Woodmont hearing focuses on apple trees
LONDONDERRY — For developers of the Woodmont Commons project, delays have been a regular part of the process.
Wednesday night’s public hearing before the Londonderry Planning Board was no exception.
After several hours of discussion, during which town officials voiced continued concerns over the 625-acre town village project’s open space requirements, its density and its many apple trees, the hearing was continued to Sept. 11.
Attorney Ari Pollack, who spoke on behalf of developer Michael Kettenbach, requested the extension at the start of the meeting.
Town and project officials ultimately decided more time was needed to resolve several issues and reach a final development agreement that both sides might agree on.
Board members now have until Tuesday to submit their final comments on the matter, with Town Planner Cynthia May noting that all updated paperwork must be submitted no later than Friday, Sept. 6.
The development team representing Pillsbury Realty Development LLC submitted their final project plans — a 246-page document — to the Planning Board at the beginning of August.
This week, town officials said they’re still not completely convinced promises will be kept.
Developers had previously agreed to keep three rows of existing apple trees along Gilcreast Road intact as a site perimeter, but board member Mary Soares said she hoped those plans would remain consistent in practice.
“My concern is we have some discerning about how large three rows really are,” she said. “I also want to make sure we maintain this not only on Gilcreast Road, but on Hovey and Pillsbury roads. If we’re going to preserve the trees there needs to be a plan.”
Chairman Art Rugg agreed.
“Gilcreast Road is a hallmark of apple trees,” he said. “We’d like to see them stay.”
Board member Al Sypek wondered who would care for the trees if they remained standing.
“Who will prune those trees?” he asked. “And who will get the fruit?”
A 39-acre greenway area that includes possible plans for a man-made pond was also called into question.
“We’d previously had a problem with that path going through peoples’ private property,” Rugg said. “It seems the trail was really designed as an afterthought.”
Infrastructure issues likewise remain.
Development team member Terry Shook said the plan is to build entirely new infrastructure within Woodmont Commons, while fellow team member Emily Kelley noted the needs would be determined by estimated usage rather than the final calculation of developed units.
“And we have to build this infrastructure simply to access where we’re building the buildings,” she added.
Project officials said they felt its would be best to return to the board with finalized building plans, phase by phase, once the infrastructure is in place.
If completed, the $1 billion development would be Londonderry’s first Planned Unit Development (PUD) community and would be located along both sides of Interstate 93 and along Route 102.
But some wondered where the town’s existing zoning rules would come into play.
“For us, the essence of a flexible PUD structure is to come forward with what the market wants,” Pollack said. “To force something, in our view, would be setting up for a failure.”
At least one citizen, former town councilor Mike Brown, said he felt strongly that the existing rules on residential phasing and growth management would help regulate this project.
“Both are important zoning and planning tools that were formed by the Legislature,” Brown said. “Regardless of a project’s size or location, communities like ours need this safety valve. It holds true in all applications, including this one we have here tonight.”
The Londonderry Planning Board will meet again on Wednesday, Sept. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Moose Hill Council Chambers at Londonderry Town Hall.