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Developers revisit plan for grocery store, industrial site off Exit 17

  • A conceptual plan for what development on Whitney Road could look like, including a grocery store, a distribution center and several smaller buildings. Caitlin Andrews—Courtesy

  • Laurie Rauseo of Interchange Development LLC points out where commercial and industrial businesses would be located if the City Council lifts covenants on her Whitney Road property that restrict developments over 8,000 square feet. The Council will be debating whether to change or remove the covenants on Monday. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Laurie Rauseo of Interchange Development LLC points out where commercial and industrial businesses would be located if the City Council lifts covenants on her Whitney Road property that restrict developments over 8,000 square feet. The Council will be debating whether to change or remove the covenants on Monday. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Laurie Rauseo of Interchange Development LLC points out where commercial and industrial businesses would be located if the City Council lifts covenants on her Whitney Road property that restrict developments over 8,000 square feet. The Council will be debating whether to change or remove the covenants on Monday. Caitlin Andrews—Monitor staff

  • Laurie Rauseo of Interchange Development, LLC points out where commercial and industrial businesses would be located if the city council lifts covenants on her Whitney Road property that restrict developments over 8,000 square feet. The council will be debating whether to change or remove the covenants on Monday. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Saturday, November 11, 2017

For almost a decade, Laurie and David Rauseo have been trying to fulfill many Penacook residents’s dreams and bring a supermarket to the area.

Their concept is ambitious: A 45,000 square-foot grocery store, a 200,000 square-foot warehouse industrial building and several smaller buildings for retail and light industrial use off Whitney Road. If the Rauseo’s were able to fulfill their vision, the fully built-out development could generate up to $1.1 million in tax revenue, according to a report by Concord city planner Heather Shank.

There’s just two problems: The majority of the Rauseo’s land is zoned for industrial use, and there are covenants on the land dating back to 2008 prohibiting any developments larger than 8,000 square feet. They tried to change these factors in 2011, but encountered resistance from some Penacook residents, who have been historically wary of any development that could detract from bringing business to downtown Penacook.

But with the Caleb Group aiming to build 54 apartments on the former Penacook tannery site, the amount of places for a grocery store to come to the village are shrinking. And if the city council agrees to either lift or modify the covenants on Whitney Road at their next meeting, it could pave the way for rezoning a portion of the land from industrial to urban commercial use – or the entire parcel of land to gateway performance – bringing the Rauseo’s closer than ever to their goal.

“We’re going to be really careful with what we try to bring in,” Laurie Rauseo said Friday. “We know everyone wants a supermarket, and it’s only on this site that we’d be able to attract a quality tenant.”

There’s a lot to consider before any of that could happen, however.

The future

For one, there’s the character of the location and Penacook to consider.

Urban commercial use is characterized as being appropriate for high density, residential walkable areas, according to Shank’s report. Whitney Road is neither of those things.

Not only that, but development on the scale the Rauseo’s are proposing doesn’t fit with the city’s traditional view of the area as being suitable for small-scale development. When the Master Plan 2030 was created, Shank noted any development in the region was not meant to rival what is seen on Fort Eddy Road. However, the Rauseo’s project would be just as big as either plaza on either side of the road, from Petco’s to Hannaford or B.GOOD to Books-a-Million.

But Shank notes that prioritizing small-scale development may no longer be in the best interest of the community, noting the location is one of few areas where such development may be possible. She also wrote that the Master Plan makes no mention of the site’s proximity to Interstate 93 and the regional access the interchange provides.

“The potential to access a regional economic market to improve the tax base of Penacook should not be ignored,” Shank wrote.

There’s the question, too, of whether encouraging development at Exit 17 would hinder any chances to extend Whitney Road to Sewalls Falls Road, something the city has been eyeing for a long time, and whether the city wants to bring more industrial development to the region.

Hurdles ahead

There’s still resistance to the idea within the city and beyond, six years later.

At least one Penacook couple is staunchly against the idea. Brian and Maura Adams have written letters to the city urging limited development off Exit 17. They say Penacook Village is prospering, and any development would draw interest away from the village and create a “drive-through experience” in Penacook. They also say retail development could harm local businesses like Penacook Pharmacy.

