CONWAY — “Lots conditionally approved and lots on the horizon.”
That was Conway Town Planner Tom Irving’s assessment of commercial development going on in Conway.
The town is advertising for a replacement for Irving, who arrived in 1999 just as the Walmart here was built.
Irving is set to retire June 27, and whoever is hired had better be prepared to hit the ground running.
“The perception may be that it’s all of a sudden there is a lot of action, but many of these projects have been in the works for quite a while,” said Conway Selectman Steve Porter, the selectmen’s representative to the planning board.
Among projects currently before the Conway Planning Board is a Tractor Supply Co. store off the North-South Road and Hemlock Lane. Among projects already approved and expected to break ground this fall is Avesta Housing Development Corp.’s planned four-building, 156-unit River Turn Woods workforce and senior rental housing off Technology Lane in Conway.
Avesta is a non-profit housing agency based in Portland, Maine, that owns and manages just over 90 properties in Maine and New Hampshire. Project Manager Patrick Hess said the Conway project could take up to 10 years to complete.
The housing complex will be located near the Saco River and adjacent to the trails of Pine Hill Community Forest, which the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust manages in conjunction with the town of Conway and other recreation groups. The USVLT recently kicked off a capital campaign to add another 134 acres to the 460-acre forest it purchased from the Kennett Co. in 2018.
On the other side of Pine Hill will be one of the largest multiphased projects to come before the planning board: Ridgeline Communities, being developed by Continuum Health Services of Lewiston, Maine, founded and owned by Joe Hogan of Standish, Maine. The company owns and operates four assisted living facilities in Maine.
The Pine Hill project consists of four parcels comprising 127 acres, three of which were sold by the Kennett Co. and the smaller Daly property sold by the Gagnon family. It is expected to be built over four to six years, if all goes well, said project consultant Shawn Bergeron of Bergeron Technical Services of Conway and Continuum project manager Mike Black.
They hope to appear before the planning board in July. They gave a conceptual review to the board in 2018 but the plans have evolved since then, they said. (For more, see related story on page 4)
As Irving and others noted, there is a lot going on, and it’s just starting. Just how busy is it?
The projects range from a pair of 12-unit apartment buildings set to go up behind the Whitesides Building in North Conway (where Via Roma pizza restaurant is) to the upcoming 69,845-square-foot Market Basket on land being cleared off McMillan Lane and Barnes Road (just north of Settlers Green).
Of the apartments,“We got approval a few years ago from the planning board and have now started,” said John Whitesides III who is partnering with his father, John, on the development which is eventually planned to house 36 units in three buildings.
“(A.J.) Coleman’s has started the ground work,” he said, noting the two initial buildings will house 12 one-bedroom, single-floor units of 700 square feet each and 12 two-bedroom, two-story units of 1,400 square feet each.
“They will all have individual private decks with views to the Moats and Mount Washington,” said Whitesides, adding that all will be long-term rentals.
“We are working with Brenda Leavitt of Badger Realty on the pricing for the rentals. They will be rented at market rate. They will be very nice, with granite counters in the kitchens and bathrooms, and stainless-steel .appliances, all with their own air cooling and heating systems. The goal is to have the first 24 units done by fall,” said Whitesides.
Further south on Route 16, construction on a new Chipotle Mexican Grill is being completed. The 2,548-square-foot fast casual restaurant will include a mobile order pickup drive-thru, 45-seat dining room and outdoor seating area.
It is being built on land owned by Settlers Green, which, according to one of its owners, OVP Management President Rob Barsamian may also build a boutique hotel on land near the outlet shopping complex, as well as a recreation hub including, perhaps, bowling, tennis, pickleball and more.
“You’ve got to adapt,” said Barsamian, when told that longtime commercial Realtor Earl Wason of Hospitality Associates gave him credit for carving a niche for Settlers Green as a shopping destination that draws visitors to dine and recreate in Mount Washington Valley.
In an interview this week, Wason added that while he saluted Barsamian and sister Lisa Green for their creativity with OVP, he had concerns about whether KGI Development’s empty storefront at the now vacant JC Penney building will ever be filled.
Told of that assessment, Barsamian noted: “I think it is marketable. I tell you — if we (OVP Management) owned it, we would be able to find a tenant for it.
“You just have to be creative,” Barsamian went on. “When things (like Penney’s closing) happen, you’ve got to be creative. The KGI people are smart people — look at how they brought PetSmart and Michaels to those lots on the North-South Road. I don’t care if it’s on the North-South Road — they had to have the idea to build them and put them there, and now look. Before that, there was vacant land. It’s always about finding the right tenant.”
Overall, however, Wason — who is based in Portsmouth and specializes in New England hotel property sales — said he is “very bullish” on Mount Washington Valley as a destination resort with more bed base to grow into, especially given the recent Conway vote banning short-term rentals.
Although many have cried that the valley does not need any more hotels, the market seems to dictate otherwise.
