New Main Wheelock zoning district to expand residential development

Advocates of the warrant article, which was approved on May 10 at the Hanover town meeting, hope the change will alleviate campus housing shortages and lead to further development on West Wheelock Street.

by Parker O'Hara | 5/31/22 5:00am

hanover-town-hall

Due to the pandemic, the Hanover Selectboard delayed the Town Hall Meeting until July for the second consecutive year in order to hold the meeting outside.

by Andrew Chen / The Dartmouth

At the Hanover town meeting on Tuesday, May 10, residents voted 775-565 to approve Article 11, establishing the new Main Wheelock zoning district which will allow for “higher density residential development” along West Wheelock Street, according to town documents. Students and Hanover residents hope this change will alleviate the housing shortage in the Upper Valley and limited on-campus housing.

Hanover planning, zoning and codes department director Robert Houseman said the zoning changes include decreasing required setbacks — the distance between the edge of the lot and where building is permitted — to allow more construction on each lot, increasing the permitted height of buildings by 58%, increasing unit occupancy limits and decreasing the required number of parking spaces per unit.   

A similar article that would have established the West Wheelock Gateway district was proposed in 2015 but failed by a vote of 719-453. David Millman ’23, who submitted the petition amendment for the Main Wheelock district with Nicolás Macri ’24 in February, said he was driven to reintroduce an updated version of the amendment after seeing a lack of progress toward increasing the amount of on-campus housing.

“The real impetus for [proposing the amendment] was the Lyme Road housing project. I was on the student focus group for that, and it just seemed like such an impractical solution to our housing problem,” Millman said. “I felt like if students didn’t do something about [the housing problem], nothing was going to be done.

The Lyme Road South housing project outlined a plan to build apartment-style undergraduate housing on top of Garipay Fields, a recreational space located approximately 1.5 miles from the Green. The project was intended to break ground by the end of this year, but faculty and administrators voted to pause further development in an 89-4 decision in February.

Millman said that the establishment of the Main Wheelock District, on the other hand, “can have a significant impact on student housing.”

“You look at the [housing] waitlist, the housing lottery that [it] was caused by, I think it was 128 beds. If you develop these lots, you can clear that four times over with increased occupancy and significantly increased quantity of beds,” Millman said. 

Though many of the existing residences within the Main Wheelock District are privately owned, Millman said the College owns about a third of the real estate in the district. According to Millman, the College plans on hiring a firm over the summer to investigate possible construction of more student residences in the district.

Owner of Kish Consulting and Contracting Jolin Kish said she has already begun the planning process for a complete demolition and reconstruction of 14 West Wheelock, an apartment complex within the Main Wheelock district that she owns and operates. She said her goal is to obtain a building permit by next spring and finish construction within two years of getting a permit.

Given the timeline that construction projects require, Millman said that the increased occupancy limits from three to six unrelated persons in a unit with three or more bedrooms offers more immediate results. Millman added that residents may feel “more comfortable” reporting buildings that are not up to code with the decreased threat of eviction for occupancy violations. 

According to Houseman, the “normal planning process” for a zoning amendment is quite involved. In 2015, for example, Houseman said this process took nearly a year and a half and involved a collaborative effort with community members. 

“[The process involved] working with a core group of community members to develop a concept, working through design plans, vetting it to understand the implications for lot coverage, coming up with schematics for what the rhythm and pattern and streetscape would be and taking neighborhood and town input,” he said.

Though the Main Wheelock District proposal is largely the same as the 2015 version that went through the “normal planning process,” Houseman said there are “two issues that stand out” in Millman’s updated version. 

First, Houseman said that it is not known how the new proposed 60-foot building height could impact driveway intersections or lead to transportation issues. Second, he noted that increasing the occupancy load to six may add to the “complexity of parking needs,” among other issues. 

Despite these concerns, the Hanover Planning Board, of which Houseman serves as the director, ultimately chose to recommend Article 11 for voters’ approval in a 3-2 vote. For a petition amendment, Millman said an endorsement from the Planning Board is “extremely rare.”

Millman credited the passage of Article 11 to the participation of students, something that was absent when the amendment was originally proposed in 2015.

“Before this election, typically only around five or so students vote in the town meetings. So when [the 2015 proposal] failed, it meant that no students were really making their voices heard on these issues and there wasn’t outreach to students,” Millman said, noting the lack of a student campaign in years past. 

Houseman echoed the importance of student involvement in the election, saying he believes that “this ordinance passed in large part because of the student participation.”

Eric Hryniewicz ’23 said he was among the group of students who voted to approve the amendment. He cited the district’s urban location and proximity to campus as the most influential factors in his decision, since construction will only occur on already developed land and “people won’t be left out in the periphery” where they would need a car.

Hryniewicz also serves on Hanover’s Master Plan Advisory Committee and said the amendment “aligns with the vision that [the Committee has been] discussing.” According to Hryniewicz, this vision serves the entire population of Hanover despite the “false dichotomy” that separates students and residents.

“Some criticism I’ve heard is that [the amendment] is aimed at students alone, which I think is kind of preposterous because housing would help everybody in the town just by increasing the stock available,” Hryniewicz said. “Additionally, students are residents [too] and that’s something I’ve been trying to stress a lot in the advisory committee.”

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