Letter to Lebanon City Council and Planning Board from Our River Park Neighbor, Lauren "Duff" Cummings

The following letter was sent to the members of the Lebanon City Council and Planning Board by Lauren "Duff" Cummings, whose home abuts the River Park West Lebanon site. Duff is a member of the "Friends of River Park" and his letter has been republished here with his permission.

We invite all members of the Lebanon Community to share their thoughts on the River Park project here on "Dave's Blog," and hope to continue the dialogue with our neighbors in the coming months. We welcome your comments on this blog post, or feel free to email us at: info@riverparkwestlebanon.com

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March 30, 2011

Honorable Members of the Lebanon City Council and Planning Board:

I write as a taxpayer and citizen of Lebanon, and as a direct abutter to the River Park project. Over the past many months I have sat through the various hearings and reviewed the volumes of data presented in support of compliance of River Park with the regulations and requirements of our city. The process has been onerous at best, and the debates have at times been considerably less than productive.    

I was duly notified of the March 30, 2011 continuation of the public hearing relating to the request for Site Plan Review and had made plans along with others to attend that hearing. I was surprised to find out that the hearing had been postponed, but I was absolutely amazed at the reason for the delay. I have since learned that the City Engineer has apparently failed to manage the water and sewer study as specified in the contract thus delaying its consideration by City Council as part of the application for connecting to city utilities and effectively forcing the applicant to seek a continuance of the public hearing. Further, I am told the City Engineer will not provide the applicant with a copy of the draft because it contains errors in the assumptions used by the consultant, even though the applicant has paid for the study. I am not a legal scholar, but as a taxpayer, abutter, and based on pure common sense I cannot fathom why the City sees a need to hide this information. Do not the applicant and those of us potentially affected by the outcome of the study have some right to know what these false assumptions were, their source, upon what they were based, and the corrective measures being taken? Transparency in government is vital in terms of inspiring confidence among the governed and is indeed championed in City Council’s letter to the community dated February 7, 2011. 

When the discussion of the capacity of our water and sewer lines to accommodate River Park and the need for further studies to be conducted arose initially, I was puzzled. Perhaps I am completely naïve, but I find it unfathomable that our engineers don’t have readily accessible data which provides the size, age, condition and carrying capacity of our existing water and sewer lines. Were adequate plans and records not maintained when they were built, and are they not regularly inspected? Why did City staff delay the request for a third party review for six months after the site plan and subdivision applications were submitted? And if a third party review was really necessary, why wasn’t it commissioned promptly?          

This is but one of a virtual laundry list of topics that seem to resurface and delay progress. Here are some others……   

The issue of another fire truck has repeatedly been raised. Let me preface by saying I hold Chief Christopoulos in high regard, so this is not a commentary on his judgment. Prior to the construction of the huge DHMC complex, how many ladder trucks did the City have? One. Since then we have added the buildings in Centerra and a host of other multi-story buildings to the city. How many ladder trucks do we now have? One.  I am, therefore, somewhat puzzled that River Park has suddenly become the catalyst for the need to add a piece of aerial apparatus to the Fire Department. In these challenging economic times I respectfully suggest we table this part of the discussion and move forward, relying  instead on the well developed mutual aid agreements we have with our neighbors in Hanover and Hartford for additional aerial apparatus should the rare occasion arise that such a piece of equipment is needed. Couple this with the highly evolved fire suppression systems built into today’s commercial and laboratory buildings and the need would seem to be even further diminished.

Next, I’d like to touch on the boat launch. Although the community is very enthusiastic about this long overdue opportunity to access the river below the Wilder Dam, a lovely stretch of water most of us have never been able to enjoy for lack of a reasonable means to get to it, suddenly the flow characteristics of the river have come under scrutiny. I would offer a very simple response: Just as on the vast majority of public waterways in the state, indeed the country, the decision whether to launch and the responsibility for doing so should rest not with government, but rather with the boater’s own knowledge of his/her abilities and watercraft coupled with personal responsibility for scouting the waterway to be traveled. My sense is that Lyme Properties and Transcanada might collaborate on some informational signage, but I do not think this should become an impediment to moving forward with approval of the project. Further, let us not forget that Lyme Properties is not obligated to provide public access to the river, nor can the city mandate it, but XYZ Dairy, LLC, has voluntarily offered to do so as part of the River Park master planning process initiated by the developer because it was the number one priority of West Lebanon neighbors.  It would be an absolutely irresponsible public decision to lose this opportunity.

