October 8, 2010

Planners OK Zoning near Frost Farm

Brian Allison, left, and his father, David, have lived on Rockingham Road with their
 families for 12 years, making many improvements to the property over the years.
Union Leader Correspondent

 — It took a year and a half to get there, but Planning Board members say they’ve finally found a compromise to rezone a section of Route 28 near the Robert Frost Farm for future development.
“There’s a lot of traffic through there, yet you’ve got the Robert Frost Farm and people want to protect the small, quaint town feel,” said Brian Chirichiello, who serves on
 both the Planning Board and Town Council. 
“It’s really needing to find a happy balance there,” Chirichiello said yesterday. “And I think this will be fine.” 
The Planning Board unanimously approved measures Wednesday to rezone a section of Route 28 — or Rockingham Road — near the Robert Frost Farm under a new designation called General Commercial III. Under the new requirements, which still need final Town Council approval, businesses would be limited to professional offices, full-service restaurants, pharmacies, retail stores of less than 5,000 square feet and banks of at least 1,500 square feet. 
All new construction would also need to complement the farm’s architecture and be no taller than existing buildings on site. 
The zoning district would extend to only a small portion of Rockingham Road near the Frost Farm from Berry Road to Rockingham Acres Garden Center, according to Derry Planning Assistant Elizabeth Robidoux. 
The 12 properties affected by the rezone are currently designated Office Research Development and Medium Density Residential zones, Robidoux said, but all current uses would be grandfathered in. 
A first request to rezone the area came from resident and business owner George Reynolds, who operates a welding shop on Rockingham Road, in June 2009, Robidoux said. 
But given the sensitive nature of the historic site, Planning Board Vice Chairman John O’Connor said the board decided to take its time. 
“For the last 18 months, we collected a lot of public input, we listened and we went out on site walks,” O’Connor said. “We spent a lot of time analyzing what people had to say.” 
And the proposal has garnered a mixed reaction from those most affected. 
Wendie Chabot, who has lived on Rockingham Road for several years, said she expects the rezone would increase the value of her property. But with young children at home, Chabot said she’s not sure what she and her family would end up doing. 
“If I want to stay here for the rest of my life, this is a con; but if I want to sell, it’s probably a pro,” Chabot said yesterday. 
Coupled with ongoing talks about extending public sewer and water to Rockingham Road — which is expected to bring with it an appetite for commercial property — Chabot said she is frustrated with the pace of decisions. 
“Just either do it and get it over with or don’t do it,” she said. “I don’t want to have memories for the kids here and have to sell the house in 20 years.” 
But just next door, David Allison says he’s not leaving his home of 15 years no matter what happens with the rezone. 
“We have all these gardens and just put in a chicken coop out back,” he said. “Maybe to the people beside us it’s a benefi t, but we have no interest in going commercial. We’re not going anywhere.” 
Allison’s son Brian, who lives on the other side of the duplex with his family, said he hopes the property’s wooded buffer would keep any commercial development out of sight. 
“I don’t think it’s really going to affect us,” Brian Allison said. “Because of the traffic we already use the back yard, and no matter what they do on the sides of us, we’re pretty protected.” 
And while nothing is yet set in stone, Rockingham Acres nursery owner Bill Smith said the new zoning would allow him to expand his facility. 
“We are happy to see this move forward,” Smith said. “We think it’ll be good for the town, good for this area and for local businesses.” 
And Robert Frost Farm trustee Charles Dent says his board is also pleased with the final proposal. 
“We feel that the way it was zoned is probably the best we could get,” Dent said. “We really applaud the Planning Board for taking this thing very seriously. Our biggest concern is in the long haul, whether in another 20 years or 10 years down the line things could change.” 
Robidoux said the proposal will likely move to the council for final approval in November, where Chirichiello said he expects a swift response. 
“I think if you do your homework — and in this case, we definitely have after 18 months of hearings and meetings and workshops — and when everyone is basically happy with the end product, I don’t see it being an issue,” he said. 

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