Planning Board Questions Town Council’s ‘Two Reviewers’ Request

With battle lines appearing, the Planning Board discussed the Town Council’s request that there should be two third party reviewers on development projects in Londonderry. The talk ended with the board asking Town Manager Kevin Smith to share with the Town Council the Planning Board’s displeasure with having done work to find a third party reviewer, only to have it rejected by the Council.

The board also wants clarification from the Council as to the parameters required for those candidates.
At the May 6 Town Council meeting, the Planning Board’s choice of Stantec as the third party reviewer was reviewed, with Councilor Jim Butler asking “how can you compare companies without price?”
That was the argument made by Town Council liaison Tom Freda to the Planning Board on Wednesday, Dec. 4, as he stated the Council position that without two third party reviewers, there was a monopoly and with two firms, cost would come down.
He said that eventually, developers would find out who was the most cost effective reviewer and go with that firm.
“You could have two lawyers drawing up a contract, one may be more expensive hourly but get it done in three hours, and the other less expensive hourly but takes 10 hours,” said Freda. “The more expensive firm may actually be cheaper.”
Smith said the two reviewer system was in place in Derry, which alternated between engineering firms.
Smith said two options could be discussed – one the way Derry does it by “switching between firms,” and the other to let the developer choose which of the two firms to use.
“What (Planning Director Cynthia May) and I talked about today was possibly doing a hybrid so there’s flexibility if a developer is really adamant about working with a particular engineering firm, but most of the time try to do the alternate,” Smith said. That would also give the planning department flexibility, “so that if it so happens that the way they’re coming in that (a firm) is getting all these small projects and the other the larger ones, having the flexibility to switch it up a little bit.”
Planning Board member Chris Davies raised the issue of the RFP (Request For Proposal) for a third party reviewer saying the reviewer can’t work with any other developers while working as third party reviewer for the town. He said he thought that would limit the number of candidates.
Smith said Derry also has that requirement and it would be brought up during the interview process.
Board member Maria Newman said the reason to have the third party reviewer was to protect the town, and she thinks they are losing sight of that.
“I’m not so sure that it’s the cost that’s the problem, maybe it’s the fact that we’re making them go through planning board, heritage commission, conservation commission – a lot of steps – and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t, I’m saying we’re assuming that it’s cost all the time and I never hear any complaints about cost,” Newman said.
Smith said he thought there was a way both to protect the town and to have two engineering firms as choices by doing it in such a way that the town is controlling the process, but added that he would defer to the planning staff and allow them flexibility if they consider it warranted.
Board member Leitha Reilly said she wanted to know the driver behind the Council’s request.
“We have a process,” she said. “We made a recommendation and the Town Council decided that they didn’t like the recommendation. I want to understand what is the driver behind doing it again. A year ago we did this, the driver as I understand was cost. Since then I’ve heard cost, freedom of choice, I’ve heard a variety of things, all of which we’re trying to solve a problem that frankly, in my opinion, I don’t know what the problem is.”
Reilly asked Freda to elaborate on the reasons for the Council’s rejecting the Planning Board’s recommendation. He responded that it was a monopoly and with monopolies, costs always rise. He said two third party reviewers would help bring costs down.
Board member Chris Davies said he thinks additional firms would cause more delays in the process, saying he has heard that complaint now. Freda responded by saying Davies admitted there were delays now with one reviewer, and said two could reduce those delays.
Davies suggested having an annual RFP that included quality and cost.
Board member John Laferriere said the board had done its due diligence a year ago and went through a lengthy process and had a discussion about it. Part of the discussion at the time was whether to have two reviewers versus one, and the board decided on having one.
“We sent it to the Town Council and the Council sent it back saying, ‘we want two.’ Now for whatever reason, because I don’t see us doing that for any other out-sourced vendor, but for whatever reason, we’re doing it here,” Laferriere said.
He said the Planning Board could not see any validity as to the current request.
Freda suggested the Planning Board attend a Town Council meeting to get the council’s input and clarification.
Chairman Art Rugg directed Smith to go before the Council to get the information and clarification requested on behalf of the board.
In other board business, Reilly was recommended to the Town Council to be reappointed to the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission.

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