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In Londonderry, a plea for the trees at Woodmont Orchards

Union Leader Correspondent

August 04. 2013 9:09PM
Londonderry resident Jack Falvey, a vocal opponent of Woodmont Commons, leads protesters down Gilcreast Road Sunday during a rally. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)

LONDONDERRY — Ellen Marshall was among the 45 or so citizens who gathered Sunday afternoon for a peaceful rally urging developers Pillsbury Realty Development, LLC to consider sparing 609 of the former Woodmont Orchards site’s 10,000 or so apple trees for use as a public park.

“This is a very good example of the need for better zoning laws in this state,” said Marshall, a former area resident who drove from her home in New Jersey to be at the rally. “I think it’s a shame the town’s planning department hasn’t been more responsive to its citizenry.”

Developers are proposing to build a 639-acre town village project in phases over the next two decades. The project is expected to bring 3,600 more residents to Londonderry, along with 3,800 commuting employees once it hits its 20-year-buildout. “Do we really want to see 50,000 automobile trips per day from this development?” Falvey asked the crowd, which stood across the street from the development site. “Do we really want the trees in front of us to be cut down when they could be producing food? Do we really want this orchard paved over to become nothing but roofs and roads?”

Earlier this summer, residents circulated a petition asking the developers to consider setting aside 19 acres of orchards along Gilcreast Road for use as a public park. Just over a week ago, resident Mary Tetreau and members of the newly formed Save Woodmont Apple Trees (SWAT) citizen group began making plans for a public event that would allow like-minded folks to, literally, “hug the trees goodbye.”

But on Tuesday, a series of bright-yellow “no trespassing” signs appeared along the property’s borders, suggesting word of the rally had spread to property owner Michael Kettenbach.

“Is this the way he intends to do work with the town, the abutters and the Planning Board once the (plans) are approved?” resident Stephen Salvage said Sunday.

Neither Kettenbach nor his attorney, Ari Pollack, returned calls seeking comment; neither were present Sunday.

Bert Sell, who has lived in town for over 40 years, said he jumped at the chance to attend because he wanted to send a definitive message to the Woodmont developers.

“We want to make sure things are done in the town’s best interest, not the developers,” Sell said. “I know change is inevitable, but as citizens we need to make sure those changes are for the better.”

Ray Adams, who moved to Londonderry in 1986, agreed.

“Right now, we just don’t know what the future surprises may be,” he said. “I also feel like the developer is trying to bully his way into town. We’re just not in sync and his attorney never will comment on anything. So it’s very frustrating.”

“My biggest concern is the lack of transparency in the whole process,” resident Laura Aronsen added. “I’ve attended lots of the meetings and to this day, I still don’t feel as if I have a full view of the actual process.”

Members of the Londonderry Planning Board said they hoped to see a completed draft of the final project master plan sometime in the coming week. A public hearing on Woodmont Commons will take place during the Aug. 14 Planning Board meeting. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. on the Moose Hill meeting room at Londonderry Town Hall.

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