After it was determined that an abutter was not notified of a public hearing on the proposed workforce housing development at 30 Stonehenge Road, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) continued the case to its next meeting.
Before the Nov. 19 meeting was continued, however, members of the public spoke out against granting First Londonderry Associates three variances that Windham developer Raja Khanna argues are crucial to the financial viability of his project.
“It’s not the Board’s responsibility to make sure they make a profit,” said Deb Paul of 118 Hardy Road, who is the publisher of the Londonderry Times.
David Nease of 11 Faye Lane, the abutter who wasn’t notified of the public hearing, said he finds it hard to believe the developer of a project that will cost millions of dollars to complete wouldn’t do his due diligence before purchasing the property and fail to discover the project is only viable if three variances are granted.
“That’s saying they thought they could just come in and get the variances,” he said.
Variances Khanna is seeking would allow a reduction of the minimum workforce housing occupancy requirement from 75 percent to 50 percent, an accelerated phasing schedule allowing for completion of the project in three years rather than six years, and construction of 24 units per building rather than the maximum 16 units allowed by Zoning.
The proposed plan for the workforce housing complex features construction of eighteen 16-unit buildings and twelve 24-unit buildings in the heart of the two-lot property.
In total, the development would create a total of 188 new rental units, of which about 87 percent would be two-bedroom apartments, according to Khanna.
The development was designed to have a “college campus” feel, with three-story, garden-style rental buildings located around a centrally-based community building for residents.
Applied Economic Research President Russ Thibeault said it would cost the developer $4.5 million more to build the workforce housing project without the variances requested. Even if developed with all three variances granted, the project is only expected to see a 4 percent return with all the risk involved, which Thibeault said is “a razor thin budget.”
“The project will not be bankable without these variances,” he said, explaining interest rates associated with and the difficulty the developer would have securing financing for a six-year project would create a hardship.
“These people wouldn’t be paying the money they pay to fight the way they fight if they weren’t going to make a profit,” Paul argued.
“If the property is not suitable, it’s not suitable,” said Greg Stanley of 112 Hardy Road. “It sounds to me economically the property won’t pan out. I have to implore you guys to vote no.”
But the Londonderry Task Force identified the property as an appropriate location for workforce housing, Bill Tucker, a Manchester attorney representing Khanna, told the Board. And the State’s workforce housing statute requires every municipality to adopt Zoning regulations that provide reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing.
“The collective impact of all such ordinances shall be considered in determining a variance for a project if all opportunities provided are reasonable and realistic,” he said, explaining his client’s request for relief from the three restrictions is reasonable, and not granting the variances would mean the project wouldn’t be viable.
Additionally, Tucker said granting the variances would serve a justice as it would help provide a balanced supply of housing in Londonderry.
For 2014, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority estimates the maximum affordable monthly rent for Western Rockingham County is $1,440.
Khanna said his workforce housing units would be in the range of $1,400, which would include utilities.
In a conceptual design review, the Planning Board also expressed concerns with granting the three variances.
Member Scott Benson noted reducing the number of workforce housing units offered would mean the developer would gain a significant number of units at full-market value.
“I think before we grant any variances, we ought to find out why they’re there and find out the background because a lot of work was put into them,” Paul Moulton of 34 Stonehenge Road said. “And if everyone is so concerned about workforce housing, shouldn’t they be offering 75 percent workforce housing?”
Additionally, opponents of the project argue Londonderry is already offering a balanced supply of housing for residents, including plenty of workforce housing units.
“According to the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission, we only had 97 more apartments left to meet our fair share, and that didn’t include new projects coming in,” Paul said, noting the Town’s ordinances were reviewed by an attorney who settled concerns surrounding potential lawsuits for not granting variances for workforce housing projects. “Between Woodmont, which will bring 1,300 new apartments, and the Perkins Road workforce housing development, we will have more than enough.”
The Zoning Board will continue consideration of Khanna’s request for relief from the Town’s Zoning Ordinance at its Dec. 17 meeting.