River Park Prospects Fading

Dear Friends of River Park,

The pace of the permitting process continues to surprise us.  It has now been over 14 months since we formally submitted the Site Plan and Subdivision applications, and there is no end in sight.  Based on the current zoning ordinance and state regulations, the Planning Board should have acted on our Site Plan application by May 19, 2011 and the Subdivision application by July 23, 2011.  Instead, hearings have been continued to August 22, 2011 and September 28, 2011 with no commitment for final action to occur.

Meanwhile, Lyme continues to incur additional costs and the financial impact of conditions imposed by the City Council raise serious economic obstacles to the potential success of River Park.  At every Planning Board meeting additional financial burdens are floated by municipal staff and the board has tentatively approved several by voice votes, but no written document is prepared for Lyme to evaluate or respond to.  A good example of this has been "traffic mitigation" measures.

At the July 25, 2011 hearing, the Planning Board asked the City Manager to suggest possible traffic mitigation measures and to meet with Lyme to review them.  One month later we still have not seen anything in writing to respond to and yet our voluntary traffic mitigation measures have been before the City since July of 2010!  

From where I sit, the City still does not understand or appreciate the impact of delay and the cost of imposing conditions that threaten the financial viability of the project.  It is clear that some members of the City Council welcome the prolonged delay and continue to advocate for no action to be taken without "further study".  This is hardly the type of behavior that encourages investment dollars to be spent in Lebanon.  When City Hall constantly violates its own rules in the entitlement process, it raises serious doubts as to what the city might do in the implementation phase.  I am left to conclude that perhaps the City Manager's recommendation to the City Council not to accept River Park Drive as a public street because "There is no public benefit" reflects the true attitude of public officials towards River Park.

In my experience, the best development projects occur when there is a genuine public/private partnership.  In the case of River Park, we have generated enormous public support, particularly in West Lebanon, but this has not been translated into a constructive relationship with City Hall.  There are some who claim that Lyme Properties is responsible for this because we went directly to the neighbors instead of the planning staff to develop the master plan and directly to the voters in seeking the zoning change necessary to implement the River Park Master Plan.  Perhaps this is the reason behind the on-going tension between the parties.

At this juncture, I have serious doubts that planning in Lebanon can produce the results necessary to make River Park the kind of place that Lyme and our neighbors envisioned.  My personal frustration is ultimately meaningless; however, others will have to answer to the voters in explaining how the City lost the chance to have public access to the Connecticut River, to realize hundreds of new jobs at a time when jobs are leaving the city, to benefit from an expansion in the tax base as homeowners face the economic pressures of expanding municipal/school costs in a stagnant economy, and the opportunity to enjoy neighborhood based retail options instead of regional supermarkets, auto parts stores, and big box retail giants controlled by financial interests with little or no regard for the local neighborhoods.  In other words, it remains "business as usual" in Lebanon.