Set to open in July is the four-story, 80-room Home2Suites by Hilton at the former site of Fandangle’s Restaurant, with developer Ashok Patel of Jamsan Management saying that finishing work is taking place on the interior and furniture is being moved in. (He said he is still seeking a brand for the attached restaurant).
Other hotel projects include the $3.5 million renovation of the White Mountain Hotel & Resort in Hale’s Location, set to reopen May 28 for Memorial Day Weekend, and the Omni Mount Washington Resort’s major expansion.
Another project shown in conceptual review to the planning board but yet to be formally presented for site-plan review is a housing complex proposed off River Road in North Conway by Joe Berry of the River Run Co./Eastern Slope Inn.
Berry’s son, Alec Tarberry, said: “We hope to have an application to the planning board soon. We are planning on 54 units, and 13 of those units will be dedicated as apartment rentals.”
Up in the town of Bartlett, renovations continue apace by Stan Szetela on the former Wooden Soldier, which he recently purchased from David and Yvonne Mennella.
The adjacent former Grand Manor car museum also owned owned by the Mennellas remains for sale through Pinkham Real Estate’s Greydon Turner.
Szetella said he sees a lot of “mixed use” potential for the structure he bought.
Also in Bartlett, Dan Lucchetti of HEB Engineers says conceptual review for a 15-unit subdivision north of the closed Scarecrow Restaurant was presented to the Bartlett Planning Board in April. Another Bartlett project is a the “glamping” (glamous camping) project being developed by Rich and Joelle Goff on the former site of A Better Life Cabins.
Down in Conway, Badger Realty is building spec homes just north of Leavitt’s Country Bakery, with a view to the Moats.
One of the most controversial projects in recent years is the proposed 105-room, four-story Viewpoint Hotel in Intervale.
The 3.66-acre parcel and now closed 16-room Intervale Motel were sold by the John R. Cannell Revocable Trust to Viewpoint North Conway LLC, a Massachusetts group of investors headed by hotelier P.J. Patel, in December for $1.4 million.
Abutters have filed a nuisance complaint concerning the project, and Town Engineer Paul DegliAngeli is requiring a traffic study. Josh McAllister of HEB Engineers of North Conway is awaiting the results of that study.
Meanwhile, approved but not-yet-built hotel projects include:
• A four-story, 90-room hotel at Cranmore Mountain Resort to be built on the site of the former Cranmore Fitness Club by Richard Lafrance of Lafrance Hospitality Associates, also owner of the Residence Inn by Marriott of North Conway.
Cranmore also earlier this month unveiled its Phase III for base area redevelopment, which will include a new Fairbank Lodge with day ski services as well as 15 new units at Condominiums at Kearsarge Brook. Pending approvals, Cranmore hopes to break ground in spring 2022.
“The Fairbank Lodge is the next chapter of improvements that will continue to make Cranmore a progressive and leading year-round resort in New England,” said Cranmore President and General Manager Ben Wilcox, adding, “Mixing condominiums with new ski facilities is a proven model in the ski industry.”
• The former Junge’s Motel property on Route 16. Ashok Patel of Jamsan Management said his group, 20TEN Investments DVS Family, LLC of Canton, Mass., and S&H Development of Dedham, Mass., is trying to line up construction financing for a 22,808-square-foot, three-story, 114-room hotel, a 5,800-square foot restaurant space and a 2,500-square-foot building for a bank at the site, located just south on Route 16 of the now closed Pizza Hut.
“Financing is a challenge. If we can get the construction financing, we would like to start construction on the project this summer,” said Patel, who is also among the owners at Fox Ridge Resort in North Conway.
Asked about his strong belief in the valley as a destination resort, Patel said: “I think the valley will continue to do well. I see that as a positive.”
All those interviewed shared that assessment (while also raising the challenges of a lack of workers and a scarcity of affordable housing).
All this activity means a lot of engineering, and HEB’s McAllister — echoing a comment made by all local engineers, consultants and contractors interviewed — said he is straight out, working on several projects.
“We’re seeing projects that we designed in 2019 and 2020 under construction now, and we’re as busy now as we’ve ever been, so that tells me the construction boom will continue at least into 2022,” McAllister said.
That viewpoint was shared by engineer Burr Phillips of Civil Solutions, LLC; Bergeron of Bergeron Technical Services, and contractors Kevin Drew of L.A. Drew, Inc., Tom Burke of Gordon T. Burke and Sons, a spokesman for Leonard Builders, Charlie Allen of CM+E Construction Management and Estimating of Madison, who is building high-end homes in the Bretton Woods area; Ray Desmarais of Desmarais and Associates and Noah Coleman of Alvin J. Coleman and Son.
They said business is booming though they are facing escalating lumber and steel prices and material shortages, some caused by the cutback by factories at the start of the pandemic and now the strong demand.
“I did a job last November and plywood was $39 — now it’s $74, more than double,” said Desmarais.
It’s all part of the local picture this busy spring, giving town and business leaders and residents alike a lot to ponder — along with Conway’s town planner, whenever he or she gets hired.