Editorial: The right spot for a supermarket

  • 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. Caitlin Andrews

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A lot of water has gone over the downstream dam since developers David and Laurie Rauseo first proposed bringing a supermarket to property they own near the confluence of the Contoocook and Merrimack rivers at Exit 17. Circumstances change. Dreams give way to realities. Plans must change with them.

The dream of spurring development in Penacook by luring a full-size grocery outlet to the village is an old one. In 2008, to help the dream become a reality, Concord’s city council placed zoning restrictions on land near Exit 17 to limit retail development that could compete with the goal of creating a vibrant village economy. The restrictions limit the size of non-industrial buildings to 8,000 square feet, or about one-quarter of the size of an average supermarket.

In 2011, when the Rauseos first came to the city with a supermarket plan, this paper’s story began with the words, “The proposal to build a supermarket at Exit 17 in Penacook is dead.” To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of that death were an exaggeration. The plan is back, and the council should lift the restrictions that would prevent it from becoming a reality.

Fisherville Road, the main artery into the village, has been repaved and the roundabout at the entrance to Penacook’s small downtown was a big improvement. But the likelihood of a major grocery chain opening a supermarket on Route 3 remains slim. The tannery property owned by the city has largely been redeveloped, and few sites with adequate road frontage, ease of access and land for parking remain. A 7 acre site near Thirty Pines is available, but the problem remains what it has always been: people, or rather the shortage of them.

When deciding whether to open a store, it’s said, supermarkets count chimneys. If they don’t see enough of them, they don’t build. Penacook’s population density and traffic count remain too low to lure a grocery chain. Meanwhile, the village’s residents, like the residents of Boscawen and Canterbury, have a long drive to get to a major grocer. A supermarket just off Interstate 93’s Exit 17 would serve them and travelers as well.

Penacook residents, because their children attend a different school district with a lower property tax base, pay a much higher tax rate than Concord residents, $33.92 per $1,000 of assessed value compared to $28.24. The village would benefit from a bigger tax base, which is a big reason to support a zoning change.

We don’t believe that retail development hard by the interstate would prevent the continued industrial development of land along Whitney Road and Hannah Dustin Drive. Nor do we believe that it would interfere with the potential extension of Whitney Road, which ends just past the Wheelabrator incinerator, to Sewalls Falls Road through land owned by this paper’s parent company.

The economic future of Penacook probably lies not with Loudon Road or Fort Eddy Road style strip development, but with clean industrial development – the custom wood molding company Boyce Highlands on Whitney Road being a prime example – and boutique shops that take advantage of the picturesque village and its location on a river.

A supermarket near the Dunkin’ Donuts at Exit 17 won’t stand in the way of either.