Dartmouth plans new undergraduate housing on West Wheelock, changes to Lyme Road project

One of several stakes denoting the perimeter of Building 2, which would be comprised of two four-story wings connected by a walkway, is visible during a Hanover Planning Board site visit of Dartmouth’s proposed North End housing project on Lyme Road in Hanover, N.H., on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. The proposed project would consist of three buildings, including two residence halls and an indoor/outdoor pavilion. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

One of several stakes denoting the perimeter of Building 2, which would be comprised of two four-story wings connected by a walkway, is visible during a Hanover Planning Board site visit of Dartmouth’s proposed North End housing project on Lyme Road in Hanover, N.H., on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. The proposed project would consist of three buildings, including two residence halls and an indoor/outdoor pavilion. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 10-01-2023 2:12 AM

HANOVER — Dartmouth College has announced new plans to build “apartment-style units” with a total of 250 to 300 beds on West Wheelock Street close to the heart of campus and has pulled back from plans to house hundreds of undergraduate students on Lyme Road.

College officials said the new plan was made possible by zoning changes approved by residents at Town Meeting in 2022. The approved article established a new zoning district — the Main Wheelock District — that allows higher-density residential development and some accessory commercial uses along West Wheelock Street.

The so-called West End section of campus has seen significant construction in the last several years, including the Class of 1982 Engineering and Computer Science Center and the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society.

The school still plans to build a residential complex on Lyme Road, but now it will house graduate and professional school students from the start. Under the college’s original plan, about 400 undergraduates were going to live at the Lyme Road complex for up to a decade, while the college found another location for more housing closer to the center of campus. But the West Wheelock project would allow the college to accelerate its timetable to use Lyme Road for graduate housing, according to Josh Keniston, senior vice president for capital planning and campus operations.

The graduate student proposal for Lyme Road is for a complex with 250 to 300 beds, though the total footprint of the site will remain the same size. It’s planned for what was once part of the college’s golf course, which was closed in 2020.

Keniston said in a phone interview on Thursday that both housing projects are still in their early planning stages. Still, officials hope to begin construction in 2024 on the West Wheelock project.

“We wanted to get this announcement out now because housing is a key priority to President Beilock and for our institution,” Keniston said. “So there are a lot of questions we will need to answer. We plan to engage students, faculty and the community in these conversations and the information (for these projects) is still forthcoming.”

The college announced the new housing plan in a news release on Wednesday, days after the inauguration of new Dartmouth College President Sian Leah Beilock, who took over on campus in June.

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In February, the Hanover Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to grant Dartmouth College a zoning permit to build a 397-bed residential complex for undergraduate students on the north end of the former Hanover Country Club. The proposed development was to consist of a three-story residence hall, a four-story residence hall and a 3,700-square-foot pavilion for student programs.

At the time the Lyme Road complex was proposed, residents and Dartmouth faculty members raised concerns the distance from the main campus would be too isolating for undergraduate students.

Following this week’s announcement, some of those same folks said they were pleased to hear that undergraduate students would be kept closer to the center of campus.

“I am a proponent of keeping our undergraduate population integrated on campus rather than on Lyme Road,” said George Hathorne, former Dartmouth architect. “West Wheelock is an improvement, though I would prefer other parts of the campus.”

Asked why the college was moving forward with the West Wheelock plan now — months after the controversial Lyme Road project received crucial approvals from town officials — Keniston said the college had been working on both plans at once. He cited long lead times for planning and engineering as the reason the college kept seeking Lyme Road approvals even after the West Wheelock development began to take shape. The college Board of Trustees approved a feasibility study of the West Wheelock proposal in June.

Keniston said a new site plan for Lyme Road will need to be developed and go through the permitting process.

Barry Harwick, a Hanover resident and former Dartmouth College cross country coach, called the college’s change of plan for Lyme Road “a positive step.”

The administration “has listened and to their credit, they have changed paths,” Harwick said in an interview.

Harwick praised Dartmouth’s recent hire of Emma Wolfe as vice-president of government and community relations. He said Wolfe has been extremely helpful in explaining the college’s housing plan and attentive to the concerns of residents.

Even so, Harwick said, many residents likely still have concerns about the Lyme Road project.

“If there’s a new plan, a lot of people will want to see what that looks like,” he said.

Resident Rebecca Kohn said that many people are still worried about the project’s impact on the surrounding neighborhood. The buildings as proposed “were so out of scale and scope” with other buildings on Lyme Road, Kohn said.

Neighbors also are concerned about light pollution and traffic safety, she said.

Keniston said changing the use to graduate student housing will not necessarily result in more vehicles, noting that Dartmouth College plans for a robust shuttle service that would enable students to travel to campus, shopping areas and other locations.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews or at 603-727-3216.