By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- Twenty years ago, Derry’s population was booming, putting an immediate strain on town and school services.
Between 1980 and 1990, the town grew by almost 11,000 people, an increase of more than 50 percent, according to town staff.
Faced with a heavy stream of housing developments, the Derry Planning Board developed a Growth Management Ordinance in 1999 that would put a cap on permits issued in a given year.
But now Derry’s landscape has drastically changed, and town planners say the cap should go.
“It’s time to say, OK, this isn’t going to happen anymore,” said Planning Board Chairman David Granese. “We’re not going to have that kind of 10-year gain in population. We need to look at what’s going to happen in 2020 and 2030 and say, now what?”
Under the existing ordinance, no more than 50 building permits are to be issued in any given year.
But with a down economy and limited available land in town, Derry Planning Director George Sioras said it’s been several years since the town has turned projects away.
“There’s still land in Derry, but it’s nowhere where it used to be,” Sioras said. “And a lot of the larger lots are gone or they are more difficult to develop.”
And since the late-1990s, the school district has also been restructured to better handle the number of students in town.
In 2005, Barka Elementary School was opened, allowing the closure of outdated Floyd Elementary School and the removal of several portable classrooms across the school district, said Superintendent Mary Ellen Hannon.
The district has also seen declining enrollments since 2002, according to a 2009 enrollment report. Hannon said the district has about 900 fewer students than in the mid-90s.
“It was just not a good place for the district to be in at that point,” said Hannon of the overcrowding. “It’s a whole different picture now.”
Granese said he sees the new future of Derry’s development to be largely in the commercial sector.
To prepare for that influx, Granese said he wants to see an impact fees structure put in place of the growth management ordinance. If impact fees are approved, incoming residential and commercial developments would be required to pay the town an amount depending on the size and scope of the project to help fund infrastructure improvements, he said.
“This is going to help out in updating infrastructures and road improvements when a developer comes in versus it coming out of the CIP or taxpayer money,” said Granese. “We want them to build something in the town and we want them here, but they should also help out because they’re going to be a part of this town, too.”
Working with town staff, the board would come up with a uniform fee schedule depending on the size and impact of the project in question, said Sioras.
“The days of 100-lotters are pretty much over because the tracts of land aren’t there,” he said. “But you could still get a 20-lot subdivision that might need a road widening or a new turning lane. It’s not a lot of money, but it would help that section of town.”
Sioras said he believes impact fees could also be an important source of funding water and sewer extension to the Ryan’s Hill area on Route 28.
“That’s where the future of development is,” said Sioras. “What you see up at Walmart (on Manchester Road) is already there. We’re looking out five and 10 years.”
Sioras said many towns already have impact fees in place and that most big developers are used to paying that price.
The board opened discussion of both the growth management and impact fees ordinances at a workshop meeting last month and will likely continue the discussion over the next several months. The Town Council would ultimately have to approve the ordinance, said Granese.
“It’s going to be a long methodical process because we have to make sure that we do it right,” he said. “I don’t think we can rush anything.”