New undergraduate housing on Lyme Road to break ground by end of year

Students and community members expressed mixed reactions to the project, which lies further from campus than any existing dorms.

by Parker O'Hara | 1/25/22 5:10am

1-24-22-lymehousing-courtesy
Source: Courtesy of Beyer Blinder Belle

Dartmouth has identified a potential location for new apartment-style undergraduate housing: Garipay Fields, a plot of land 30 minutes north of Baker-Berry Library by foot. The College says that the site will help alleviate the housing shortage quickly, but some critics wonder about the impacts on the environment and recreation — and whether any students would want to live that far from campus.  

The project, originally identified in a Nov. 2020 report, is currently in the “planning and design phase,” campus services vice president Josh Keniston said in an interview. The College hopes to enter the permitting phase by summer and break ground by the end of the year, and the Campus Services webpage indicates that wetlands field work, site surveys and geotechnical work has already been completed.

“We’re just thinking about it at two levels right now,” Keniston said. “We’re planning for the whole area, not just thinking about where we put housing, but also as we think about 20, 30, 40, 50 years and what future development would look like out there.”

The Lyme Road South precinct encompasses the golf course, a large portion of the western side of Lyme road that sits along Girl Brook, the current varsity golf practice course and Garipay Fields. This region was zoned to include “a mix of campus uses, such as academic, administrative and graduate or professional student housing, and be sensitively integrated into the grounds and include landscape restoration,” according to the College report.

In the Nov. 2020 report, the proposed undergraduate housing was located on the western side of Lyme Road. However, following the completion of a topographic survey of the area, the parcel of land on the northeast side of Lyme Road — further north than the original proposal — was found to be most suitable for more immediate undergraduate housing, according to architect and urban designer Rayna Erlich, who works for Beyer Blinder Belle, the architecture firm in charge of the project. 

Though construction on the western side of Lyme Road would allow housing to be located closer to campus, Erlich said in a Jan. 20 virtual community meeting held to discuss the housing plans that the northeastern area will allow the firm to preserve more open space, make cost-effective development decisions and take advantage of more compact building designs.

Garipay Fields is a popular area for outdoor recreation like running and Nordic skiing, the potential loss of which has drawn criticism from local residents. 

In a letter written to the College by the Garipay Neighborhood Association — a group formed in response to the project — community members expressed their concern for the environmental impact and community disruption the development would cause, specifically citing the potential harm to the wetland area around Garipay and Girl Brook, the increased traffic on a road without sidewalks and the loss of a heavily-used ski and recreational area. An online poll during the meeting showed that 45% of participants use Garipay Fields every day and another 38% use them one to three times a week.

According to Keniston, the project will recognize “the importance of the outdoors and recreation space that this whole area has traditionally served” and find ways to incorporate this into the final design. One potential idea he mentioned was the construction of a warming hut for Nordic skiers. 

By building on the northeastern side of Lyme Road across from Girl Brook and Pine Park, the environmental impact on the land and wildlife will be minimized, according to Erlich. Additionally, the firm intends to involve areas of open, natural space on both sides of Lyme Road and has plans to establish an arboretum just north of Occom Pond.

Despite neighbors’ complaints, many students have long hoped for the construction of more housing. Just this past fall, housing limitations meant that hundreds of students were initially placed on a waitlist for on-campus housing, and according to Keniston, the College expects a similar “housing crunch” in the spring. 

Jose Rosario ’22 was placed on the housing waitlist this past fall.

“I think the idea of new housing past the golf course is a good one if, and only if, it is coupled with actions to take existing student housing offline for renovations/improvements,” Rosario wrote in an emailed statement. “And make investments in campus infrastructure to ameliorate many of the issues students currently face.”

In March 2021, the Infrastructure Renewal Fund was established to support infrastructure renovation using funds drawn from the endowment. According to Keniston, the fund can only be used directly for renewing old residences in the “historic core” of campus — but new housing is necessary in order to free up older buildings for renovation. 

“We want to be able to get to those other development projects,” Keniston said. “But to do it, we have to create more beds to relieve the current crunch.”

Government professor Brendan Nyhan, who lives near the proposed site, said the College should be cautious about making a decision “driven by short term considerations that’s going to have long term consequences.”

“For decades into the future, they’ll have to take a bus to go to campus, to go to class, or get any meal they don’t prepare themselves,” Nyhan said of students living in the proposed buildings. “And that will change the nature of the campus in ways that I think serves students poorly.”

Parker Rabinowitz ’25, who lives in the River cluster of dorms in the western part of campus, also said that the distance is a decisive factor.

“I can’t imagine walking 30 minutes to the library if I lived in those dorms,” Rabinowitz said. “I also feel like it’s a safety hazard because walking back in the winter could potentially put kids at risk.”

The proposed section of the precinct is approximately 1.5 miles from The Green, or about a 30 minute walk. Keniston said during the virtual community meeting that a shuttle would transport students to and from campus.

Nyhan said he also questions the College’s decision to skip over different campus locations in order to find “the fastest place they can throw something out.”

“There’s a whole list [of locations],” Nyhan said. “There’s the one [at Crosby Street]. There’s giant parking lots at Maynard and Dewey.”

According to the report, the Dewey Lot location is the campus’s “single largest opportunity for contiguous academic expansion.” Maynard Yard is also considered a site for academic buildings, not undergraduate housing. 

The site at the intersection of Crosby Street and East Wheelock Street was identified in the report as a potential location for undergraduate housing, but Keniston said that further planning has been delayed due to COVID-19.

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