Affordable Elderly Housing Stays Under Microscope

The Londonderry Conservation Commission continued its review of a proposed affordable elderly housing complex, asking developers to make some adjustments to protect the buffer to Little Cohas Brook.

In its Feb. 28 meeting the Commission met with Joe DeCarolis, one of the developers of the project at 7 Litchfield Road. While the Commission agreed with the need to house these members of the community, they expressed concern about the possible environmental impact.

The property is Tax Map 12, Lot 20 and is owned by the 7 Litchfield Road Realty Trust. The property is 13.49 acres and is zoned AR-1.

The plan calls for three buildings with 22 units in each. An existing house and two barns would be torn down.

DeCarolis told the Commission that there would be very little encroachment on the 25-foot buffer. “There is one place on Litchfield Road where we would exceed it,” he told the Commission. “But what is there now is a manhole, with no treatment facility. We would treat the runoff before it expels into the Little Cohas.”

“These are swales, not retention ponds,” DeCarolis told the members. “They will barely be visible.”

Member Mike Speltz reminded DeCarolis of the conditions for a conditional use permit. “It can’t just be for your economic advantage,” he told DeCarolis. He asked if DeCarolis would consider eliminating the northernmost building, nearest to Litchfield Road, or consider rotating it to have less effect on the buffer.

“The Fire Department wanted it this way,” DeCarolis responded to questioning from Speltz and Chairman Marge Badois. “It is easier for them to get around buildings.”

Speltz also suggested that a natural vegetative buffer would be more effective than a treatment swale, which is basically just grass. “It would soak up more nutrients,” he said of the vegetative buffer.

The Commission approved of the developers’; plan to remove the barns and house. “That is a good compensating mechanism,” Speltz said.

Speltz also suggested moving the northernmost building a little to the west to minimize the impact.

Member Roger Fillio asked DeCarolis how long this complex would have to remain as affordable senior housing. DeCarolis said, “It may end up as ‘affordable housing,'” meaning workforce housing. He said he’s talking with a group of people in Pelham who told him, “They feel they have enough affordable elderly housing.”

“But we don’t,” Associate Planner Laura Gandia said.

Fillio pressed, “Would you change it in the future?”

“We can’t predict that,” DeCarolis said, though he added that the need for “baby boomer” senior housing is expected to peak within five years. “Then it will go down,” he said.

DeCarolis observed that the median income for Londonderry is $93,000, and that low-income seniors don’t have those paychecks or those options. “We have to build these,” he said, “and the boards have to help.”

Members also suggested DeCarolis and his partner cut back on the amount of parking spaces they proposed. The standard for affordable elderly housing is 1.25 spaces, DeCarolis said. “We went to 1.50, which is the standard for affordable workforce,” he said. The number of parking spaces for market-rate apartments is 1.75, he said.

Speltz suggested DeCarolis drop back to the minimum allowable number of spaces, which would “reduce the impact on the buffer and reduce your costs.”

Member Deborah Lievens asked, “If the character of the units changed, would you be able to change the number of parking spaces?”

No, Carolis said. “Once you’re committed, you’re committed for 40 years,” he said, referring to the term of authorization by the FHA and New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.

Speltz said he would like to see the northern building reoriented, to reduce the impact on the buffer. He listed the removal of the barns and house as a plus, but added, “I still have an issue with the ‘economic advantage.'”

The Commission took no action on the plan.

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