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Hoping to start construction this year, two major developments eager for city approval

Catherine McLaughlin

With workforce shortages and a bare-bones rental market, employers are eager for a boost in city housing stock. Developers behind two major mixed-use projects are eager to provide it — once they get a green light from the city.

Representatives for the Monitor Way project, seeing the construction of more than 900 new units over six years, and the new owners of the Steeplegate Mall property, slated to add more than 600 market-rate apartments set to be completed by fall of 2026, presented their plans and fielded questions from about a hundred members of the Concord Chamber of Commerce Thursday.

Developers for both projects are hoping to start construction sometime this year. Both were brought to the planning board last year, yet neither project has emerged from the approval process.

Kevin Lacasse, founder and CEO of New England Family Housing, laid out how the overlapping phases of construction for the project on Monitor Way ending in 2029 would allow for a speedier rollout of different housing options. The project is called Monitor Way because much of it would be built near the Concord Monitor building on land currently owned by the Monitor.

On undeveloped land stretching along the Merrimack River from the Sewall Falls bridge toward the new Merchant’s Way complex in Penacook, construction will begin at the northern end of the parcel and generally work south, beginning with townhouses before adding apartments and commercial space, workforce housing, condominiums, then self -storage.

Starting on a fresh swath of land also poses hurdles for the project, namely the costs of creating infrastructure to support that many new residents and businesses.

Without an interstate exit at Sewall Falls, traffic flow is a concern — and was a point of inquiry at Thursday’s event. Plans for the project include a new road running parallel to the highway connecting it to Merchant’s Way, and a traffic study is supposed to wrap up this month, according to Lacasse. The property, currently zoned industrial, will also have to be reclassified before it gets moving.

At the Steeplegate, traffic is less of a concern since the project is projected to decrease circulation compared to what the former mall saw at its peak, said Doug Richardson, executive vice president of development at Onyx Partners, which bought the property and the abutting Regal Cinemas plot, last year.

Demolishing most of the existing mall structure and leaving its few remaining tenants in a section on the southeast corner, Onyx’s plans include multiple five-story apartment buildings with market-rate studios, along with one- and two-bedroom apartments; adding a Whole Foods and a Costco; and more greenspace along a nearby pond for public water access.

As a nudge, and in line with the name of the event — “Catalyst Projects for Building Concord’s Tax Base” — both developers highlighted that their projects, once completed, would bring Concord more than 1,500 housing units and $10 million of new annual tax revenue.

Not only because of the housing crisis but because of that revenue, the city should share their sense of urgency, said Steve Duprey, a longtime Concord businessman who has his own Main Street project in the works.

“We haven’t had any large major new employers move into the market, so these kinds of developments are going to be the source of tax base growth,” Duprey said. “The city should be doing everything they can to expedite this kind of development.”

With one commercial tenant willing to open this fall if the property were ready, Onyx is especially  anxious to work out approvals with the city.

“As fast as the city of Concord is right now, it’s not fast enough,” Richardson said.