Dartmouth-Hitchcock proposes its own housing development in Lebanon

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/19/2020 4:18:56 PM
Modified: 11/19/2020 4:18:46 PM

LEBANON — Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health officials have formally launched a plan to develop up to 400 units of rental housing geared to hospital workers on a 40-acre site along Route 120.

The Lebanon-based health organization last week issued a request for proposals from private developers to design and build a complex with an estimated 350 to 400 units at the tree-filled, sloping site just north of Centerra Business Park and south of Jesse’s, the steakhouse on the Lebanon-Hanover town line.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock owns the parcel, which is assessed at more than $4 million, and hospital officials say the project could provide below-market-rate housing for workers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which is just a half-mile away across Route 120. DHMC is building a new $150 million patient tower that will require hiring hundreds more medical providers and other staff.

“We are trying to make sure that as we build the new pavilion and we (add) 300 to 400 employees, we provide housing that will accommodate them and try to minimize any additional vehicular traffic they would impose,” D-H Vice President of Facilities Management Thomas Goins said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Because DHH would lease the land to the developer for a nominal sum over a term of up to 98 years, hospital officials hope many of the units would rent below market rates to hospital workers. Goins said a one-bedroom unit in the Route 120 corridor currently rents for $1,700, and DHH is hoping units in their proposed project might rent for around $1,200 to hospital workers.

Some city officials, while welcoming the employer involvement in trying to address the shortage of workforce housing in the Upper Valley, also expressed concern about rapid growth along the corridor.

Lebanon Mayor Tim McNamara noted that several other projects, either under construction or in the pipeline, are adding about 1,000 housing units along Mount Support Road and Route 120.

“We’ve gone from zero to 1,000 in a very short period of time,” McNamara said. “That has ramifications on how the city does business, and on Route 120 itself.”

McNamara, citing that reason, voted against a zoning change that was approved by the City Council, 6-3, in January that changed the zoning for the DHH parcel, and some others nearby, to a general commercial district that allows more housing to be developed than in the prior designation.

Under the concept embraced by DHH officials, the new housing development would be served by extending Centerra Parkway north into the parcel, and also by linking to DHMC’s Parking Lot 9 and Medical Center Drive just north of Jesse’s thereby avoiding the need for a new intersection on Route 120.

Goins said the location would be well-served by DHMC’s shuttle system and that some workers would be attracted by the ability to walk to shops and restaurants at Centerra.

“This parcel offers an opportunity to add additional housing for a workforce without adding additional vehicular traffic on Route 120,” he said.

But McNamara said he thinks many residents of such a complex would walk to work in good weather to DHMC itself, posing the possibility of major traffic disruptions if waves of workers were to use a crosswalk with traffic signals. McNamara said he thought a development of that size might well require a pedestrian bridge or tunnel, a costly expense for a developer.

Under the RFP, the developer would be responsible for construction and permitting of the project. Wetlands bisect the parcel, and a 15-acre section along Route 120 itself might be developed for another use, with the housing possibly contained to a 25-acre section, the RFP said. The lot itself totals about 43 acres, but DHH already has a contract to sell 3 acres to Adimab, a biotech firm at the edge of the Centerra business park that is planning to expand.

The RFP said priority for the housing would go first to DHMC staff, then to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health staff, then to workers at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine, and then to the general public.

Lebanon Planning and Development Director David Brooks said the development would be subject to various state and city permitting processes, including site plan and subdivision review.

Asked about the prospect of up to 400 units at the site, Brooks said, “I have no idea if that’s a realistic number. It’s going to depend on the design, to some extent.”

The RFP calls for DHH to select a developer that would begin the permitting process by the spring, with construction to start next fall and some apartments to be ready for tenants by the end of 2022.

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com or 603-727-3217.

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