A proposal to create as many as 625 units in five buildings to replace Steeplegate Mall is the latest in a series of large, multi-use developments proposed for Concord that could bring well over 1,600 apartments and condominiums to the city.
It’s unlikely that all those units will actually be built since many proposals, including Steeplegate Mall, are in the early stages of planning and permitting. Even so, such an array of multi-story apartment buildings alongside new retail or commercial buildings fit into a recent pattern seen further south in the state, and could indicate the first cracks are happening in New Hampshire’s long-stalled housing market.
“It’s something that we’ve been talking about in the housing world for a long time, this supply-demand imbalance, but it really did get so much worse in a relatively short time and got a lot of people’s attention,” said Robert Dapice, managing director of New Hampshire Housing.
“It has an effect on private property owners. A couple years ago, before people understood the overwhelming demand, (a developer) might have said apartments are doing well and are a valuable asset but they’re a huge undertaking – the design, permitting, it’s just too much. Now people might say the obstacles aren’t too great to consider a major redevelopment,” he said.
The owner of the Steeplegate Mall and other developers have proposed tearing down the 33-year-old mall as well as the adjoining Regal Cinema, replacing them with five multistory apartment buildings holding 625 units plus a large amount of new retail space. The plan is slated to appear before the Planning Board in October.
Other big, multi-use plans in the works in Concord include:
■ A long-percolating proposal for 22 acres off Manchester Street near Exit 13 of I93, at the site of the former Concord Drive-in movie theater, would include a five-story apartment building with 266 units plus 24 townhomes and an assisted living facility, along with a gas station, restaurant, bank, as well as medical and retail space.
■ As many as 600 units have been suggested on a 95-acre parcel along the Merrimack River north of Sewell’s Falls, near Exit 17 of I-93, along with a host of retail and commercial buildings. That land is currently owned by the Concord Monitor.
■ Construction in the Rail Yard in the city’s South End off Langdon Avenue is proceeding and 98 units in the first phase may start renting this fall. Plans are for a total of about 200 units, both income restricted and market-rate, to be built over time. While no other uses are proposed onsite, the area is adjacent to a variety of commercial and retail sites.
Several smaller housing developments that are sizable by Concord-area standards, such as the 54 units replacing the former Employment Security building on S. Main St., and 59 units of various types near Exit 1 off I-89 in Bow, just south of the city line, are also in the works.
The big multi-use pattern isn’t limited to Concord. In Londonderry, there’s a proposal for 300 apartments on 90 acres in what developers are calling a “mixed-use village” as well as Woodmont Commons, which could end up with 1,400 housing units amid offices and shops. In Salem, the 170-acre Tuscan Village on the site of the former Rockingham Park racetrack aims to build as many as 1,700 apartments and condominiums along with a range of hotels, entertainment sites and business space.
These numbers sound big but not as big as the need. New Hampshire Housing’s annual report says we’re roughly 20,000 units short of a housing market with enough vacancies and relatively stable costs. Down the road, it estimates New Hampshire needs closer to 90,000 new units by 2040.
The emphasis on multi-use developments in which residents can walk to some stores and services, instead of apartment- only complexes where people have to drive everywhere, also reflects a trend.
“There are more municipalities that are willing to entertain it,” said Dapice. “A lot of communities, Concord among them, have changed the way that they think about housing and form-based codes and land-use policies that can allow the private market to meet the housing needs.”