LITTLETON — The redevelopment of the former Hitchiner Manufacturing property at 24 Beacon St. will be done in phases, and the first phase is to transform a portion of the property into residential housing with more than 100 units.
On Thursday, Allen Croteau, of Derry, who owns and manages 50 housing units in southern New Hampshire, submitted a variance to the Littleton Zoning Board of Adjustment.
He is currently negotiating a purchase and sale agreement with Bob Chapman, the current owner of the 15-acre property that includes several buildings, among them the prominent five-story structure.
An ultimate purchase depends on the approval of the variance, which would allow multi-family residential use in an industrial zone.
“It’s been a lot of work over the last six weeks trying to cram it all in,” said Croteau, who was one of a half dozen developers placing a bid on the property, and who won the bid after the Dec. 18 deadline. “I’ve never taken on anything this large. I’m not a big-time developer.”
About eight years ago, Croteau, retired from the hospital industry, decided to start some housing related businesses, which include Sunshine Properties LLC, to buy and develop some smaller properties.
In the project narrative for Littleton, he said his latest endeavor included a 41-unit apartment building in dire need of rehabilitation.
For the Beacon Street effort, he formed a new company called Rail Trail Properties LLC.
His proposal called the Beacon Street Apartments “is to transform the empty Hitchiner Manufacturing building into beautiful, upscale housing units including studio and one-bedroom apartments.”
The plan includes additional amenities for occupants, such as a laundry room, storage area and gym, as well as environmental technology, such as the use of solar, all on a 13-acre lot that features eight interconnected buildings broken out by zones and two smaller stand-alone buildings.
The total square footage is 140,000 square feet, and 37,000 of it will be reserved for future potential commercial development and the remainder for housing units.
“Littleton is an attractive place to live with access to many outdoor recreational opportunities and a vibrant downtown,” Croteau wrote in the narrative. “The proposed redevelopment will attract an in-migration of people looking to take advantage of all Littleton and the North Country offers.”
The pandemic has also changed the way people live and work, and after it ends, it will have long-term effects and will have changed the way people live and work, and many will still work from home, he said.
The phased redevelopment will begin with the rehabilitation and upscale renovation of the buildings on-site, and the overall project will include up to 124 housing units, from studio apartments to one-bedroom units.
On Friday, Croteau said following a successful variance approval, his team, working closely with banks, would set up the financing for what would be a multi-million dollar project.
If all goes well with the variance, he expects to close on the property in March and then enlist architects and engineers to begin designing the building with the hope to get “the hammers swinging” by June at the earliest.
“We can start to do demolition immediately after we get the loan,” he said.
Croteau is working with partners and tradesmen who include Robert Denise, “who is well-versed in construction”; David Pallaria, master electrician and owner of Pallaria Electric; son-in-law William Marsden, a licensed Realtor who manages some of Croteau’s properties; and Croteau’s younger adult son, Kyle Croteau, who has his own landscaping business.
“We are hoping to achieve 25 percent of the work on our own with just our team,” said Croteau.
Contractors would do the heavy lifting, such as any major demolition and installation of the big infrastructure.
For 30 years, he worked in the hospital industry, 19 of them at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, in Boston, where he worked his way up as a heating and ventilation technician and departed as the director of facility operations.
He then went on to help launch Lawrence General Hospital, in Lawrence, Mass, where he was a senior facility director for eight years and was involved in the construction of several new buildings.
As for redeveloping the Littleton property, Croteau sees potential.
“We feel pretty confident about it,” he said. “I love taking something old and bringing it back to life … It’s a challenge, like anything, but we have a good idea of the challenges.”
They plan on demolishing as little as possible and only when absolutely necessary.
The plan calls for renovating and giving all new windows to what he calls the “tower building,” the property’s five-story building for the residential units.
If all goes according to plan — variance approval and secured financing — the first units could be ready for occupancy by the spring of 2022.
Then there is the vast open space on the first level, which Croteau and crew have nicknamed the “football field.”
“What we are going to do with this is put in the gym, a work space for tenants, a laundry room,” he said.
The front section of the first level is also where any future commercial operations would go, with ideas including retail, a restaurant, coffee shop, a brewery, and L.L. Bean outlet, said Croteau.
Pets are allowed and the plan is to also build a dog park outside, he said.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said Croteau. “We love the town of Littleton.”
During Thursday’s River District Redevelopment Commission meeting, Littleton Town Manager Andrew Dorsett said it’s important that the commission support Croteau’s variance request.
“The residential floats the property,” he said. “Commercial is phase two. There will be significant landscaping and connecting the rail trail to the landscaping.”
Littleton Selectman Chad Stearns said Croteau is open to connecting to the river district from the property.
Commission Chairman John Hennessey said if the commission is asked to support the variance, its members ought to take a vote in the affirmative.