DURHAM — The dream of bringing the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab from the west edge of campus to downtown may have new life.
A site plan proposal presented to the planning board Jan. 8 by Golden Goose Development for the Madbury Commons project now includes changes to accommodate 35,000 square feet of space for the IOL and related commercial opportunities.
The IOL had been planned as part of another project preliminarily proposed for along Main Street, but that project is no longer moving forward.
The Madbury Commons project will include additional commercial space as well as student housing on upper levels. The current proposed number of beds is 525.
A representative of Golden Goose told the planning board Jan. 8 they had high confidence they will be able to reach a lease agreement with the university to make the IOL the anchor tenant of the project.
He said it is a complicated lease, and they are not declaring victory until it is signed, but have changed their design plans assuming that an agreement will be reached.
They transformed what would have been underground parking on the first floor to create contiguous office space for the IOL and have inserted a loading dock facility into the plans to accommodate the lab’s delivery requirements.
They have also tried to partition student traffic from IOL traffic and added an indoor bike room with capacity for 230 bicycles.
The entrance way to the IOL will be on the Pettee Brook side of the building, crossing a new footbridge from the public parking lot onto the property.
The representative said it would change the ratio of the development’s commercial to residential space in a meaningful way.
Durham Administrator Todd Selig said the project received variances and zoning board approval for plans that included about 17 percent of non-residential space, and this increases that.
Following the ZBA approval, a lawsuit was filed, but later dismissed allowing the project to move forward.
The Golden Goose representative said one of the main reasons they have been able to make this work is collaboration between the town and the university on a multi-pronged solution to parking.
It is being called the “string of pearls” solution and will include a number of parking pockets that have been opened up to create about 60 parking spaces, which meets the requirements of the IOL.
About 20 spaces will be added along Strafford Avenue for business permit parking, 20 spaces will be added along Garrison Avenue that will be both metered and business permit parking and there are ongoing discussions about adding about 13 spaces along the side of Madbury Road on which parking is not currently permitted.
Selig said parking on that side of the street was eliminated to create bicycle lanes on both sides of the street.
“If we were to reinstate parking on that side of the road we would need to come up with another solution for the bicycle issue,” Selig said.
This could include putting “sharrows” along Madbury Road, an idea that has been piloted on Garrison Avenue, as well as the addition of speed tables in the area. Sharrows are street markings placed in the center of a travel lane to indicate that a bicyclist may use that lane.
In addition, the town is working with UNH to make some spaces available in the university’s C-lot, across from the entrance to the Mill Plaza. That would accommodate larger groups that visit the IOL to test equipment a couple of times each month.
Selig said Madbury Commons, particularly with the inclusion of the IOL, is a terrific project that has been more than two years in the making.“It is a project that is bringing to fruition probably six years of collaborative conversations between Durham and UNH in terms of trying to bring research activity that’s taking place on campus out into the broader community and into fully taxable, privately owned space, and it is the kind of research activity that will have an accelerator effect on other technology initiatives and professional initiatives in our downtown core,” Selig said.
Although the IOL is not well known in New Hampshire, it is well known by some of the largest technology companies in the world and is the premier testing site for many of them to determine whether their hardware will be compatible with other systems.
“We anticipate that by bringing it to the downtown core we will be bringing hundreds of visits from premier technology companies from around the world to Durham each year,” Selig said.
Marc Sedam, executive director of UNH Innovation, said right now visitors to the IOL have no reason to visit downtown Durham. Many of them stay in Portsmouth, drive to the IOL around downtown, and when they are done, go back to Portsmouth.
In addition, it will bring about 100 student employees each semester, as well as 20 full-time staff, into the downtown area in closer proximity to downtown businesses.
Sedam said he will feel more confident about the project once the lease is signed and the details are ironed out.
“We have very specific needs that in our discussions with the landlord we believe it’s possible, but nothing’s done until it’s done,” Sedam said.
The IOL, 100 percent funded by the corporate partners they work with, recently celebrated 25 years in operation.
Sedam said now is a good time to move the lab.
“The needs for the customers who use the IOL are only growing and that’s a good thing. That allows us to consider this move,” Sedam said.