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May 03. 2013 12:48AM

Nashua planners approve Bridge St. project

NASHUA - Despite concerns about potential traffic congestion, city planners on Thursday unanimously approved a major waterfront development project on Bridge Street that will serve as an eastern gateway into the city.

The Nashua City Planning Board granted site plan approval to Renaissance Downtowns LLC. for the first phase of its mixed-use development surrounded by the Merrimack and Nashua rivers.

Board members authorized the construction of three, four-story multi-family residential buildings, a community center and restaurant with a balcony overlooking the water. Overall, there will be 228 apartment units associated with the first phase of the project.

Future plans at the 10-acre site, which is located at 70 Bridge St., will include courtyards, a park, community pool, boulevard and public promenade.

"The city has a vested interest in this development," City Engineer Steve Dookran said before Thursday's vote.

The city currently owns the Bridge Street property, but it previously entered into negotiations with Renaissance Downtowns to sell the land for redevelopment.

Thursday's meeting was the second Planning Board meeting concerning the Bridge Street project, and some residents voiced anger that only limited public testimony was permitted.

Kenneth Dufour, chairman of the board, stressed that the public hearing took place two weeks ago, at which time numerous residents spoke either in opposition to or in favor of the proposed development.

Former alderman Paula Johnson was selected as the single spokesman to speak against the project on Thursday, expressing worry about increased traffic in the area as a result of nearly 230 new apartments.

The three residential buildings will house one- and two-bedroom apartments and studio apartments, which will be rented at market rate.

"The traffic study determined the Bridge Street impact is minor," said Ryan Porter, project manager with Renaissance Downtowns. Any potential traffic problems, he said, may be mitigated with the addition of a turning lane once two of the three apartment buildings are occupied.

Furthermore, Porter said the city is working on various traffic signal projects throughout the city, which he believes should improve the traffic flow in the area. Overall, Porter estimated that the number of vehicles traveling east on Bridge Street toward the downtown area will increase by about 3 percent daily because of the development.

There was extensive discussion about a proposed roundabout at the Hudson and Nashua border, which is a separate project being pursued by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and the city of Nashua.

While the roundabout would provide a better traffic flow and increased pedestrian access, Porter said the Renaissance project does not require the roundabout, saying that other creative alternatives will be studied if it falls through.

Several Planning Board members praised the Renaissance Downtowns project.

"This has been a pretty lengthy process for the applicant," said Adam Varley, board member, noting that plans have been in the works for about three years. "To me, I thought they very adequately addressed the concerns raised here."

Edward Weber, another board member, said the development will offer construction jobs in the short term and provide more permanent jobs at the restaurant in the long run.

"It is a positive thing for this city," added Weber.

Matt Taylor, deputy planning manager, said school impact fees will be assessed at a maximum of $500 per apartment unit to alleviate any potential burden on the school system as a result of the development.

khoughton@newstote.com


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