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Alton planners move forward with Bahre proposal

June 23, 2010
ALTON — Local developer Bob Bahre forged ahead last week with plans to construct two new commercial buildings at the Hannaford plaza on Route 28, as planning board members voted to accept his site plan and begin the review process.

Although the proposal originally submitted by Bahre's development firm, Bahre Alton Properties, called for the construction of a 2,460-square-foot bank building on the south side of the access road leading into the Hannaford plaza and a 6,180-square-foot retail building on the north side, Bahre explained at the start of the planning board's June 15 hearing on his application that it is still unclear at this point what the two buildings will actually become.

While rumors have circulated in recent months that Meredith Village Savings Bank planned to move into the smaller building in order to give Hannaford room to expand, he said, the bank has no plans to re-locate at the present time.

"There are no deals yet," he added.

Mark Sargent, representing Richard Bartlett and Associates (the surveying firm hired by Bahre), explained that Bahre's intention was to secure approval for the buildings themselves and the attendant parking (a 15-space lot for the smaller building and a 22-space lot for the larger building) in order to attract potential tenants.

"Our theory is that if we build it, they'll come," he said.

Board member Tom Hoopes raised concerns about approving the project without a firm idea of what would be going in, noting that different types of use have different parking requirements.

Town Planner Sharon Penney pointed out that the board would have the ability to mandate that whatever purpose the two buildings are eventually used for fit within the parameters of the approved site plan.

With Bahre's application accepted as complete, Cindy Balcius of Stoney Ridge Environmental walked the board through an overview of how the project would affect nearby wetlands.

The amount of permanent impact on surrounding wetlands, she explained, would total 24,670 square feet 7,345 square feet stemming from the smaller building, and the remaining 17,325 square feet from the larger building a figure significantly lower than what appeared on the conceptual design presented to the board in December.

The construction of the two buildings, Balcius said, would also entail an additional 700 square feet of temporary wetlands disturbance that would be restored at the end of the project.

After questioning Balcius on how drainage from the property would be directed toward the culvert underneath Route 28 that empties into the Merrymeeting River, Hoopes also voiced his concerns about the visual impact of the new buildings.

Commenting that he was pleased with the way the developers who built Hannaford had worked with the board to ensure that trees were left in front of the property to screen the store from view, Hoopes said he would prefer not to see those trees cut down and replaced with a new building "and Hannaford behind it."

Tim Golde of Golde Planning and Design, the design firm hired by Bahre, assured Hoopes that the natural vegetation between Route 28 and the smaller building would remain in place.

Board Chairman Tim Roy asked whether the developers had considered moving the larger building's parking lot to the rear of the building as a way to lessen the visual impact.

Sargent said they had considered that possibility, but felt that since the building would need a loading dock, the best option would be to place a landscaped parking area closer to the road, with the loading dock located on the other side of the building, facing Hannaford.

Explaining that the parking lots would be constructed using pervious pavement, which is designed to allow storm water to infiltrate directly into the soil, rather than funnel it into culverts that carry it to detention ponds or nearby water bodies, Golde said the parking lots for the two new buildings would be slightly off-set from each other, with the lot for the larger building set higher than the lot for the smaller building.

Landscaping and lighting plans are in place, he said, explaining that his firm tried to ensure consistency with the look of the Hannaford plaza by using the same types of plantings.

Lighting, he said, would be provided by wall packs mounted on the sides of the buildings and by dark sky-compliant, downward-shining poles in the parking lots.

Retaining walls would be constructed along the front of the property, facing Route 28, in order to minimize the impact of any runoff on the wetlands, he added.

Stating her belief that the project represented a "great opportunity to bring good commercial development to town," Penney said her chief concern was ensuring that the developers maintain contact with the state Department of Transportation in order to make certain that the new sidewalk proposed as part of the DOT's plans to improve the Alton Traffic Circle ties in with the existing sidewalk in front of the Hannaford entrance.

Golde said his firm had been in touch with the DOT, and explained that when the sidewalk in front of Hannaford was constructed, the developers had made sure the traffic light was equipped with a mechanism that would enable pedestrians to activate a walking signal.

After reviewing the site plan, Hoopes commented that the percentage of the 12.75-acre that would be developed once the project is completed seemed "extremely high" to him.

Bahre assured Hoopes, however, that his developers would go about things the right way.

"We live in town we'll do it right," he said. "We're not going to destroy the God damned town."

Balcius commented that officials from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently said they wanted to see commercial development in the area be limited to locations where fragmentation of local wetlands has already occurred, rather than see it move further down along Route 11.

Responding to Bahre and Balcius' comments, Hoopes said he had had grave concerns about the impact the construction of Hannaford would have on surrounding wetlands, and felt that the impact of the two proposed buildings would be "totally different."

"If someone else comes forward with [a project that would have] more impact, I'll have the same thing to say to them," he said, explaining that he was not trying to single Bahre out.

Commenting on the traffic study submitted by the developers, Roy questioned how the addition of two new commercial buildings to the Hannaford property would decrease the flow of traffic through the area.

Golde explained that the number of trips per day that were originally calculated based on now-abandoned plans to construct a restaurant at Homestead Place had been factored out of the traffic study.

At Penney's suggestion, the board scheduled a site walk at the property this past Tuesday evening (June 22), and continued the hearing on Bahre's site plan to its next monthly business meeting, which has been scheduled for Tuesday, July 20, at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

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