Development debrief: Mapping Concord’s current housing projects 

An artists’ view of the village center commercial corridor of the proposed Monitor Way development.

An artists’ view of the village center commercial corridor of the proposed Monitor Way development. Courtesy rendering

A worker in a hazmat suit works on the chimney last month at the old Department of Transportation garage near exit 14 of I-93. The work is part of Brady Sullivan Lofts 11 project along Stickney Avenue.

A worker in a hazmat suit works on the chimney last month at the old Department of Transportation garage near exit 14 of I-93. The work is part of Brady Sullivan Lofts 11 project along Stickney Avenue. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 10-23-2023 10:51 AM

Matt Walsh can draw a timeline of development in Concord of peaks and valleys. In 1986, residential development was at a high, with colored vinyl panels and geometric shapes putting a mark on new construction. The Great Recession of 2008 marked a low with very few projects coming to life. And if charted on a graph, the last 15 years would mark a slow incline, with each unit added building back much-needed housing stock.

Today, labor shortages in general contracting mean construction prices are up. But with a state and city looking to invest in housing, ongoing development projects still drive marathon planning board meetings. In Concord this week, a deluge of housing units came in front of the planning board in a four-hour meeting. If all goes to plan, with board approvals, permitting and financing, 1,571 units could be underway.

These units are the sum of two proposed plans in the city: the redevelopment of the old Steeplegate Mall site and the 137 acres of land behind the Concord Monitor building off of Whitney Road.

Together, these projects account for half of the potential housing units that could come online in Concord over the next few years. With projects in four phases – before the planning board in predevelopment, permitted, shovel ready and under construction – there are 3,016 units along some point of the pipeline, according to Matt Walsh, the deputy city manager of development.

The need for housing in New Hampshire is at a dire crossroads. The rental vacancy rate remains below half a percent. If a wand could be waved to meet demand today, nearly 24,000 units would need to appear overnight.

With that, state leaders have invested in new housing tools to chip away at this growing crisis. New state funding like InvestNH, which provided $50 million in grants to ongoing projects to speed up the development of affordable housing, has contributed to a handful of Concord-based projects.

On Sheep Davis Road, $750,000 in state funding will help the construction of 48 units. In the Heights, a $3 million boost means that 84 units will soon be completed on Pembroke Road.

But while state funding has helped some projects, the building boom in Concord is not necessarily a new trend, said Walsh. For years the city has invested taxpayer dollars into development with tools like a revolving loan fund and Community Development Block Grants.

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“Concord has a long track record of being a supporter of affordable and workforce housing. There are communities in New Hampshire that have been not receptive to that type of development. Concord always has been because it’s an important community development issue. It’s an important economic issue. It’s an important issue all the way around,” he said.

While the 3,000 units that could come online in Concord may seem like a lot to residents, these numbers have been the result of an ongoing rebuild from the early 2000s.

“Things have kind of incrementally been building as we recovered from that. It’s almost 15 years ago, but it’s taken a long time for things to kind of come back,” said Walsh. “But it’s a really busy time in the community. There are a lot of big projects that are out there.”

Monitor Way and Steeplegate Mall developments are in infant stages, with initial proposals just in front of the city planning board. But construction is currently underway for 405 units in Concord across five varied projects.

The former Employment Security building on South Main Street will be 64 units priced at market rate. The Railyards on Landgon Ave, phase two of Penacook Landing on Canal Street, and the Pembroke Road construction will provide affordable and workforce housing options. Meanwhile, the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness will provide permanent supportive housing for six individuals in their new Pleasant Street house.

These projects represent the diversity of construction across the city, he said. It’s an important factor to providing different types of housing. While most are brand new construction, the redevelopment of former buildings – like converting the old First Congregational Church on N. Main Street to 30 apartment units – is a different approach to the solution as well, he said.

“You have a lot of market rate, you have a lot of affordable. It’s kind of spread throughout the community. So you know, it’s kind of in all four corners of the city,” he said. “It’s a real diverse collection of projects that are out there, which I think is a good thing for the community. We’re not just making one form of a housing product. There’s a lot of different products that have been proposed throughout the community, which I think is healthy.”

For projects in the pipeline – either awaiting planning board approval, permits or the final green light for construction – Walsh doesn’t expect all units in early stages to surface any time soon.

With factors like construction costs, labor shortages and regulatory hurdles, residents shouldn’t either, he said.

“High construction costs make it very hard for some of those projects to actually be able to move forward. I think you’re gonna see some of those projects wait to see if there is any moderation in those macroeconomic circumstances,” he said. “If there’s any of those kinds of changes, that might make the project viable a year or two from now, rather than right now.”