By Tim Camerato | Valley News Staff Writer
West Lebanon — Construction of a new state Liquor & Wine Outlet in West Lebanon is scheduled to begin this spring, after the city’s Planning Board voted unanimously on Monday to approve the project.
The nearly 20,000-square-foot store will be built next to the Weathervane Seafood Restaurant in what now is a parking lot off of Route 12A. It will cost developers an estimated $2 million and replace an existing Powerhouse Plaza outlet; that store will remain open during construction.
“We’re just adding the 19,000-square-foot building to that parking lot, kind of reconfiguring things a little bit but leaving the (property) pretty similar,” said Brian Pratt, an engineer with the Manchester-based Fuss & O’Neill, according to an audio recording of Monday’s meeting.
Pratt said the building itself will be nearly double the size of the existing Powerhouse Plaza store, and will include a larger warehouse designed to decrease the number of shipping trucks coming to West Lebanon.
The current store is one of the New Hampshire Liquor Commission’s best-selling outlets. Located just north of Exit 20, it made $14.2 million in sales in 2016, the 10th highest statewide.
The new store will be surrounded by 155 parking spaces, Pratt said, adding that the construction will leave plenty of room for Weathervane customers to park. An existing grassy strip will separate the outlet from the Valley News building on Interchange Drive.
The 4.1-acre lot currently is owned by the Gagner Family Limited Partnership and Weathervane Seafood, and is valued at $2.4 million, according to city records. The liquor store is being proposed by Manchester developers Dick Anagnost and Alex Vailas, who will lease the building to the state through their company, AVG2 Lebanon LLC.
Traffic to the store will be funneled through two routes, planners were told on Monday.
Vehicles will either be able to enter the parking lot through Weathervane Drive, the property’s main driveway, from Route 12A, or they could connect through Martin Drive, a small connector road near the Walmart parking lot.
The new store is expected to generate 159 vehicle trips during peak weekday traffic hours, according to an impact study by Fuss & O’Neill. Peak weekend traffic is expected to generate 167 trips.
But engineers told the Planning Board those numbers likely were an overestimate. About 20 percent of all traffic to the store could come from nearby businesses, they said, while another 20 percent might come from customers already traveling down Route 12A.
The Planning Board also approved eight waivers on Monday night that pave the way for the store’s development. Most of those allow developers to forgo landscaping and buffer requirements on the property.
The waivers were necessary due to space constraints and a need to improve drainage in the Weathervane parking lot and driveway, Pratt said.
A new catch basin system is proposed for the site, he said, along with rain gardens and pipes that tie the lot into the city’s wastewater system.
“The current site has some issues with stormwater,” Pratt told the board. “Over 30 years, it’s clogged up. So what happens now is there’s just big ponds in the parking lot.”
But some board members questioned why the city’s landscaping regulations couldn’t be implemented along with drainage improvements. The site for a new store should be spacious enough for both, they said.
“I’m struck by the number of justifications for waivers that begin with ‘We can’t,’ ‘We don’t have enough room to …’ ” board member Lewis Greenstein said.
Carl Porter, the board’s vice chairman, agreed.
“If we’re looking at so many waivers because there’s not enough room, perhaps the building’s too large,” he said.
The developers’ requests also drew concern from board member Joan Monroe, who worried too few trees could contribute to a “heat island effect” in the area.
Heat islands are formed when the heat captured by urban roofs and pavement leads to increased air temperature, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. More energy is therefore required to cool the surrounding homes and businesses, increasing the demand for fossil fuels.
However, Pratt countered that the rain gardens might be more beneficial to the area, allowing for better drainage and preventing sediment from mixing with stormwater runoff.
“Personally, I prefer to have the rain gardens,” he said. “I think they do much more to treat (problems) than having shaded trees would do.”
The board ultimately settled on a compromise, and asked the developers to eliminate two parking spaces from an original plan of 157 spaces in favor of space for two shade trees. The board also called for additional trees along the property’s boundary lines.
A request to forgo some city fees associated with the project also drew concern from the Planning Board.
The city requires developments along Route 12A to contribute to a fund designated to improve traffic along the busy corridor. For the liquor and wine outlet, developers estimated that contribution would total $72,000.
City Planning Director David Brooks said the fees are designed to help Lebanon pay for street improvements that become necessary when several projects pop up in the corridor. A single development might not trigger the need for upgrades by itself, he said, but taken together, multiple projects could impact the roadway.
Pratt said the developers should be allowed to skip the payment because they plan on building a sidewalk to Route 12A from the Weathervane. They also intend to repair the parking lot and driveway leading out to the main road.
“This is all going to be fresh new pavement,” he said, estimating the sidewalk and driveway work to cost $77,000.
But board members were reluctant to drop the fees, saying the money might be needed down the line and that it partially eases taxpayers’ burden. They decided to keep the fee in place, saying the money raised might be useful for future projects around the site.
“We’re behind on roads, and taxes are going up and nobody’s thrilled about it,” said Jim Winny, the City Council’s representative to the Planning Board.
Tim Camerato can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.
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