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April 24, 2012

UNH Retail Development Plan Prompts Backlash From Equine Community

In light of a 48 percent cut in state funding for the University of New Hampshire, a plan to convert university land into retail space prompted an outcry from students, faculty and community members.

The UNH Master Plan Steering Committee announced a possible retail shopping center on land currently used by the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, including both the equine and dairy programs. The original plan would’ve paved over, in part, a hay field used by the equine program.

After 600 people opposing the plan attended a public hearing, the committee revised their plan, noting that development would only occur south of Main Street.

Paul Chamberlin, Assistant Vice President of Energy and Campus Development, said the revised plan doesn’t include the open field as a development site. Instead, an area currently used for administrative offices including the campus mail and library overflow is currently flagged as a potential retail area.

“It’s an area that’s already developed. We are going to continue to dedicate that area as a potential,” Chamberlin said, noting that the area is not currently zoned for retail. The university and community would both need to agree on zoning changes before the project could go forward.

Opponents say the revised plan would still adversely affect the agricultural programs, the three yearly horse trials and two dressage shows held on campus. The UNH horse trials are the only recognized events in New Hampshire, and Chris Keim, equine program faculty member, said they are sources of income for the program and educational opportunities for students to run a competition.

In addition to the retail development, the committee proposed a student housing complex that would go up on part of the cross-country course. The specified area includes the bank complex and would eliminate a loop of the course.

Keim said the committee is acting based on plans done in 1994. “Our program was not what it is now. We’ve expanded,” she said. As part of the master plan, the equine facility would eventually move to where the current dressage rings are located. Keim said this move would eliminate the space currently used for show jumping. She said if the plan goes through, the school would be “unlikely” to be capable of hosting competitions.

Laurie Chapman-Bosco, associate professor in the UNH equine program, expressed safety concerns about drivers speeding down Main Street, which is adjacent to fields used to school horses. She said the added traffic volume would only increase risks of teaching lessons to inexperienced college students.

Chamberlin dismissed her safety concerns, saying the retail space will be farther away from the main campus area.

Although the committee proposed the plan to increase revenue, both Chapman-Bosco and Bill Hawe pointed out that nearby shopping centers are not currently full and wondered if a new retail space would reach its money-earning potential.

Hawe, co-owner of nearby Coyote Spring Farm, said: “They didn’t involve any of the department heads or stake holders. This generated a human cry. I think they were surprised by the feedback.”

The committee planned two additional meetings for people to further voice their concerns. The first took place today, April 24, at 12:30, and Keim said a strong mix of students, staff and community members attended. She said the committee backed off the idea of a retail development but did not provide clear examples of what might be built in the space.

One more meeting will take place this evening, April 24, at 7 p.m. in the Huddleston Hall ballroom.