It was a good year for Londonderry – the Town’s tax rate decreased for the second consecutive year, valuation increased substantially due to commercial development in the Pettengill Road area and an uptick in revenues, and the School District was ranked sixth of 64 school districts in the State.
Before jumping into 2016, here’s a look back at some of the top stories in 2015:
Yes to firefighters,
no to auditorium
After months of debate over the addition of firefighters and teaching assistants to the Town and School District’s proposed fiscal year 2015 budgets, Londonderry voters approved warrant articles to raise and appropriate funds for both.
Voters approved with a large margin of 800 votes Article 14 to raise and appropriate $263,144 to hire four additional firefighters on a staggered schedule throughout the year, increasing daily staffing levels from nine to 10 firefighters on a 24-hour basis; and additionally approved the School District’s $67.9 million budget, which was amended at Deliberative Session to include an additional $240,000 for classroom assistant hours.
However, despite much testimony from parents calling for the expenditure of all $240,000 for teaching assistant hours, the School Board voted 5-0 after the election to fund aides in first grade classrooms only.
While Londonderry voters approved the additional firefighters and teaching assistant hours, they voted down Article 9 to raise $500,000 for architectural and engineering professional services for construction of a community auditorium at the high school.
Kinder Morgan Pipeline
The Town first received information about a proposed 36-inch natural gas pipeline to cut through Londonderry and more than a dozen other communities in November 2014. Since Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct (NED) project was proposed, Tennessee Gas has filed a certificate application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a 30-inch pipeline and compressor station in New Hampshire.
The pipeline would transport natural gas from Pennsylvania to Dracut, Mass., with a capacity of 1.2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), an increase from 1.0 Bcf/d. Tennessee Gas anticipates the pipeline could be in service by November 2018.
The Town Council has taken a position against the pipeline, stating disruption to residents caused by its construction may outweigh any benefits. Many other local and State officials have also come out in opposition to the pipeline, including U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, who said she opposes the project unless and until questions and concerns from New Hampshire residents are meaningfully addressed by the FERC and the Department of Energy (DOE) Inspector General.
Republican Candidate at Kidz Night, Governor Not Invited to Parade
Members of the Old Home Day Committee received complaints from several school employees and parents after Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson showed up to campaign at Kidz Night during Old Home Day.
Town Manager Kevin Smith said it was his miscommunication, and in hindsight, he should have contacted the chairman of the Committee responsible for Kidz Night after Carson’s campaign asked if they could attend the historically non-partisan event.
Kidz Night Chairman Tim Siekmann said it was the first time the Town has had a candidate attend Kidz Night.
Although the Committee discussed at its most recent meeting preventing candidates from politicking at certain Old Home Day events, the group was informed all candidates have a constitutional right to campaign on public property, so long as they are doing so respectfully.
More Old Home Day controversy erupted when Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH led the Town’s 116th parade down Mammoth Road.
It was the first Old Home Day parade anyone can remember that the governor did not lead.
The finger of blame was pointed in all directions – Republican officials blamed Democratic leadership for not ensuring the governor and other Democrats in office were invited; while Democratic officials say there was a concerted effort among Republicans in town to block Democratic leaders and candidates from marching in the parade.
However, of greatest concern to all town officials and members of the Old Home Day Committee was the failure to ensure Gov. Maggie Hassan got her invitation to lead the parade.
Town Council Chairman John Farrell said the Town plans to set a policy that all invitations to elected officials will be sent out in January from the Town Manager’s Office.
Workforce housing amendment
After six months of discussions and revisions, the Town Council adopted an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance related to housing opportunities in Londonderry, intended to discourage large-scale workforce housing apartment complexes in residential neighborhoods, while meeting the State Workforce Housing Law requiring the Town provide “reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing” throughout all areas of town.
Among the proposed changes, which involved discussions with the Planning Board, town staff, consultant Jonathan Edwards and the public, are removing phasing limitations and lowering the minimum required workforce housing units from 75 percent to 50 percent for workforce housing projects; the addition of “Small Workforce Housing,” “Dwelling, Multi-family Workforce,” “Affordable Elderly” and “Live-Work” categories and an amendment allowing accessory dwelling units in residential areas.
Pettengill Road Grand Opening
The Town celebrated the official opening of Pettengill Road with a ribbon cutting ceremony Dec. 21.
Nearly 10 years in the making, the opening of Pettengill Road has long been touted as the gateway to one of the most valuable pieces of developable industrial land in Southern New Hampshire, due to its size of more than 600 acres and proximity to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport and Interstate 93, according to Town Manager Kevin Smith.
Smith called the development of Pettengill Road a team effort, recognizing Public Works Director Januscz Czyzowski for his efforts to bring the project to fruition.
Since construction started in late summer of 2014, UPS/Pratt Whitney, FedEx and Milton CAT have established new sites in the area, generating over 1,000 jobs, according to Smith. Additionally, plans for a 300,000-squre-foot facility to be operated by a West Coast based manufacturing company have been approved, expected to generate another 500 jobs in the area over the next two years.
