By APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent
LONDONDERRY -- With several previous meetings already devoted to the topic, those attending last night’s public workshop had a good idea of what sort of businesses they’d like to see — or not see — within the pending 630-acre town center project being constructed on former Woodmont Orchards land.
“We’re now in the fourth round,” Planning Board Chairman Art Rugg said Wednesday night. “Hopefully we can ease some of the tension between the public and the applicant.”
Around 30 residents were seated in the audience.
In the days leading up to the meeting, Jack Falvey, a longtime town resident and former Londonderry Housing and Redevelopment Authority member, made it his mission to keep residents informed on the pending project via a well-dispersed e-mail chain.
“The new owner has a vision which has yet to be adequately and efficiently explained to the Planning Board via its own master plan,” Falvey said in an e-mail sent earlier this week. “We can and should guide the (board) to create filters that will protect the wishes of their long-standing taxpayer base and preserve the integrity of Londonderry.”
The much-publicized Woodmont Commons project represents the town’s first time using the new Planned Unit Development ordinance (PUD), a factor that’s 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 parcel or parcels of land to propose a master plan for development.
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.
Since the last public workshop was held on Jan. 26, Attorney John Michels, who spoke on behalf of developer Mike Kettenbach, shared a draft of the project’s master plan, stressing that public feedback would continue playing a huge role in the process.
“What we need at the moment is some feedback on some of these items. Are we going in the right direction or not?” Michels said. “Are we generally headed in the right direction or are we not?”
A draft of the project’s conceptual master plan, distributed during the Wednesday workshop, included provisions for 1,300 mixed-type dwellings, with room for expansion if desired, project officials said, noting the development could present the opportunity for senior and affordable housing units.
Conceptual plans also present the possibility for a 300bed medical facility, up to seven hotels and up to seven office buildings balanced around a town center. Development is anticipated over a 20-year period, with an estimated 60 housing units to be built annually.
“One of the issues here is, if you want a village to really work you need some density,” Michels said.
Density is, indeed, a huge concern, as project officials noted, since buildings of certain sizes could pose challenges for the town’s fire department in the event of an emergency.
“I think many people have questions about this density piece,” Rugg replied.
Community Development Director Andre Garron concurred, suggesting a buffer of original apple trees remain along the project’s perimeter, among other things.
“A five-story building may not be appropriate for Londonderry,” he added, noting that the town currently doesn’t allow structures to be built higher than 50 feet.
Town Councilor John Farrell encouraged residents to speak their concerns.
“Now is the time, because decisions are starting to get made,” he told the audience.
Conservation Commissioner Mike Speltz noted that agricultural uses weren’t on the current list of uses, while board member Charles Tilgner inquired about the inclusion of “research laboratories” on the list.
And, as board member Dana Coons noted, the construction of hotels means the likelihood of having car-rental facilities on site or nearby.
“Once we approve a hotel, do we have any control over what types of businesses go inside?” he wondered.
Resident Laura Aronson asked if religious facilities would be a permitted use, or nonprofit organizations, such as the YMCA.
“Yes, and I think it would make sense to add commercial recreation to the list here,” Town Planner Tim Thompson replied.
Resident Martin Srugis noted the town currently has about 2,000 acres remaining of buildable land.
“I think we really need to look ahead and look at Exit 4, because that could really end up being our Big Dig,” he said.
Newly elected town Councilor Tom Freda asked what sorts of construction would likely be built first, commercial or residential?
Project officials said it would likely be a combination of both, since several local town agencies have expressed interest in having facilities there.
“There will be rental units, lofts, single family homes and townhomes,” project engineer Chester Chellman said. “Many of them, but not all, will be owned.”
Discussions on Woodmont Commons will continue next month. Another public workshop will take place during the April 13 Planning Board meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m. in Londonderry Town Hall.