In its April 3 meeting, the Londonderry Town Council tried again to allay the fears of residents concerned about a recent Planning Board vote.
In the March 8 meeting the Planning Board addressed the issue of The Residences at MacGregor Cut, a workforce housing project proposed for land on Stonehenge Road. The board first had a tie vote, 3-3, but after a suggestion by Councilor John Farrell, they re-voted and member Al Sypek changed his vote to a “no” vote.
A Motion for Reconsideration was on the agenda for this past Wednesday’s Planning Board meeting, which occurred after press time.
In the Public Comment portion of the meeting, resident Keri Stanley said in her understanding, a tie vote is the equivalent of defeating the motion. She asked, “Who has the authority to call for a revote?”
Farrell clarified that a tie vote does not qualify as a defeated motion, but that the board still has to motion to deny or not to deny the project, and also has the option of postponing discussion to another meeting.
“I made the recommendation so the chair could decide what to do,” he said.
Planning Vice-Chair Mary Wing Soares chaired the March 8 meeting in the absence of Chairman Art Rugg.
Town Manager Kevin Smith amplified, “A tie vote means the motion doesn’t pass.”
Resident Debra Paul asked, “If the Planning Board decides to leave the vote the way it is, what will the town do about defending the position of the board?”
Chairman Tom Dolan reminded the audience that discussion at this point is hypothetical. “The developer could do nothing,” he said. “Or they could take legal action and in that case, their attorneys would engage with our attorneys.”
Dolan added, “The town has no legal representation at this point because no action has been taken.”
The developers, First Londonderry LLC, first submitted their plans under an ordinance that has since been replaced. Paul pointed out, “At the end of the day, the town of Londonderry should not have to suffer because of a poorly-worded ordinance.”
“We do not advise the Planning Board or the ZBA,” Dolan said. “These developers are ‘grandfathered’ under the old ordinance.”
Former Planner Tim Thompson wrote the original ordinance, Farrell said. It was more financially friendly to the developers.
Smith said a couple of workforce housing projects got in under the former ordinance, but that since the ordinance was changed, “We have not had one application.”
Taking a stand
Farrell reviewed the steps the Council has taken to halt the project, including offering to buy the parcel with Conservation funds. “We also suggested townhouses instead of apartments, and we also asked if they could sell the property to another developer,” he said. “We presented four or five scenarios. They were not interested.”
Dolan said, “The Council authorized a team to approach the developer with alternate uses.”
Farrell said, “We instructed our attorney to go to their attorney and say, ‘Give us a number and we’ll go for a vote.’ But they refused to give us a number.”
Dolan clarified the roles of both the Planning Board and Town Council, saying, “The Council can try to meet the community’s preference. The Planning Board has a different role. Their job is to evaluate the plans, and see if they’re in compliance with town ordinances. The Planning Board is not there for community preferences.”
The Planning Board’s role is more black-and-white, Dolan said.
Paul referenced a community meeting with the developers, before they even went to the Zoning Board. “We asked him, ‘Is there anything else you can do with that land?’ and he said no. That is where the animosity from the neighbors is coming from,” she said.
Paul said, “The residents feel they have no say. It’s their town too.”
While the Council is not in support of the development, it has to walk very carefully, Dolan said. “We have to preserve our ability to objectively hear appeals.”