Large mixed-use development eyed along Merrimack River near Exit 13

Monitor staff
Published: 10/12/2019 9:54:08 PM
Modified: 10/12/2019 9:53:53 PM

What could be the largest mixed-use development in the city is being eyed along the Merrimack River near Exit 13 on land that has become available for construction because of changes in the city’s flood maps.

“It has been in the family for a long time, and for a long time its zoning and its inclusion in the flood plain has been an impediment to development,” said Ari Pollock, an attorney representing the owners of the property, identified only as a trust. “Our proposal is to have a portion of the properties rezoned to a different district which abuts it, and to take advantage of changes that the city council made to the flood map.”

The trust owns 82 acres along the east bank of the Merrimack River, south of Manchester Street or Route 3, between Garvin Falls Road and the river. The property includes the short dead-end Black Hill Road and what was once the site of Concord Drive-in Theater, which closed in the 1980s after three decades of operation. Some pavement is left from the theater but otherwise, said Pollock, the land is overgrown.

Most of the property was marked as floodplain or floodway in flood maps prepared by the Army Corps of Engineers decades ago. Those maps were long used as a basis for the city zoning ordinance until the city council switched to flood maps prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which allowed a portion of the property to be developed if the zoning is changed.

City Planner Heather Shank said the FEMA maps are more accurate and get updated, and are used by most communities to make decisions about where projects should be allowed.

On Monday, the city council will consider a request to rezone 27 acres of the land, the portion closest to Manchester Street. The change from Open Space Residential to Gateway Performance would allow a mixed-use development. The meeting will include a public hearing.

As part of the proposal, the trust submitted a conceptual plan that includes 168 units of multi-family housing, as well as assisted-living housing, large and small retail buildings, office space, hotels and coffee shops. The plan also showed part of the city’s long-sought Greenway hiking trail along the river and at least one public canoe access.

“I like to call it a town center sort of development, with places for people, streetscapes – not your typical suburban, car-dependent layout. It could make this a great precedent for the type of development that we don’t really have yet in Concord,” said Shank. “They showed us the concept and we said, ‘Yeah, this is worth the effort.’ … I’m hopeful that they will create that type of development to the extent the market will allow them to.”

Large, mixed-use developments of that type have become more common in southern New Hampshire, notably the 80-acre Woodmont Commons in Londonderry. The Planning Department’s staff, which supports the rezoning request, says in its report that the project could help the region’s extremely tight housing and rental markets.

“The pressing need for housing also highlights a concern with allowing residential uses in districts that have historically been the location for high value, non-residential amenities. To avoid losing valuable retail and commercial space, staff recommends that residential uses be permitted in the (zoning) districts only where a mixed-use component is provided,” said the report.

Pollock noted that the proposal is just conceptual, not an actual application. If the zoning is changed, he said, engineering and other work can proceed and it’s possible that the owners will come forward with a site plan by next spring.

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in City Hall. The rezoning proposal is item 34 on the agenda.

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