By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- With a detailed final master plan not yet submitted for the proposed 630-acre town center project on former Woodmont Orchards land, residents and town officials attending Wednesday night’s conceptual workshop had a difficult time envisioning what the area might look like in the future.
Around 20 residents braved the snow showers to attend the workshop, which was held during the Planning Board’s regular meeting. The workshop originally had been scheduled for two weeks earlier, but another snowstorm forced town officials to push forward.
The Woodmont Commons project represents the town’s first time using the new Planned Unit Development ordinance, a factor that left citizens and town officials alike with more questions than answers.
Londonderry’s PUD ordinance was passed early last year, giving the Planning Board the ultimate say on future development. The PUD was unanimously approved by the Town Council in early January 2010 and allows for a developer of a parcel or parcels of land to propose a master plan.
A conceptual plan for Woodmont, proposed by Pillsbury Realty Development LLC, includes an estimated 650,000 square feet of retail, 1,300 new homes, three hotels and 700,000 square feet of commercial space, with the remaining 40 percent of the property reserved for open space and agricultural uses. Development is expected to continue over a 20-year period, with an estimated 60 housing units to be built annually, project officials have said.
Attorney John Michels and TND Engineering’s Chester Chellman spoke on behalf of project developer Mike Kettenbach, who was unable to attend this week’s workshop.
“From a developer point of view, we need input for certain things,” Michels said Wednesday night, suggesting that future workshops tackle particular aspects of the project, one at a time. “We have big plans here. One of the problems is that it’s hard for anybody to see them.”
Planning Board Chairman Arthur Rugg agreed, emphasizing the need for more visual aids in future presentations.
“I like these plans, but they’re tough to download,” he added.
Community Development Director Andre Garron said: “The main tenet of PUD is to master plan large tracts. One of the things I think we’re all struggling with is getting a little bit more meat to the bone. What we have before us is a concept of a master plan derived from two design charettes this past fall. I guess what we’re hoping for is more citizens’ input as to whether this concept is acceptable.”
Among the many questions Garron presented were concerns over what type of housing would be built and how many units, what type of retail uses would be included and if a hospital were being built, how large would it be?
“If you don’t have some general consensus between the board and developer, you really can’t proceed to look at infrastructure and other elements,” Town Planner Tim Thompson added. “So that really needs to be the first focus at this point.”
Thompson recommended that the upcoming workshop meeting be dedicated to discussing the project’s timeline.
“We have to touch on a landuse plan before anything else comes into play, and I think that’s our key element,” Michels countered. “It may take two sessions to do part one. But you have to have a land-use plan and density plan before you move on to the infrastructure.”
Although preliminary plans call for 1,300 units, Chellman said the final number remains to be determined.