I think I can speak for a number of people who attended the Planning Board meeting when I say I'm frustrated by the confusion surrounding the traffic studies completed as part of our application. Traffic has always been an important consideration throughout the River Park planning process, and we have made significant decisions along the way to minimize its impact on the surrounding community as much as possible.
As residents of the Upper Valley we share the same concerns about increased traffic, which is why we commissioned a preliminary traffic evaluation by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin in 2008 as part of our Master Planning process. This study, which we shared with the Lebanon planning staff in November of 2009, demonstrated that the mixed-use proposal for River Park would result in considerably less traffic than the “as-of-right” hospital use allowed under the R-3 zoning in place at the time. The River Park plan incorporates lower traffic impact uses, such as life science research space, one of many steps taken to ensure that the development is in keeping with the interests of the surrounding community, as opposed to the maximum development allowed by law. Additionally, the decision not to use Crafts Avenue as an ingress or egress street will force project traffic onto Route 10, where traffic has actually been declining for the past ten years, instead.
A second, more comprehensive, traffic study was included in the subdivision and site plan applications we submitted to the City of Lebanon on June 14, 2010. This study, completed by Holden Engineering, met and exceeded the criteria of the City of Lebanon for development applications. It calculated projected traffic generated by the River Park Master Plan, and the impact on Route 10, Main Street, the Bridge Street intersection, and Route 12A. Unfortunately, this material was not forwarded to the Planning Board members.
The fact that the Planning Board did not receive this study or a staff critique in the month leading up to the July 20th hearing was reported in the Valley News article and described as the "disconnect in the city offices that was addressed but not resolved during the nearly three-hour review last night."
After Lyme submitted the formal subdivision and site plan applications on June 14, 2010, the NH Department of Transportation (NH DOT) convened a "scoping meeting" to respond to our request to relocate the curb cut on Route 10 fifty yards north because of improved sight lines. The City of Lebanon, the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission and the Town of Hanover were invited to comment on the regional impact of River Park. Even though the Town of Hanover and the Regional Planning Commission have no statutory authority to approve subdivision or site plan applications in Lebanon, the NH DOT asked Holden to expand the traffic study to include intersections in Hanover and two exits on I-89. Lyme has authorized Holden to prepare a third traffic study expanding the scope requested by the NH DOT.
Holden Engineering is working expeditiously to complete this work in early August, but it is no small undertaking! The traffic engineers must somehow account for the inconsistent traffic during summer months, the current road construction at Exit 19 on I-89 N, the Route 4 Bridge construction between West Lebanon and White River Junction, and the City’s sewer construction below Seminary Hill. Projecting traffic volumes associated with River Park users at intersections located several miles away over the next 10 years is hardly an exact science.
Of course there will be additional traffic generated by River Park as it is developed over the next 10-15 years. We have proposed Route 10 improvements, paid for by the developer, to mitigate the impact on West Lebanon neighbors and businesses who will bear the primary traffic burden, which we believe is our responsibility.
Also at the July 20th hearing, Lyme was presented with the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission's (UVLSRPC) memo in response to the River Park project. The memo was sent on July 6, 2010, after the NH DOT traffic scoping meeting, and in response to an invitation from the Lebanon planning staff. Lyme was not copied on any of the correspondence. The UVLSRPC memo and the subsequent discussion during the Planning Board hearing raised two misconceptions about River Park transportation that I'd like to respond to since they led to confusion at the meeting.
1. The UVLSRPC submitted calculations that predict "an estimate of potential employment numbers for this proposal - assuming 250 square feet per employee - indicates the proposed 666,820 square feet of lab-office and office for the site would house nearly 2,670 employees…"
This projection is not accurate and is based on assumptions that are faulty.
Traffic generated by life science uses is significantly less than that created by traditional office space occupancies and there is extensive historical data to support this. Moreover, the square footage cited UVLSRPC did not account for the considerable mechanical space necessary for laboratories that house equipment and not employees. Lyme continues to believe, based on our experience in developing life science lab space for the past 25 years, that the life science uses will generate around 1,500 employees and this will only occur at full build out, which we think will likely take 10-15 years to achieve. It should also be noted that Lyme views job creation as an important benefit of River Park and the best way to improve the demand for services in Old West Lebanon.
2. The UVLSRPC memo also did not take into account the public transportation options we have already begun working towards, including conversations with Advance Transit to locate a new bus stop between the "town green" of River Park and the parking garage. River Park will encourage the use of public transportation, allow for Park & Ride opportunities, and hopefully provide a solution for the bus traffic staging area in front of the new Kilton Library that has generated so much controversy in downtown West Lebanon.
The River Park preliminary subdivision approval meeting has been continued to Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at which point the Planning Board will have received the third traffic study and have had a chance to review the two previously-submitted studies. I believe this meeting is an important opportunity for the Friends of River Park and the residents of West Lebanon to observe the Planning Board process and to provide public comment about the project. Please mark your calendars for Tuesday, August 17th at 6:00 PM at City Hall.