“If development at Exit 17 moves forward in the manner the current developers (who are CANTERBURY residents mind you) want it to, the effects would be a negative impact to the Village,” Brian Adams wrote.

“Exit 17 development would make a small dent in our tax base, and it’s not worth the cost,” Maura Adams wrote.

And the town of Boscawen isn’t exactly on board either. Planning board chairman Bruce Crawford sent a letter to the city stating that changing the property’s zoning would be of regional impact. They cited a potential traffic impact, writing any major retail use would increase traffic to the already-congested Whitney Road/Hoit Road/Old Boyce Road intersection and cause additional traffic backups at the Boscawen roundabout.

Rauseo said she found that to be interesting. She said she recently rebooted a “Supermarket at Exit 17” Facebook page to gauge interest in the project, and the page has already gained about 100 followers and likes. Many of those visitors are from Boscawen, she said.

“I’m not sure that their letter reflects the sentiments of the majority of their residents,” Rauseo said.

As for driving business away from Penacook, Rauseo said they aren’t interested in competing with local businesses, but complimenting them.

Potential interest

At least some Penacook residents are warming to the idea, Ward 1 City Councilor Brent Todd said. He heard a great deal of interest in the project at an Oct. 5 ward meeting, although there are still concerns about driving interest away from downtown, he said.

“The two things you always hear people saying they want in Penacook is a breakfast place and a grocery store,” Todd said.

Todd said there are two locations where a grocery store could fit in Penacook, such as the Richmond property across from Thirty Pines and the Rivco site, but both locations don’t see enough traffic to make a grocery store viable, he said.

There once was potential to bring a grocery store to the former tannery site, but Todd said the city “closed the door” on that when Penacook Family Physicians moved in, noting it would be difficult to place a store on the remaining 2½ acres of land.

Moreover, Penacook Village doesn’t have a big enough population to attract major development, Todd said. But with more development, he said he thinks that could change. That’s why he voted in favor of the Caleb Group’s project, he said.

Todd said he’d be willing to vote to lift or change the covenants, provided the city and the developer proceed with caution and examine the issue from all sides.

“I’m hearing a rallying cry for a supermarket, and I want to make that happen,” he said. “It won’t solve the problem (of Penacook residents paying higher taxes than Concord residents), but it’s a step in the right direction. ... If it’s just not going to work, we’ll figure that out along the way, but nothing is going to change unless we move forward.”

Rauseo said they are more than willing to work with the city and the community to figure out what would be most appropriate for the site.

In particular, they’re willing to be picky about what industrial tenants they solicit: No truck driving schools that will eat up a lot of land but not contribute to the tax base, or unclean developments like the chicken-processing plant that tried to land in Concord last year. Instead, she said she envisions something like the Excel distribution warehouse in Bow.

“We have an investment here that we want to protect,” she said. “We’re trying to get big buildings that will be clean and increase the tax base.”

This wouldn’t be the first development in the area the Rauseo’s take on. They also developed Concord Crossing and the Xtramart, Mobil gas station and Dunkin’ Donuts located off Whitney Road through their company Interchange Development, LLC.

And though they considered exploring taking their vision elsewhere, ultimately, the Rauseo’s wanted to build close to home – they live just four miles away in Canterbury, and feel the project wouldn’t just be good for Penacook, but for Boscawen and Canterbury, too.

“I definitely would be shopping here all the time,” Rauseo said. “Right now, I can’t get ice cream home in the summertime without it melting.”

And while Rauseo said they withdrew their rezoning request in 2011 to see if development in Penacook would occur, they’re feeling the pressure of rising tax rates. Penacook’s 2017 tax rate is $33.92 per $1,000 of assessed home value; Concord’s is $28.24. The discrepancy is due to different school districts – Concord’s school portion of the tax rate is $13.24, while Merrimack Valley School District’s, which Penacook is included in, is $19.01.

Rauseo declined to say exactly how much in taxes they pay on their land, but said it was in the six-digit range.

Rauseo said if the city isn’t willing to change the covenants, Interchange Development, LLC will go back to Plan A – small developments, like car washes, that will fit within the 8,000 square-foot limitations. She hopes it doesn’t come to that, however.

“We think this spot could do more, be better,” she said. “We want to bring something forward that everyone is proud of.”

  (Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)