Andy C. Mack Sr. Passes Torch
A longstanding Mack’s Apples tradition of family ownership continued when Andrew C. Mack Sr. passed the torch to his son Andrew Mack Jr. in early August.
In his retirement, Mack Sr. said he will continue to maintain his interest in the community, particularly with regard to improving paths that facilitate foot traffic to the center of Town.
Mack Jr. said his role at the helm of the operation would be providing direction and vision for the family business, and that he and his wife, Carol, will focus on preserving the family business and long-standing traditions at Mack’s.
“It’s nice to have this opportunity to keep all this going, and we’re very dedicated to seeing all that through,” he said.
This year, Mack’s was selected to host Gov. Maggie Hassan and other State and local officials for the ceremonial picking of the first apple of the 2015 harvest season in New Hampshire on New Hampshire Apple Day.
Boost for Exit 4A
Londonderry and Derry officials urged the Department of Transportation (DOT) to make good on their agreement to build Exit 4A as part of the completion of Interstate 93 improvements during a meeting with the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation on Oct. 8.
DOT representatives cited budget constraints and the need to update an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the project as reasons they are pushing construction of Exit 4A out past 2022.
After turning the project over to the State last year, Town Manager Kevin Smith said the Town was frustrated to learn in October that the project wasn’t considered a part of the $250 million funding for the completion of I-93 improvements.
“We wasted a year thinking the DOT was handling the FEIS side of the project. Now we’re hearing back it’s on the towns. You can understand why there’s a lot of frustration on the part of both towns,” he told the Commission.
Soon after the meeting with the Governor’s Advisory Commission, Gov. Maggie Hassan publicly directed the DOT to accelerate the Exit 4A project, announcing she intends to place a higher priority on the project in the State’s 10-Year Plan.
Earlier this month, the Town Council authorized the town manager to sign a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Town of Derry and the DOT to move forward with the construction of Exit 4A.
Londonderry man charged with attempted murder
Gregory Owens, 55, of 3 Winthrop Road was formally arrested and charged early this year for allegedly shooting his wife and a friend with whom she was visiting in Saco, Maine.
Owens allegedly traveled from New Hampshire to Maine with the intent to kill or injure his wife, Rachel Owens, also of Londonderry, on Dec. 18, 2014; and allegedly committed attempted murder and aggravated assault against his wife when he shot her while she was sleeping in bed, according to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court of Maine.
The homeowner, Steven Chabot, 55, was also shot during the invasion at his home. His wife, Carol Chabot, 55, barricaded herself in a bedroom and was unharmed.
Retired military and the owner of a company that provides marksmanship training services and devices, Owens allegedly staged the break-in after a woman with whom he was having an affair in Wisconsin threatened to publicly reveal their relationship unless he ended his marriage.
Owens is facing numerous aggravated attempted murder charges, elevated aggravated assault charges, as well as federal charges for crossing state lines to commit a crime of domestic violence.
After considering input from the community and the findings of a task force charged earlier this year with studying target shooting in the Musquash, the Town Council put in place an ordinance restricting target shooting in the conservation area on a temporary basis.
On Dec. 21, the Town Council voted to move to the FY17 Town Warrant an article that would make permanent the restrictions on target shooting in the Musquash.
If approved, the ordinance would limit target shooting in the Musquash to turkey and deer hunting seasons by shooters with a valid New Hampshire Fish and Game license who complete a check-in procedure with the Londonderry Police Department.
Additionally, the ordinance extends the protective shooting radius for discharging a firearm from 300 feet to 600 feet and establishes caliber restrictions equivalent to those allowed for hunting deer and turkey, with no center fire and no additional allowances for specified long rifles, with the exception of .22 Long Range firearms.
According to police and members of the Conservation Commission, target shooting in the Musquash has decreased since the ordinance was passed on Sept. 14.
Heroin, opioid use called epidemic
The New Hampshire Legislature convened a special session on Nov. 18 to expedite substance abuse legislation to stem the heroin and opioid crisis, which many officials are calling the State’s most pressing issue.
Local officials are also working to combat the crisis, which resulted in a peak in overdose deaths in Londonderry and surrounding communities in 2015.
“I would say we have responded to more heroin overdose deaths in the past two months than we did last year,” Det. Chris Olson said in October. “Last year, we were going to maybe one to two overdose related calls per month. Now, we’re responding to two to four each week, if not more. There is no age range for this, heroin doesn’t discriminate.”
Olson noted upwards of 75 percent of theft-related charges the Department has been handling of late in Londonderry are heroin- and opioid-fueled.
This month, School Board member John Laferriere called on the School District to bring forward proposals on how to address the heroin epidemic in schools, as well as to put in place programs to educate and assist children and families in crisis.
On Jan. 6, the Town will hold a community forum on opioid and heroin addiction from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Londonderry High School Cafeteria.