Multi-family apartment project meets resistance from Penacook residents

  • This picture shows the property at 95-97 Village St., in Penacook, where CATCH Neighborhood Housing is trying to build 42 apartments. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

  • These renderings created by Warrenstreet Architects show what the apartments CATCH Neighborhood Housing is looking to build at 95 & 97 Village Street would look like. Warrenstreet Architects—Courtesy

  • Site plans created by the Nobis Group show what a 42-unit apartment complex by CATCH Neighborhood Housing on 95 & 97 Village Street would look like. Nobis Group—Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 5/14/2019 4:24:36 PM

As housing in Concord continues to be scarce and expensive, several Penacook residents oppose a proposal to bring more apartments to the village.

CATCH Neighborhood Housing is looking to build a multi-family housing apartment complex consisting of one- to three-bedroom units in six buildings at 95-97 Village St., and on adjacent property that is the site of the city’s former water tower, according to city and planning board documents.

To do that, the city’s lot needed to switch from a residential zone to a commercial one, which was approved at a city council meeting Monday night, with councilors Allan Herschlag, Byron Champlin and Jennifer Kretovic abstaining because of various conflicts of interest.

The project would bring 42 apartments to the city, where vacancy rates have hovered below 2% since 2014 and rents for two-bedroom apartments have increased by 17% in the last five years, according to city data.

But some residents say adding more apartments that aren’t restricted to senior housing will damage the village’s character, encourage more low-paying jobs in the area and burden the village’s taxpayers.

Their concerns echo the opposition to the effort to bring 54 units to the former Allied Leather Tannery site in Penacook. Residents said the development by the Caleb Group would bring additional children to the school district and wouldn’t create mixed-use property that could enlarge the tax base.

“Penacook is not like the strip on Loudon Road where you have apartment complex after apartment complex,” said Carol Breault during Monday night’s city council meeting.

Breault, who has been trying to rally neighbors to oppose the project, said residents have not been given enough information about the proposal, including how many bedrooms will be in each unit and who the ideal buyers will be.

She said the development could encourage people with special needs students to move in, which could prove costly to the district.

Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag recently said in a Monitor “My Turn,” that Penacook has the 11th-highest tax rate in the state. It’s currently about $5.53 higher than Concord’s rate due to a higher school portion.

Other residents said adding more residents, regardless of age, would impact the village’s quality of life and burden the infrastructure.

“Forty-two units, that’s 42 cars, probably 80 cars,” said Roseanne Beaurivage, who lives on River Road. “... You can set your clock by the time of the traffic. I know when Concord Hospital goes to work, I know when the teachers go to work.”

Resident David Belser suggested the city spread its affordable housing out more “and not dump it in one spot,” he said.

“The more you add high-density housing in Penacook, the worse the quality of life here gets,” he said.

But city councilors said the need for more affordable housing was obvious.

“Do you visit Concord Hospital? ... Do you shop at McDonald’s?” At-Large Councilor Fred Keach asked Belser. “My point is, there is a need for affordable housing, there’s a need for folks to work in those jobs.

“That comes with a social cost,” Keach continued. “I think everyone needs to pick up the burden.”

Councilors also pushed back against the idea that assisted or subsidized housing is concentrated in Penacook. At-Large Councilor Mark Coen said of the city’s 1,078 assisted housing units, the majority of those are located in Wards 4, 6, 8 and 9, citing a May email from Deputy City Manager of Development Carlos Baia.

In contrast, Ward 1 has 51 units and Ward 2 has 25. Ward 5 has 50 units. Wards 3, 7 and 10 have no assisted units.

Baia’s email notes 272 of those units are age-restricted and does not include Section 8 housing.

Ward 1 Councilor Brent Todd said it would be unwise to deny a development based on who it could bring to the city when housing is so tight.

“How can we or Merrimack Valley predict how many children who move in will be elementary aged, special needs, high schoolers?” he said. “A better predictor would actually be CATCH statistics showing the trend that most students who move into their properties have already resided elsewhere in the same school district.”

Todd also said adding more residents to Penacook is critical to broadening the tax base and will bring more foot traffic to the village’s downtown.

“Business follows population, not the other way around,” he said.

Where the project stands

CATCH, an affordable housing nonprofit, has entered into a purchase and sales agreement with Penacook Community Center for the Village Street properties, where the community center was looking to expand for a few years before stepping back.

CATCH is also looking to buy the water tower lot for $75,000, about $4,200 more than what the city says the lot is assessed for, according to a March report from Baia.

Baia wrote that CATCH would benefit from a quick decision from the council – the organization is looking to apply for tax credits and Community Development Block Grants for the project. If they didn’t have a zoning decision by May, the group would miss 2019 funding deadlines, he wrote.

The proposal will go before the planning board for a public hearing on June 19.

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

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