RECENTLY, I had the pleasure of attending a forum on public-private partnerships that featured two area developers and a state senator. At one point, a poignant question was posed to one of the developers: What is the greatest barrier to development today in New Hampshire? The developer’s answer was simple, though not surprising: overregulation of the market.
So often we hear of the impediments on both the federal and state levels that stifle business development. Much less talked about, though no less important, are the regulations that exist on the local level as well. In Londonderry, we’ve taken this sentiment to be more pro-business to heart and have begun making reforms to the way we approach economic development. Thus far, we are reaping the rewards for having done so.
One measure taken by Londonderry’s five-member town council was to indefinitely suspend the town’s impact fee program. That isn’t to say we’re not protecting the town’s interests when it comes to future growth, as we continue to use fiscal impact statements and developer agreements for off-site improvements. However, the council found it prudent to suspend a program that imposes fees on builders and job creators that often are never even used by the town and are only returned to the developer years later.
Not to mention, by suspending this program, Londonderry positions itself as one of only a few communities in the region to not impose these additional costs on developers. Earlier this year, Londonderry also bid out its third-party engineer review services and brought on an additional reviewer. For years, Londonderry contracted with only one firm and thus garnered a reputation (whether real or perceived) that the town’s third-party review fees were extraordinarily high. By bidding out these services and bringing on a second firm, the town created healthy competition among the vendors and lowered the review fees developers pay throughout the process.
Finally, the town is in the midst of going through an audit of both its zoning and administrative regulations. The intent of doing so is to find greater efficiencies in our planning processes and fix cumbersome or contradictory regulations. In addition, an audit of our various zoning ordinances will allow for more flexibility at both the planning and zoning board levels so development will be more likely to occur in areas that have been designated for such.
In making these changes, we’ve also made a deliberate and concerted effort to reach out to the business and development community to let them know about the “new Londonderry.” While we expected positive results from making these changes, somewhat surprisingly they’ve been realized nearly overnight.
In the last six months alone, the once dormant but highly regarded Pettengill Road area by Manchester-Boston Regional Airport has seen more than a million square feet of development come to the area: FedEx is in the process of constructing a new distribution facility, Milton Cat is in the design review stage of building a new retail facility, and jet-engine manufacturer Pratt Whitney has teamed up with UPS to build a 600,000-square-foot showcase distribution center.
All the while, the town last fall approved a 600-acre, 20-year, $1 billion mixed-housing, commercial and retail walking community development — the first of its kind in the Northeast.
Recently, Business NH Magazine ran a headline asking “Is Londonderry the Next Pease?” As one economic analyst opined in the article, “Londonderry is hot right now… I can’t think of another community that has the kind of opportunities that Londonderry has.”
We couldn’t agree more. And by continuing to implement policies that are friendly to business and development, we believe we’ll be poised to maximize those opportunities to their fullest.
Kevin Smith is Londonderry’s town manager.