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Town Manager Smith: All views valid in Londonderry development debate

Union Leader Correspondent

October 30. 2013 10:58PM

LONDONDERRY — During a stop at the Londonderry Rotary Club meeting Wednesday morning, Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith reminded residents that they all have a say in the town’s future.

“I think we really need to change the popular perception that citizens’ opinions don’t count,” Smith told the dozen or so Rotarians gathered at the Coach Stop Restaurant. “But in New Hampshire, government starts at a local level and when it comes to any type of bonds going forward, all of you have a say.”

Smith, who took office about 2½ months ago, said meeting with the Rotary was just one of the steps he’s taking to keep townspeople abreast of the many changes under way in Londonderry, most notably the development proposed for Woodmont Commons and at Pettengill Road.

“Some people hear the words ‘economic development’ and they’re excited about the notion,” Smith said. “Others shudder at the thought. They’re afraid Londonderry will start to look like parts of Manchester. I think both viewpoints are very valid ones.”

Earlier this fall, the Londonderry Planning Board granted a conditional use permit for the Woodmont Commons Planned Unit Development, a predecessor to the 20-year, $1 billion project being proposed for the 650-acre former Woodmont Orchards site along the Derry town line.

Once completed, Woodmont Commons would be the first development of its kind in New Hampshire, Smith noted.“Yes, other communities in the state had PUDs, but none are designed quite like this one,” Smith said. “The walkable features of this community are similar to communities you’d see in Florida.”

Smith told his audience that the construction process for Woodmont Commons would likely begin in the coming year. In accordance with an agreement between the town and developers Pillsbury Realty Holdings, LLC, site plans for each of the project’s phases are subject to Planning Board approval and must stay “revenue positive.”

Encompassing about 1,000 acres near Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, the development proposed along Pettengill Road could bring an estimated 15,000 jobs and up to $6 million in municipal tax revenues, as well as $10 million in state tax revenues, Smith added.

“I can tell you there’s been a lot of interest in this project,” the town manager said. “Things are definitely percolating as we speak.”

Noting the confusion many locals have regarding the proposed Tax Increment Financing (TIF) aspect of the site, Smith assured citizens that voters would have the final say on any bond associated with the project.

In addition, Smith said the Town Council would need to assure that any bond have “tax positive” or at least “tax neutral” results.

Resident Steve Blier wondered how Woodmont Commons developers would address traffic concerns, particularly traffic coming off Interstate 93.

Smith said the state Department of Transportation has no funding for highway expansions from Exits 3 through 5, though town officials are working with state transportation officials to find a solution.

An Exit 4A off ramp, which would take travelers east into Derry, will be incorporated into the project’s design once funding is determined, according to Smith.

Resident Bill Dwyer said he was worried, in particular, about the traffic situation along Gilcreast Road.

“Rush hour is already becoming a rapid disaster,” Dwyer said. “Are there any plans to make this road wider?”

Smith said a site plan for that area, part of Woodmont Commons, has yet to be submitted to the town, but said the topic “would be addressed by the Planning Board in the future.”

Resident Fay Sell wondered what the future would hold for the local school district when Woodmont Commons progresses.

“Won’t our schools be busting at the seams?” she asked Smith.

Smith said the Londonderry School District, overall, is “about a thousand students below enrollment limits.”

“But as we think in the long term, we’ll definitely be monitoring the situation,” Smith said. “And it’s important to note that under the developers’ agreement, (Woodmont Commons officials) would need to assist us with any necessary school expansions.”

Longtime resident Reed Clark said he only wished Wednesday’s Rotary Club meeting lasted longer than an hour.

“I’ve been offering my input for the past 23 years, but I don’t think enough people come out to the local meetings,” Clark said. “And that’s why the average person doesn’t really seem to know how this town is run.”

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