By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- RHP Investments, the company that owns the former Londonderry South Fire Station, is facing various challenges in its efforts to bring an interested tenant, a local renewable energy company, into the long-vacant building.
Conceptual plans for the project went before the board this past December, and later that month, the Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved several zoning variances in hopes that Freedom Renewable Energy Technologies could soon set up shop at the 45 Buttrick Road property.
A formal application was submitted to the Planning Board early this year.
After initial review of the project, however, the town’s planning staff recommended the application be withdrawn for further design review, since several application checklist items, including some waiver requests, weren’t previously submitted.
“We found that 26 checklist items weren’t met: We stopped our review at that point,” Town Planner Tim Thompson said Wednesday night. “It appears the applicant has a far different understanding of what is required of the project to obtain site plan approval than that of staff.”
Located within the town’s commercial district, the onetime site of Londonderry’s South Fire Station is an empty structure that hasn’t been in use since the newer station at 17 Young Road opened four years ago.
Thompson further noted that town staff was fully prepared to work with the applicant in hopes of ultimately getting them through the site plan process.
“The septic system, which is currently a cesspool, is an issue that has been brought up to every potential user of this site,” Thompson added. “The building division has been very clear that any new user would have to bring this up to modern standards.”
Elmer Pease, senior associate with PD Associates in Auburn, spoke on behalf of the property owner at last night’s meeting.
“As the board is aware, we took the property back from foreclosure. We do still have a prospective tenant/buyer interested in the property. He was hoping to get an occupancy permit earlier this winter,” Pease said. “Unfortunately any change of use requires a site plan process. My concern is …this is a nonconforming lot, even if the use we’re proposing is allowed in the zoning. It’s an undersized lot, and the setbacks are extremely narrow. The provisions for parking are extremely difficult.”
Pease said the green energy company, currently located at 119 West Broadway in Derry, hopes to ultimately purchase the property.
“We’re not proposing any improvements, we’re proposing a tenant occupy a vacant building,” he emphasized.
Pease said he hasn’t met with town staff for the past month, noting he is recovering from an illness.
“I don’t have any problem providing another site plan with notations as requested,” Pease stressed. “But I’m going to request a number of waivers. I don’t have any problems meeting with the staff.”
Among the zoning variances being requested are variances for allowing a business use to an existing commercial property with limited vehicle access, adequate loading space, limited parking and reduced landscaping and green space.
Pease said Freedom essentially plans to store and deliver energy products from the new Buttrick Road location, which is set on approximately one-tenth of an acre, making it among the smallest commercial lots in that section of Route 102.
The property is situated in the midst of other commercial parcels, with an office complex to the east and a large shopping center to the south.
“This is a unique situation,” Pease said. “Because communities are structured, it doesn’t give boards a lot of latitude, but there should be an instance, especially when you’re talking about a change in use.”
Thompson said if the site was previously used as an office rather than a fire station, a change-of-use permit wouldn’t be necessary.
“We wouldn’t be here,” he emphasized.
Planning Board member Mary Soares added: “If you had a different type of building, and no issues with the septic system, there would be no issues. But this is just our process.”
Pease said he would return before the board sometime next month, as he and other project officials work to address the various site plan issues.