Elevations or artists renderings of the exterior appearance of the buildings have been brought up as a desirable. I think we need to step back and realistically evaluate the practicality and reasonableness of such a request at this phase of the review process. Even though River Park is in my back yard and I thus have a vested interest in what I will be seeing out my windows for the remainder of my days in Lebanon (where I intend to continue to live and ultimately retire), I don’t expect Lyme Properties to provide me or anyone else with pictures of the finished product this early on. I am content having done research on developments Lyme Properties has successfully brought on line elsewhere, coupled with the detailed models of River Park we have all been afforded the opportunity to study, that their design for River Park will be an outstanding aesthetically pleasing addition to the West Lebanon landscape.              

The subject of traffic has been studied and debated ad nauseum. I do not purport to be an expert on the subject in any way, and I, too, share some concerns that the carrying capacity of our streets and intersections could be strained. But I am also cognizant of the need to create a balance between the possibility of increased congestion and the potential for significant economic gain to our city, both through the creation of jobs and an increase in tax revenue. It is also important to be mindful of the fact that the proposed River Park plan provides far less density than the currently outdated zoning ordinance allows and this alone produces far less traffic impact to our city. Further, the potential for River Park to host an intermodal transportation hub to encourage mass transit seems to be glossed over in discussions despite the applicant’s active dialogue with the providers of public transportation services which could reduce traffic impact throughout the city. And finally, although it seems “right neighborly” to solicit input from Hanover and Hartford, in purely practical terms neither town pays our taxes. Specific to Hanover, where I work and have many good friends, they had opportunities to address their traffic woes both when DHMC was relocated and the Ledyard Bridge was reconstructed. That they chose not to do anything meaningful to address increased traffic should not result in River Park being further delayed and we taxpayers in Lebanon made to suffer.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Council and Planning Board, I respect and appreciate your dedication and commitment to making our city a better place. I am well aware of the tremendous volume of work and responsibility this entails. Nor do I mean to minimize the size and complexity of River Park as a project for you to consider. But XYZ Dairy submitted the site plan and subdivision applications in June of 2010, and nine months later the Planning Board has still not certified them as "complete" in spite of numerous public meetings and a voluminous amount of material submitted by a professional engineering firm and other consultants. As one who has both the freedom to be an observer and the benefit of enough education and experience to make some fairly objective and accurate assessments, I humbly submit that we’ve become woefully bogged down in process, whether by design or default. Public hearings seem to fall into rehashing minutiae interspersed with rambling discourses on materials that may only be tangential to the matter under discussion. While I appreciate the need to qualify some points of view with supporting information, it seems the discussion goes off point all too often.

Finally, I and many others perceive a thinly veiled bias on the part of City staff against the River Park project. Comments made in public hearings by members of the Planning Board themselves directed toward City staff in response to inadequate preparation and the timely dissemination of information only further enhance the perception, especially in light of  the tone and tenor of City staff’s  remarks and replies to certain issues raised in hearings. What may be the basis for this bias, if indeed there is one, is of no interest to me. The impact it is having on moving forward with an otherwise outstanding opportunity for smart growth in our city, however, is noticeable to even the untrained eye and is of great concern. The repeated delays, conditions piled upon conditions, studies of studies and further reviews of the studies all compound to bring things to a grinding halt. I as a taxpayer and those with whom I am in discussion find this completely unacceptable.

There is no question that growth in our city needs to be regulated, orderly and well thought out. It needs to be reasonably fact driven, the operative word being “reasonably”. We live in a dynamic environment locally and globally, and trying to anticipate and plan for every single contingency that could arise is simply impossible. At some point we need to take the strong preponderance of evidence before us and move forward, confident that the systems of regulatory checks and balances already in place coupled with the reputation and track record of an applicant of the character of Lyme Properties/XYZ Dairy, LLC, will result in a development of outstanding quality and benefit to our city and the Upper Valley. Those of us, and we are many representing a broad range of backgrounds, interests, experiences and levels of education, who have followed, supported and cast our votes overwhelmingly for the necessary changes to help make River Park possible are confident we should move forward without further delay. I respectfully urge you to make this possible.

 

Respectfully yours,

Lauren Cummings
203 North Main Street
West Lebanon, NH