Developers look to update, restore Main Street


DURHAM, NH - Main Street might soon be getting a complete overhaul of its downtown area. Properties 25 Main St. through 35 Main St. are in the beginning stages of a transformation.

Orion Housing, LLC is working with Allen & Major Associates and DeStefano Architects to create independently standing commercial spaces and two large student-housing complexes.

The plans started back in June with Town Planner MichaelBehrendt’s recommendation for a discussion and public hearing on June 26. The project was expected to be “complete” as of Sept. 25.

On Wednesday, Oct. 9, the town of Durham held a public hearing on the issue during the evening’s town hall meeting.


According to President of Orion Housing, LLC William Fideli, 25 Main St. and 35 Main St. will be rehabilitated. 27 Main St. and 29 Main St. will be 100 percent demolished. Those not undergoing demolition will be rehabilitated for commercial use. The site consists of four buildings: A through D. Buildings A and B are large complexes fitted for student housing. C and D are smaller units for commercial space. The apartments will be “full apartments,” Fideli explained.

Each is fitted with a “laundry in unit,” and each apartment features bed-bath parodies and full kitchens.

Robert Clark, vice president of Allen & Major Associates explained other features for the site. Plans include permeable pavement with pipe below, to widen the sidewalk and to have “matching lampposts along Main Street,” Clark said.

The site totals 86,000 square feet. Approximately 83,000 square feet are dedicated to residential space.

Currently, 25 Main St. through 35 Main St. offers 52 beds. Though not definite, Orion Housing’s plans for the property will feature 180 beds.

Parking has been curtailed significantly from 51 parking spots to a proposed four.

James Causon spoke on the fact that allowing “a sea of parking” could detract away from the aesthetic beauty of the town.

“We want a park once and walk environment,” he said. “We don’t want to lose real estate this valuable to Main Street to parking.”

The housing will offer one, three and four bedroom units. The planning allows for 390 square footage per bed. According to Fideli, that is “more than the minimum of 300 square feet required.”

Bill Fanelli, another Orion Housing representative, noted that they are offering two times the amount of square footage than what is presently required. The two Orion Housing representatives felt their efforts were unappreciated.

“It’s not realized by the town,” Fanelli said.

To further illustrate the fact, “kids today are a little spoiled,” Fideli said.


Foreseeable obstacles


One problem identified at the Oct. 9 public hearing was usage of the basement in buildings A and B for residential space. There is no door out through the basement complexes, leaving the windows as the sole emergency exit.

Fideli shifted blame, explaining that the windows would suffice as a viable exit in any necessary situation. In all other cases, such as a blizzard, he argued that residents could exit the building through the doors one level up.

Councilor Julian Smith raised the issue that it seemed that no parking had been allotted for the commercial space.

On that note, townsperson Beth Ochalsky was also nervous about the amount of commercial space presented. “[I’m] asking only to [have Orion housing LLC] be held to three-story commercial requirements,” she said.  

In a Sept. 19 letter from DeStefano Architects to Behrendt Director of Operations, Adam Wagner stated that, “the proposed structures are all three stories or less.”

The requirement outlines that with a three-story building, at least 33 percent is supposed to be allocated towards commercial. In the Orion LLC Housing plans, the allotment was dropped to 3.7 percent.

“We can … ask for it all too,” Ochalsky said. She wants a more vibrant downtown.

The gravel walkway students currently use behind the buildings coming up from the plaza will now be removed and instead replaced with a giant wall. “We want students to use [the] public walkway at the Grange,” Phillip Wills said.

Proposed tree removal is also an issue being looked into, as “mature trees add to a community,” Councilor Robin Mower said.



Response to the plans


Fideli has the drive to get the project started and finished.

“We believe this project needs to get done … [to] clean up … the town,” Fideli said. “[It can be] marketed to other students.”

Some have concerns about the construction phase of the project.

“[The noise] is a burden on the community,” Mower said. She proposed to limit the hours of construction, a look-over of dark sky regulations, despite Durham’s absence of any, and “only use well-shielded fixtures as well.”

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