By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- In less than 15 minutes, the five town councilors present at last night’s special meeting unanimously approved a conservation easement crucial to the Walmart project on Ashleigh Drive. The item had been tabled from a meeting last week.
“I think the Conservation Commission did their homework on this,” said Council Vice Chairman Neil Wetherbee, who called for the special meeting. “I was out there for the site walk with them, and this is a win-win for the town.”
The easement allows Walmart to build on about 2.5 acres of conservation land near their Ashleigh Drive site in exchange for a $100,000 payment to the town for the purchase of other conservation land.
Walmart representatives had initially offered the Derry Conservation Commission a 14.5-acre parcel of wetlands behind the project as potential conservation land. But commissioners said they would prefer the $100,000 payout to purchase other conservation land. Walmart and the commission approved the agreement last month.
Councilors tabled their consideration of the easement at last week’s meeting, after Councilor Janet Fairbanks asked that the issue be pushed off until the next meeting on April 5.
Fairbanks said at that meeting that she wanted to see if more could be done to protect the 14.5-acre parcel, which provides a buffer for residents on the other side of the project.
The council agreed to hold off on the decision.
Then, last Thursday, Wetherbee asked that a special meeting be called to reconsider the item, saying he wanted to avoid further delays to the Walmart project.
Councilors Fairbanks and Kevin Coyle did not attend last night’s special session.
“I’m a little disappointed that Ms. Fairbanks and Mr. Coyle opted not to show up to this meeting that was so important to them,” said Councilor David Milz.
But in an interview after the meeting, Fairbanks said she already knew what the outcome would be.
“I was very disappointed and surprised that they decided to proceed with this even though I was uncomfortable,” she said. “I was originally going to go, but I said, no. This is just a power play. They want to show that they are in control and we know that. There’s a 5-2 vote and I knew it was a done deal.”
Coyle similarly said he decided not to participate in what he called a “waste of time and money.”
“This is a meeting that was not necessary, that was called by Neil and Brad because they wanted to show Janet they could do whatever they wanted,” said Coyle. “There was no hurry to do it. They just wanted to have a special meeting to teach a lesson to Janet and, I guess, to me. I decided that I would rather play basketball with my son.”
With final approval out of the way, Conservation Commission Chairman Margaret Ives said last night that the commission will begin looking at how it will spend that money as soon as its next meeting on Monday.
“We always have some things on our lists, but we need to review those,” said Ives after the meeting. “This will probably not pay for an entire (parcel), but it will help.”
The approval will now allow Walmart developers to focus on their return to the Planning Board next month to seek site plan approval.
“It’s always good to see,” said Peter Imse, an attorney representing the project. “In any approval process like this there’s a whole series of steps along the way, and we need to take all of them.”