Concord Monitor – Concord land deal could lead to 600 new housing units along Merrimack River
By CASSIDY JENSEN
Published: 5/23/2022 6:00:02 PM
Early plans to develop a 95-acre parcel of land along the Merrimack River would include more than 600 units of housing in a mixed-use project along Interstate-93 and the railroad, north of the Concord Monitor building.
The potential project near Exit 17 is dependent on the sale of the land, which is owned by Newspapers of New England.
“It’s definitely not a done deal,” said Kevin Lacasse, CEO of New England Family Housing, which is under contract to purchase the river-front land that was listed at $3.285 million. The Monitor building is not part of the sale.
A concept for Lacasse’s project lays out five main components, including 120 affordable apartments, 82 owner-occupied condos, 200 market-rate apartments, and an additional 250 units in a walkable “urban village,” with apartments set above commercial or retail spaces.
The criteria for defining “affordable” will depend on the funding source for the development and whether subsidies are applied, Lacasse said.
In addition to the housing, the development could include either self-storage or a “flex industrial” space, with businesses’ front offices or showrooms in front and workshops or light manufacturing in the back.
“If all the stars align and we can sail on track and on top of everything, we’re thinking probably about a year before we get approval in place and then construction will start sometime after that,” Lacasse said. “The one surety is we’re moving forward as fast as we can.”
New England Family Housing, based in New Hampton, is currently selecting an engineering firm to design the project before plans go before the city.
The city’s approval process could include rezoning. The Interchange Development retail project off of Exit 17 of I-93 received approval for gateway performance zoning that allowed plans for a shopping complex with a new Market Basket and New Hampshire Liquor Store to move forward.
Ward 1 City Councilor Brent Todd said he is hopeful about Lacasse’s project, and is “standing by” to help with public outreach to ward residents.
Todd is enthusiastic about the idea of a multi-use urban village in particular. “I think it’s something that would be unique to Concord and appealing to people who want to live here,” he said.
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As commercial property valuations fall in Concord and residential property assessments have soared, homeowners have taken on a greater share of property taxes.
“We’re continually looking in the city for ways to alleviate the tax burden on residents,” Todd said. “One of the ways to do that is economic development.”
Lacasse said that adding any type of housing would increase affordability. In 2021, Concord’s rental vacancy rate was 0.6%.
“There’s so much demand for employees but the problem is employees have no place to move,” Lacasse said.
Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Executive Council approved a $100 million housing investment fund that will use American Rescue Plan Act dollars to offer grants to multi-family housing developers, among other housing initiatives.
Lacasse said the fund’s approval inspired him to move forward with the land deal.
“We have good momentum of market conditions and we have good momentum through the political outlook right now,” Lacasse said. “We feel the timing is right for a project of this scale.”
The project would add to a flurry of planned construction in the city, including a mixed-use development off Exit 12 at the old drive-in movie theater and new apartments at the former Department of Employment Security building downtown. Other workforce housing projects include 192 apartments off Langdon Avenue in the city’s south end and 123 two-bedroom apartments on Pembroke Road and Sheep Davis Road in the Heights section of the city.
Brady Sullivan, one of the state’s biggest development companies, owns two properties – the former Department of Transportation buildings near Exit 14 and the former Lincoln Financial property, including one of two commercial buildings and 181 acres of land in the center of the city – which have yet to see formal housing proposals.
If Lacasse’s plans are successful, the project would be one of the largest developments in Concord in many years.
“He has a plan that should help keep housing accessible for the people of Penacook and Concord,” said Aaron Julien, chairman of Newspapers of New England, which owns the Monitor and surrounding land. “He’s been great to work with, and we wish him the best.”
Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master’s degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she’s not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.