Planning Board Continues Woodmont Master Plan Review

The application acceptance and public hearing for the proposed Woodmont Commons development has been continued to the Aug. 28 Planning Board meeting, after the Londonderry Planning Board gave it careful scrutiny at its Aug. 14 meeting.

Ari Pollock, an attorney representing the developers Pillsbury Realty LLC, told the board, “A week ago we placed a nearly complete plan in your hands. The missing piece is the development piece, but we’re working on that.”

The 200-page Master Plan for the project, the first under Londonderry’s Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance, includes facts, procedures and mitigation measures, Pollock said, and has evolved over many meetings. “I shoved all the pieces in my briefcase and began to consider getting a larger bag,” he said jokingly.

The plan has incorporated feedback from town staff, peer review and members of the public, Pollock said.
Though the proceedings in the past had been acrimonious, Pollock signaled the beginning of a new cooperation when he said, “This has been a long and complex process and has been frustrating for all. The end may be in sight.”

Pollock continued, “We recognize that the task we’ve put in front of you is a large one. You will need time to think, and we will try to be respectful of your needs.” He thanked the board for its time and effort and noted, “I am confident this project will make us all proud.” Pollock had team members on hand, including Terry Shook and Tom Goodwin of Shook-Kelley Associates, who did a short presentation on the development style.

Shook’s PowerPoint centered on how the project will benefit Londonderry. The proposed “walkability” and mixed-use retail area will attract people, Shook said, explaining, “People want to be part of the civic discourse.” So-called “walkability” leverages residential value, he said, and in commercial real estate a walkability score of 80 or more lends value to a property.

Woodmont aims to increase walkability with buildings fronted on the street, sidewalks “where people want to go,” a mix of uses among the buildings, connected streets and a “park once” strategy. Shook’s second point was economy, and he noted that the infrastructure of Woodmont would cost less to maintain because it would be built and used efficiently.

He added that the revenue is greater for a mixed-use environment. While New Hampshire is still growing along with all of New England, young people are moving away because of a perceived “lack of options,” Shook said. People desire choices, including shorter commutes, smaller homes, a mixture of home types and proximity to shops and restaurants.

“The valued places,” he said, “are sustainable places. Sustainable places are about balance between the built and natural landscape.” More on-street parking will meet that need with savings on building costs and less water runoff, he said. Woodmont Commons will provide housing for people in all stages of life, a healthy lifestyle, and a balance between “built” and nature, and will contribute to the area’s economic stability, Shook concluded.

Planning Board Chairman Art Rugg agreed with the walkability option, noting that he found a survey claiming that of today’s 20-somethings, about a quarter don’t have driver’s licenses. They bike to work, walk or take public transportation, he said. “The Gen-Y’ers in our office bike to work,” Woodmont team member Emily Hynes said. “They’re not looking for auto-oriented places.

Hynes and Shook-Kelley partner Tom Goodwin took questions from the board and public and tried to provide answers. Board member Maria Newman asked about increased traffic from Gilcreast to Peabody roads. “Is there a possibility of a traffic light, or a cut-through?” Newman asked. “It’s pivotal to the public and us. Is it still on the table?” Goodwin said it was.

Newman said she was concerned about traffic where Pillsbury Road connects with Hardy Road. This is already a “hot spot” for traffic, Newman said, adding, “I thought there would be more attention to that.” Hynes said, “That doesn’t prevent us from doing that, at the subdivision or site plan level.” Newman also noted what she called “vagueness” in the section on Compliance Alternatives. “We have regulations and standards,” she said. “I know there will be waivers, but I still think it’s vague.”

Hynes responded, “This plan will be implemented over the next 20 years. It’s impossible to know what will come up. We don’t want to have to preclude ourselves if something better comes along.” “What if the Planning Board is not okay with it?” Newman asked. “Then we won’t do it,” Hynes responded. But Newman contended that there should be stronger language. “Vagueness is scary,” she said.

Newman also referenced the growth management ordinance and said, “We have it in place for a reason. I don’t think Woodmont can’t be held to that standard.” Member Lynn Wiles brought up the idea of perimeter buffers with landscaping and said, “I thought one of our concepts was like versus like at the perimeter.” If similar uses are at the perimeters, what’s the need for a buffer? he asked.

“There will be rare times there are incompatible uses,” Hynes said. Wiles also reminded the developers, “We need a development agreement. It is part of the Master Plan.” He also wants to see a phasing plan, “how you see this building out. Where the construction will be in 2018, 2020.” Goodwin replied, “Early on in a project’s life, there will be meetings with the Planning Board.” But Wiles wasn’t satisfied, reminding him, “You have to have a vision.”

He also asked for more information on integrating the development with the rest of town, including the construction impact and the impact on schools. Mary Wing Soares echoed community concern when she asked about the apple trees, the remnant of the former Woodmont Orchards. “We have talked endlessly about a perimeter buffer of three rows of trees,” Soares said. “Are you going to preserve the three rows of trees?”

Michael Kettenbach, principal in Pillsbury Realty LLC, responded, “Apple trees are only viable from their fifth to 20th year. After that, they don’t give decent fruit. If they’re going to be maintained, leave them where they are. But they are going to look horrible. That’s a call the board has to make.” The trees may need to be replaced to keep the buffer going, Kettenbach added. Soares said, “Three rows of trees – we need to have that delineation.” The board voted to continue the public hearing to the Aug. 28 meeting.

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