan, he would see a substantial state right-of-way between the property and the road that the developers cannot touch.

Bahre said he thought it would be nice to have the two outbuildings in place.

"It's all business zoned anyway, so I'm not going to argue with you," he said to the full board. "If you want to turn it down "

Stating his belief that Bahre should not be looking at the situation that way, board member Scott Williams said he felt that the developers could plant "very nicely and very attractively" to create a vegetative screen.

Bahre said he was not faulting anyone, but felt that Hoopes didn't seem to approve of the new plan.

Personally thanking Bahre for his willingness to invest in the community and provide jobs for residents, Williams re-iterated his belief that the new proposal could be done, and "done very nicely."

Explaining that the board would try to mitigate the wetlands impact, as per state law, Williams said he considered the circle a commercial area.

"I wouldn't want to live in the circle, and I don't think anybody else would," he said, suggesting that the community should use the area to its greatest advantage, which is commercial activity.

Hussey voiced his agreement with Williams.

Roy agreed, as well, but said he would like to review what was originally mentioned about screening in the approval of Hannaford's site plan in order to determine whether the board would have to mitigate the proposed tree cutting in some way to stay in line with the original conditions of approval.

Hussey asked whether it would be possible to move the parking areas for the two new buildings behind them, rather than in front of them.

Pointing out that the developers had "just quickly thrown something together" for the Dec. 15 meeting, Sargent said that would be a possibility.

Town Planner Sharon Penney noted that by moving the parking areas behind the buildings, the developers would not lose trees at the front.

Sargent replied that the upland is closer toward the road.

Balcius added that the developers were trying to deal with minimization and avoidance at the same time, but felt that working with the screening was "definitely a possibility."

While she understood that careful cutting would be troublesome, Penney suggested that in this situation, the developers should consider that possibility.

Sargent said they would take the idea into consideration.

Noting that the developers would have to change grades "and all sorts of things," Hoopes suggested that all trees would eventually be removed for the sake of convenience.

Williams suggested that the trees could be re-planted.

Hussey said he felt sure that whatever needed to be done would be done properly.

Curtin asked whether the architecture of the new buildings would conform to the features of surrounding structures.

Sargent said they would conform to what is already there, and noted that there is some uniformity to what the developers have already built at the site.

Voicing his agreement with Roy's earlier comments, Curtin suggested that the board examine the conditions placed on the board's initial approval of the Hannaford site plan.

Hussey said he felt that once the board was able to work through the issues surrounding the new plan, they could come up with "something we can all live with."

Confirming with Sargent that the entrances to the new buildings would be located on the left- and right-hand sides of the main access road, Penney asked whether the developers anticipated a substantial increase in traffic.

Sargent said a traffic study was done at the time of Hannaford's construction, and that the developers would probably have their engineer update the results of that study.

Curtin asked whether the study would be done on Route 28 or on the access road itself.

Sargent explained that the original traffic study involved Route 28, the traffic circle, and Range Road.

Under the new plan, he said, the developers would not anticipate much traffic coming from Homestead Place, and would assume instead that most traffic wanting to access the new buildings would either turn onto the access road from Route 28 or filter down from the Hannaford parking lot.

Curtin asked whether the developers had an average daily head count for Hannaford.

Neither Sargent nor Bahre had a head count readily available.

Suggesting that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) might have some of that information, Penney pointed out that with the DOT planning to re-configure the traffic circle at some point in 2010, the board and the applicants should seize the opportunity to coordinate with the DOT and town officials on issues such as sidewalk continuity.

Williams suggested that the developers contact the Downtown Revitalization Committee, which has been discussing the possibility in recent months of opening up a public walking path along the old B&M corridor, from the railroad park on Depot Street to a piece of town-owned land directly across from the Hannaford entrance on Route 28.

Bahre said he wanted to do whatever would please everyone involved, from the board to the townspeople.

Asked by Curtin whether he had any indication yet what sort of business would be going into the 6,000-square-foot building, Bahre said he did not.

Penney agreed to research the original decision on the Hannaford site plan, and provide the board with notice of any conditions on screening at a future meeting.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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