Planning board opts for original route of riverwalk at Beacon Street West

LACONIA — The Planning Board this week approved the plan of Chinburg Builders to add 37 residential apartments at the Beacon Street West development and, at the same time, decided to recommend to the City Council that the riverwalk follow its original route along the waterfront, contrary to the recommendation of the Downtown Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) Advisory Board.
The new units will be divided between two buildings. The large, currently empty building on the site, originally intended for commercial use, will house 30 apartments. The remaining seven units will be in a new 6,230-square foot building straddling the Perley Canal, built on the footprint of the structure that collapsed under a snow load some years ago.
Chinburg's decision to rebuild over the canal for residential use prompted reconsideration of the proposed route of the downtown riverwalk. That section of the riverwalk runs along the Winnipesaukee River at the rear of the Beacon Street West Condominiums, but stops short of the Perley Canal. Closing the gap over the canal to Beacon Street West and extending the path from City Hall to Church Street would complete the riverwalk along the north bank of the river.
Originally Chinburg planned to build a restaurant over the canal and granted the city an easement to incorporate the riverwalk into the project. Jeff Spitzer, the firm's senior project manager, told the TIF Advisory Board that the riverwalk would be both compatible and desirable in conjunction with a restaurant or other commercial use. But, he said that following the course of the easement past the apartments, within feet of their windows and patios, would compromise the privacy of residents.
Rather than follow the river, Chinburg instead proposed routing the riverwalk around the building, crossing the Perley Canal with a bridge behind the building then turning a corner before joining Beacon Street West. The developer agreed to fund the cost of constructing this segment of the riverwalk.

The TIF Advisory Board agreed to present both the original and alternative plans to the Planning Board, but voted three-to-two to recommend the route preferred by the developer.
The Planning Board approved Chinburg's plans for the two buildings, with the caveat that they be reviewed by its architectural sub-committee. But, the board also voted to recommend that the City Council, which controls the easement for the riverwalk, hold the project to its original route. Warren Hutchins, chairman of the Planning Board, said that Chinburg will be asked to explore designing the residential building to accommodate the riverwalk with the architectural sub-committee.
The ultimate decision whether to execute the original easement or relinquish it and negotiate a new easement for an alternative route rests with the City Council.