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South end housing complex approved despite concerns from neighbors

  • Conceptual drawings of the proposed development at Langdon Avenue and South Main Street. Courtesy of Dakota Partners Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 7/24/2021 9:20:12 PM

Despite concerns of traffic, trains and trampling a marsh that’s home to wildlife, plans to construct up to 192 apartments on Langdon Avenue gained approval from the city’s planning board.

Fourteen residents shared their concerns for the project – a four-unit housing complex with two commercial buildings – during a public hearing Wednesday. Still, the developer was given conditional approval since the proposal met all zoning requirements.

Paul Halvorsen, the Merrimack County Attorney and a resident of the area since 1997, fears the location – which borders the South End marsh, railroad tracks and South Main Street – is too crowded for the proposed number of units.

Too many commercial buildings, and not to mention the prior use of the area for a railroad, present concerns for children living on the site, he said. Twenty years ago, when Halvorsen fished in the marsh, he used to see old metal scraps littered around.

“I don’t think anyone would disagree that affordable housing is necessary and needed. I think, however, that this location is not suited for that use,” he said as he asked the board to reject its approval.

As a resident in the area with two children, Phil Koerber worried the influx of residents to the area would drastically increase enrollment at nearby Abbot-Downing Elementary School. With the proposed number of units, he guessed anywhere from 50 to 100 additional children would enroll at the school.

“There would be more need for teachers, more space in the building,” he said. “Additionally, you have more kids getting picked up and dropped off in the morning.”

However, the developer, Dakota Partners, assured the planning board based on its past studies that most of the new tenants are relocating from within Concord, therefore their move has no impact on enrollment numbers within the city.

Opponents remained concerned about an increase in traffic in an area of the city where cars already tend to speed.

“It’s a traffic disaster waiting to happen,” said Ben Thornton, a South Main Street resident. “I back my car out and I say an ‘Our Father’ before I do. The traffic there is unreal.”

Beyond pedestrian and car traffic, some spoke on behalf of the marsh itself.

“The elephant in the room is the South End marsh,” said Peter Engel, who lives on South Main Street.

He’s been in this seat in front of the planning board before – 20 years ago, he commented on a development proposal in the area, with similar concerns for the wildlife that live in the marsh.

“Bobcat, heron, a pair of eagles, eagle fledgling. We have a 500-pound bear that comes around regularly,” he said. “It’s a gem in the South End, and I think there ought to be a thought process about how it’s going to affect it.”

He fears things like snow piles and water runoff affecting the marsh.

“I am telling you right now you are going to kill that marsh,” said Bo Szanto, a retired firefighter who has lived in Concord for 60 years.

But the planning board reassured residents that these concerns would be addressed in conditions as the project’s plans are finalized.

The developer now needs to review and meet a set of specific conditions, including the addition of a new bicycle lane on Langdon Avenue, provide more entrances in the housing complex and address all comments from the planning division.

Once all conditions are met, Concord City Planner Heather Shank and Richard Woodfin, the chairman of the planning board, will sign off on the building permit to allow construction to begin.

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