Sykes Mountain Ave development moves forward as concerns linger

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-10-2023 9:40 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Construction on nearly 200 apartment units off Sykes Mountain Avenue could begin as early as next year, though town officials and neighbors still have concerns about the potential traffic impact.

The town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment met on Wednesday with developers from Simpson Development Co. of White River Junction, who are partnering with the Pering Group, a Venezuelan-based firm, to build five apartment buildings on a 25-acre parcel between Hickory Ridge and Lily Pond roads.

“We feel this (project) is a good fit because there is already a mix of housing in the area and it is already zoned for high density,” Dennis Marquise, of Simpson Development, told the Zoning Board.

The developers are looking to subdivide the property into two separate lots.

One 21-acre lot would be home to four buildings, each four stories in height, with a combined 192 market-rate apartments.

A fifth building containing 48 apartments would be located on a smaller, adjacent lot of four acres.

Units in the fifth building would be reserved for tenants with low to moderate incomes. Marquise said the income limits of these affordable apartment units have not yet been determined.

A zoning permit would be required for the 192-unit project because it will be in a zoning district that requires the board’s approval for housing. It would include 36 studio apartments, 133 one-bedroom units and 23 two-bedroom units. There would be four parking lots with 271 combined parking space, as well as sidewalks, bike trails and pedestrian walkways.

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The affordable housing building would be in a zoning district that permits housing without zoning board approval.

The potential traffic impact was raised by zoning board members as well as  resi dents. The proposed entrance to the complex will be constructed on Hickory Ridge Road, which the tenants would use to access Sykes Mountain Avenue.

Residents on Hickory Ridge, which has several existing homes, believe the additional traffic from the development could create traffic problems.

“That is a lot of cars, and I don’t see that intersection handling that,” said resident Jim Henderson. “I just feel we have too much traffic there already.”

Hickory Ridge can also be used by drivers who want to use the neighborhood’s residential roads as a cut-through to get downtown, residents said.

Zoning Board Vice Chairman Chris Lowe questioned the analysis of a traffic study conducted by VHB, an engineering consulting firm, which concluded that the project would only generate an additional 94 vehicle trips during weekdays and no more than an additional three-second traffic delay.

Zoning Administrator Jo-Ann Ells said that the town planning office has raised similar questions about the study’s estimations in written feedback to the developers.

Hickory Ridge residents also expressed concern about stormwater runoff.

The proposed complex will be located on high ground on a parcel that slopes down toward Hickory Ridge. Residents worried that the runoff from the property will be worse when the developers pave large parking lots.

“The storm runoff is already washing out our driveway,” said resident Wendy Louis.

The Zoning Board continued the hearing to its next meeting in January.

The developers also submitted four applications for this project to the Hartford Planning Commission.

One application is to subdivide the parcel, one application seeks preliminary approval of the 192-unit planned development and the other two applications are for approval of the site plans for the respective parcels.

Ells said that the hearings for these applications are expected to be continued to the next Planning Commission meeting due to the heavy agenda.

At next Monday’s meeting, the commission has five public hearings scheduled ahead of the Sykes Mountain Avenue project’s slot.

One of those is to consider the proposal by Upper Valley Haven, to build a 20-bed low barrier emergency shelter at the former 25,000 Gifts building on North Main Street.

Marquise said after Wednesday’s zoning board meeting that the developers hope to begin construction next year on the first phase — the 192-unit complex — though it will depend on the speed of the town permitting process, as well as economic conditions such as interest rates and construction costs.

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