College to appeal denial of sports facility permit

by Carter Brace | 1/5/17 3:03am

news_sports_facility_by_hollye_swinehart
by Hollye Swinehart / The Dartmouth

Dartmouth intends to appeal the Hanover planning board’s decision to deny the College’s proposed indoor sports facility, according to College spokesperson Diana Lawrence. The board denied the permit in a four to one vote.

The 70,000 square foot facility would have provided space for teams to practice indoors, which would have been especially useful during the winter months from November to March. As of now, teams have to compete for practice time in Leverone Field House or endure the cold weather.

The appeal will revolve around whether the planning board has the authority to deny an application even if it complies with local regulations, according to Hanover town manager Julia Griffin.

The appeal will be heard by the Grafton County Superior Court. Even critics of the facility did not dispute that the building met local zoning requirements. However, opponents have argued that the planning board, under state law, is allowed to factor in the the aesthetics of new developments as well as the impact of new structures on abutting properties during the process of “site plan review.” Opponents of the facility have also argued that it violates the town’s master plan. The master plan refers to a guide for future planning, which each town in the state must create, that lays out what a community wants to preserve and how it adapts to changing circumstances in its planning, according to planning board chair Judith Esmay. She was the only member to vote in favor of the permit.

Esmay said that the parts of the master plan that relate to the character of the communities, particularly the harmonious aspects of the neighborhoods, were in contention during the planning process.

Residents raised concerns that the facility would decrease property values and quality of life, affecting the character of the neighborhood. The facility would cast a literal shadow over many of the surrounding houses and was considered intrusive because of how large, unsightly and close to residences it would be, according to critics.

For planning board member Nancy Carter, the property values were not as great a concern as the facility’s size. The College could have chosen to locate it in the large area that contains most of its other athletic facilities, she said. Carter voted against granting the facility a permit.

Dartmouth pitched the proposed location to the Hanover planning board by saying that it was one the few locations within walking distance for student-athletes who are under pressure to maintain their academic performance, according to Carter.

Francis Manasek currently owns a property in the neighborhood affected by the proposed facility and was a critic of the project. Manasek said he has seen the town fill up in the 35 years he’s lived in Hanover.

“There’s no more space for projects like this in town,” Manasek said.

Athletic director Harry Sheehy said the College had studied the issue and did not believe the facility would impact the neighborhood negatively.

A denial of planning permission for a Dartmouth facility is “very, very rare,” Esmay said. Griffin added that a rejection for aesthetic reasons, in particular, was unusual.

Manasek said the proposed facility was “unique” compared to previous building projects because of its appearance, which he criticized, and proximity to the neighborhood.

Carter said that while there has usually been a lot of space separating institutional and residential buildings, the site for this facility was cramped.

The dispute was exacerbated because there is no clear indication of where institutional and residential zones meet, according to Carter.

She added that while the College typically locates its buildings sensitively, she believes it did not do so in this case because it wanted to keep the majority of its athletic facilities in the same area.

“It’s an in-your-face [move] by an institution that can outspend the neighborhood in legal fees and that can outlawyer the neighborhood and will put that building in regardless of the harm it does,” Manasek said.

Esmay further contended that the board could not judge an individual planning application by the long-term values of the master plan so that the owners of property can have some expectation that they can develop property in a certain way.

One of the most significant problems with the current lack of an additional indoor facility is that some teams have to practice in temperatures well below freezing.

“If you were taking an English class in February and it was eight degrees and the professor decided he was going to teach with the windows open there wouldn’t be a lot of effective teaching going on,” Sheehy said.

The limited space in Leverone means that the facility is being used continuously throughout much of the winter, often forcing teams to schedule late night or early morning practices that they would not otherwise plan.

Sheehy said that more space would allow teams to avoid practices at “ridiculous” times such as 10 p.m. to midnight or 5 a.m.

“I don’t think that’s the healthiest thing for our student-athletes,” Sheehy said.

The practice surface in the facility would also be more similar to what many other Ivy League teams normally play on.

“Generally, because we’re the most northern school in the Ivy League, this facility is incredibly important for our teams to be able to operate as they want to and need to,” Sheehy said.

In addition, the new facility would be beneficial to recruitment. Dartmouth women’s lacrosse team coach Danielle Spencer wrote in an email statement that the ability to hold winter lacrosse camps would greatly impact recruiting efforts.

Correction appended (Jan. 5, 2016):

The original version of this article incorrectly implied that the proposed indoor sports facility would only be used during the winter months. This error has been corrected to reflect that the proposed facility would have been used year-round but especially during the winter.

The original version of this article also incorrectly cited the town's master plan as the basis of facility opposition arguments. This error has been corrected to include site plan review regulations as a central argument.