Protesters against the Woodmont Commons Planned Unit Development (PUD), and calling themselves SWAT – Save Woodmont Apple Trees – turned out Sunday to demonstrate against the proposed cutting of 10,000 trees.
Residents Mary Tetreau and Jack Falvey and about two dozen supporters met on Pillsbury Road at the corner of Gilcreast Road, across the street from the former Woodmont Orchards sign, at 2 p.m. Sunday to hold signs protesting the expected cutting of the trees to make way for the more than 600-acre development.
When the formation of SWAT was announced by Tetreau, she wrote in a press release that the intent of the demonstration was to literally hug trees that were slated for cutting. Last week, however, the property owners posted “No Trespassing” signs and the demonstrators did not enter the Woodmont property or hug any trees.
Woodmont attorney Nancy Michels of Londonderry said in response to a question from the Londonderry Times that Pillsbury Realty, owner and developer of the Woodmont Commons property, did not wish to discuss the situation.
An announcement about the Hug the Trees event submitted by Falvey to the Londonderry Times on July 29 said the march was to save the trees at the proposed Apple Way Park at Gilcreast and Cortland, near his home. March organizers want the developer to keep 600 trees and 4 percent of the project for a developer-maintained, no roads public park for hiking, biking, picnicking and cross-country skiing. Falvey asked the Planning Board to require the park be included in the project.
Ellen Marshall said she drove 4 1/2 hours from New Jersey to attend the event. She said she’s a former resident of Londonderry and keeps up with Londonderry news via the internet. She said she was there to support the efforts of those trying to save the trees.
“This is a very good example of the need for state zoning and an example of New England citizen involvement in the issues,” said the former resident. “It is a shame that the planning board is not more responsive to the citizenry, and it’s a shame that the state doesn’t have better zoning laws. ‘Live Free or Die’ can only go so far.”
The PUD ordinance went through a series of public hearings before both the planning board and town council before its approval. A PUD submits its own master plan. A Londonderry resident since 1986, Ray Adams held a sign asking motorists to save the trees while he stood at the corner of Gilcreast and Pillsbury roads.
“My biggest thing is twofold. One is the density issue, where I think it hasn’t been approved by the planning board officially as of yet, but the fact that they are going to put in 1,500 units translates to me to 5,000 people in a very small area, where Londonderry is known for its one-acre zoning,” he said. “The other is any out-of-state friends I have know Londonderry for apple trees. They’re going to destroy this beautiful apple tree orchard and it’s a shame. I know they call it progress, but I personally don’t.”
Adams said if the developers were putting in 300 to 500 units, it would be different. The former owners of Woodmont Orchards had stopped apple production and the orchard sat dormant prior to its sale to Pillsbury Realty. Londonderry has three other commercial apple orchards currently in operation. The protesters walked down Gilcreast Road to Cortland Avenue, on the opposite side of the road from the Woodmont property. A police vehicle with Detective Kristen Gore at the wheel was present. According to Londonderry Police Lt. Timothy Jones, Gore was paid overtime for her presence at the demonstration, which cost the town $186 for four hours – her base rate at time and a half.
Falvey, an outspoken critic of the PUD who maintains an email listserve about the development, stood on an overturned recycling crate and read 28 questions to those assembled. They included: “Do we really want Gilcreast Road converted into a construction road for 20 years?” “Do we really want five story apartment buildings with inner courtyard parking accessible by alley?” All the questions were met with a loud “No!” from the protesters.
Tetreau said she was pleased with the turnout. “People brought their dogs, it was a festive atmosphere,” she said. “One of the things that pleased me the most was when we were walking down Gilcreast from Pillsbury and cars going by were honking their horns, giving us thumbs up and flashing their lights, and that was very encouraging. It means something when people come out on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of summer.”
Falvey said a bigger demonstration, which he called “a show stopper,” is planned for after Labor Day.