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Effort underway to improve Manchester's Second Street

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 29. 2013 8:03PM
Tom Levasseur, owner of CK Grill (the former Clam King), watches a couple of pedestrians walk down the sidewalk at his business on Second Street in Manchester Friday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — An effort to stimulate redevelopment of the city's oldest commercial thoroughfare continued last week, as residents and business owners pondered possible ways to make Second Street safer for residents and more attractive to businesses.

While carrying a name that only a government employee could love — the Second Street Corridor Access and Mixed-Use Overlay Zoning Project — the approach taken by organizers has been more grass-roots than bureaucratic.

City and regional planners have held a series of meetings with business owners and community residents to exchange ideas for improving the qualify of life in the neighborhood.

David Preece, executive director of the commission, said traffic on Second Street is a big problem, creating congestion and safety issues that can be barriers to upgrading the business district.

"Our first objective was to develop and access development strategies to protect road capacity and improve safety for all the users." Preece said. "We are looking at ways to both keep traffic moving and improve the safety."

Second Street starts at the city's southern border with Bedford. The three-lane road traverses three-quarters of a mile of retail, restaurant and fast-food establishments before widening into an intersection that sends traffic to the Queen City Bridge, Interstate 293 or into a dense neighborhood of apartments.

Afternoon rush-hour backups are legendary at the Queen City Avenue intersection.

Tom Levasseur, the owner of CK Grill, said he'd like to see a commitment to sidewalks on Second Street. Years ago, his father put sidewalks along the property's 300 feet of frontage. And Manchester Subaru added sidewalks to its two blocks when it upgraded its property recently.

But the Mobil gas station at the Second-Main street intersection removed its sidewalks.

"There's no consistency," he said. "People can't walk. It's dangerous to walk here."

He also said making the commercial portion of Second Street a one-way would solve many problems. But then Main Street would have to be a one-way through a residential area, something residents wouldn't want.

At a series of workshops, the commission has been sharing ideas with residents and businesses about incentives that can be offered to businesses to upgrade their properties.

Bedford allows larger buildings on commercial lots if businesses make improvements — a possibility for Second Street, Preece said. If a business owner provides sidewalks or landscaping, he could earn additional density in his development.

"We are exploring all avenues," Preece said. Residents and businesses are satisfied with the neighborhood's existing zoning designations, and don't want expansion of business zones or affordable housing stock."

"We're not going to be rezoning anything," he said. "Anything we do has to be above this; we have to create incentives so that businesses will be induced to improve their properties."

Todd Berkowitz, owner of Manchester Subaru, has already done so. Berkowitz said he's put $2 million into his property in the last five years. He added sidewalks for aesthetic reasons, but said they are seldom used, in part because adjoining properties lack them.

"If you're walking, you'll be safe on my property. Then you're on your own," he said.

Both he and Levasseur said it would be nice to add another lane to Second Street, but both say there isn't enough land to do so.

Levasseur would like a traffic light at Dairy Queen, where the southbound exit ramp from I-293 meets Second Street, saying a light would make left-hand turns safe. "I must admit, coming off that road I get a little nervous," he said.

The third in the series of workshops to develop a Second Street plan will be held next month.

"We've got to explore several techniques and tools that the city and the businesses and the residents may want to consider," Preece said.

The next workshop is planned for Oct. 28, and could result in a final plan that would be forwarded to the Manchester Planning Board for public hearings.

"Whatever we're going to be recommending to the Planning Board will take into consideration greatly the input that we have received along the way." Preece said.

Union Leader reporter Mark Hayward contributed to this article.

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