LITTLETON — The Select Board on Monday voted unanimously to approve a $921,868 first-phase plan for the Riverfront Commons, a development that was recently scaled back in scope because of rising costs.
The project has reached a point where the board needs to make a decision on proposals so the final engineering can be completed and the project can enter the construction stage, Littleton Town Manager Jim Gleason said during the board’s meeting on Monday.
“The recommendation from staff is to pick the option for the $921,868 concept of phase one, which is the balance remaining from the $1.4 million that the town had received in grants, tax credits, and private donations,” he said. “That would still keep it within the funding. By accepting that proposal the things that would have to put off to a later date would be the river access paths, the riverwalk seating, the riverwalk lighting, the river access, just because the cost aspects of those would take the project back over a million dollars and the funding partners that we have right now have already committed the $921,000.”
The project, the area of which is near the Littleton Area Senior Center side of the footbridge, has changed slightly from when it was first approved and submitted to the funders, said Gleason.
The second first-phase option the board passed on came with a cost of $1.14 million.
The first-phase option for $921,868 includes a pedestrian plaza accessed from a set of stairs extending from the footbridge, lighting in the plaza and parking area, improved vehicle and pedestrian circulation, new sidewalks, stone steps down to the river, and 51 parking spaces, 10 of which will comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The event lawn will be a half-acre larger than the existing open space and will include concrete footings to accommodate a mobile stage.
In keeping with what the community wants, which is abundant preserved green space, there won’t be many permanent structures.
In 2021, the town purchased the 7.2-acre parcel for $450,000, which included a $155,000 donation, $200,000 in grant funding, and $175,000 in town funding approved by voters.
The total project is funded with $300,000 from the New Hampshire Land and Water Conservation Fund, $250,000 from the Northern Border Regional Commission, $460,000 in tax credits from the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, $175,000 from the town that was approved by voters, and $155,000 in private contributions.
Carrie Gendreau, the vice-chair of the Select Board, asked if those who run the Littleton Farmers Market know the plan.
“They are aware that they’re part of this and as this next phase would go forward everything would be done the best we can to work with them and around them to try to minimize any displacement,” said Gleason. “We recognize that the success of the market is its long-term location, so even being disrupted for a summer could end up impacting that. As this goes through, we have to recognize that the farmers market runs in the height of construction season.”
It’s not ideal, but every attempt will be made to advance construction in phases so, while the work will still cause some disruption to the farmers’ market, it will not prevent the market from operating during construction, he said.
Gendreau also asked about any disruptions to outdoor concerts and the summer First Friday art events.
Those events, too, can be worked around and can still proceed during construction, said Gleason.
“The benefit would be that at the completion of this there would be a formal place, without a stage and a setting, but at least the infrastructure necessary to help support those events,” he said.
The other issue discussed was public restrooms.
For every event at the river, portable restrooms have been brought in.
The town will need to have a future discussion about the pros and cons of having a permanent restroom structure and if so, where it would be, said Gleason.
Select Board member Linda MacNeil asked if construction will begin next year and noted that the town will lose some of its funding if it exceeds certain funder deadlines.
“I don’t think they’re far on completing the engineering and design, based on getting the approval tonight,” said Gleason. “You are right. There is a clock ticking. The state’s in the loop on this and they gave us an extension in reference to getting the property.”
Even if there are delays in construction and increases in costs, the one big benefit to the town has already been reached — the purchase of a prime piece of property that will be kept green for recreation, said Gleason.
“Even if costs come back higher than need be and some of these things don’t happen, you’ve still got a hold of that asset,” he said.
“For the future,” said Select Board Chairman Roger Emerson.
If construction for some reason doesn’t happen in 2023, the town still has control over the parcel, even if it means stepping back to secure any additional funding that might be needed, said Gleason.
“You’ll have the jewel that will be preserved,” he said.