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Senior housing at former campus is plan in Chester

Union Leader Correspondent

September 09. 2013 6:28PM

CHESTER — A proposal to convert dormitories at the former campus of Chester College to senior housing faces the next hurdle as it comes before the town Zoning Board of Adjustment.

Resident Peter Smith presented the plan for the first time publicly last month to the ZBA. Smith wants to convert two dormitories into two-bedroom apartments for seniors.

The proposal would also include three, single-family housing lots to be sold and would leave about 37 acres reserved for conservation land.

Another phase of the plan, depending on the financial success of initial effort, would add a three-story building to accommodate 32 independent senior apartments.

To move forward, Smith will need board approval for variances to increase the current density and to change a library on the campus to a commercial designation, said Cynthia Robinson, the town's planning coordinator.

"If he doesn't get those variances, I don't think he will purchase it," Robinson said of the property.

The college closed last year after experiencing financial problems. The 70-acre campus was put up for sale and is being marketed by the NAI Norwood Group of Bedford. The campus is listed for about $2.5 million, said Chris Norwood of NAI.

The project only began to move forward when Smith became a potential buyer this past spring, Norwood said.

Smith would need to have the density changed from a maximum of six units for one of the dormitories to 26 units, Robinson said.

In addition, he would need a variance to change the zoning of campus library to a commercial structure. That will allow it to be converted to a small retail business, such as a barber shop, or coffee shop, she said.

The commercial business would be in place for four or five years and then eventually converted to a facility that could be used by the entire senior community, such as a meeting house, Robinson said.

When Smith presented the plan last month, he said the project would be not just for a few years but for the long-term.

"This is really a project to try to encourage a kind of community development," Smith said.

Because of its scope, it will take several months for the town to review it, Robinson said.

There are wetlands on the property and the conservation commission will be involved in the process, as well as the planning board, Robinson said.

"The next several months are very important for Mr. Smith," Robinson said.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment is scheduled to meet next on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

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