Revitalization for town in the works

  • Jonathan Van Fleet—

Monitor staff
Tuesday, October 04, 2016

A community brainstorm over the weekend has pegged hopes for Allenstown’s revitalization on connectivity, both within the town and across its borders.

North Sturtevant, an architect with the Portsmouth-based firm JSA Inc., led the process as a volunteer with Plan NH, a statewide community redevelopment nonprofit.

Because the town’s tax rate is so high, and its commercial base so small, Sturtevant said the Plan NH team focused on inexpensive initiatives. They also suggested funding sources for projects, like state and federal tax credits, grants, and public-private partnerships.

After dozens of Allenstown residents and Plan NH volunteers got together Friday evening and a smaller group reconvened for an all-day work session Saturday, the nonprofit settled on a few proposals.

They include an agricultural district south of the town center; turning a long-defunct railway bed that runs parallel to the Merrimack River into a walking, hiking, and biking trail; collaborative zoning with its northern neighbor, Pembroke, in the Suncook village area; a historic renovation of the so-called China Mill; and creating new recreational spaces.

Because Allenstown’s core is dense – housing was built clustered tightly around the Suncook River and its mills – Sturtevant said there’s a “real opportunity” to do something really different with the open parcels of land just southwest of the center around the old railway bed.

Sturtevant envisions a cooperative farming area, where small farms share common spaces, like barns. Sturtevant thinks the idea could draw younger people to the area looking for a sustainable, back-to-the-earth lifestyle.

The farmers could then sell their produce right in town – maybe even at a future farmers market on Canal Street, less than a mile away.

Some of the land is already active, privately owned farm land. Another parcel is owned by the Allenstown school district.

To the south, Hooksett is already at work on a recreational trail using the same former railway bed Allenstown might now rehab within its borders.

Town Administrator Shaun Mulholland said the idea would be to see the trail run from Hooksett, through Allenstown, over the Suncook River – and ultimately into Pembroke.

Mulholland and Sturtevant also see a potential for connection in a joint zoning and economic development venture with Pembroke in order to better market the Suncook village area. They’d also like to see bridges built across the Suncook River that people could use to walk from the Canal Street area in Allenstown into Pembroke.

One structure currently crosses the river carrying a sewage pipe. Sturtevant joked that a small renovation could give the structure “a higher purpose than that.”

Plan NH volunteers also looked at the China Mill – one of the oldest, continuously operated mills in the state.

Though still running, the mill isn’t operating at full capacity, and the nonprofit thinks a mixed-use development would do well in the historic mill if the building underwent a renovation.

Many residents also expressed a desire to bring an ice rink back to the town (one used to be at the Armand Dupont School), Mulholland said, to create a dog park, and to rehabilitate the Ferry Street boat landing, which was badly damaged in a 2006 flood.

Mulholland said the state’s Fish and Game Department had pitched a plan to fix the landing soon after the storm, which the town had approved at its town meeting. The sewer commission at the time killed the plan when they said they needed the land to expand the sewer plant. A new commission now appears amenable to returning the landing to public recreational use, he said.

Ultimately, Sturtevant said, the redevelopment ideas are about “creating opportunities for getting people together.”

“I’d love, down the road, to have Allenstown shut down Canal Street once a year to have a big party,” he said.

Mulholland will bring the recommendations from the weekend charette to the select board on Oct. 24.

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)