Represented by Attorney Kenneth Gould, CC Properties presented a revised plan for a credit union at 2 Litchfield Road after being denied previously by the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA). The property is zoned Commercial 3 (C-3). A bank or financial institution is not permitted in the C3 zone, so CC Properties was seeking a variance from the ZBA to allow such a business there.
In the latest version of the plan, the maximum size of the building was reduced from 5,000 to 3,000 square feet and plans for a drive through and drive-up ATM were dropped. Gould contended before the board that it was in the public interest and aligned with the town’s master plan to preserve historic properties.
The property is in Londonderry’s historic district, so the ability to make exterior changes is limited. Gould asserted that whereas the types of businesses allowed in C3 would not have the financial resources to rehab the house and barn, the credit union would renovate both as part of opening up that site for business.
Gould also argued that the “property was probably the most unique in Londonderry as the only C3 property in the historic district with a private owner.” Being unique, his client believed that a variance was warranted and that doing so would not set a precedent for other C3 properties in town.
Gould also said that he believed that a renovation of the property would increase the value of neighboring properties and the property itself as compared to the increasingly dilapidated state of the property at present.
Additionally, Gould asserted that C3 allows professional office use such as financial advisors, accountants and other financial services which are not that different than what is offered at a credit union.
When Gould’s opening presentation finished the board began asking questions and Gould did not have answers ready for questions about the volume of customers expected to visit the location. Member Brendan O’Brien asked whether the ATM would be open 24 hours even if the bank itself were open only during the day. Gould said he thought the ATM would only be open during the day, but was not sure.
When asked about the volume of customers during the day, Gould guessed about 20 per hour, but did not have any data from the credit union to support that. Further, he was not sure if the 20 included ATM users.
During public comment, Town Councilor Jim Butler, speaking as a private citizen, spoke in support of granting the variance. He felt that it was important to protect historic properties and with a business willing to rehab the house and barn, the town should take advantage of that.
He highlighted the troubles that the Londonderry Historical Society has had raising the money to rebuild the Morrison House as proof that it is hard to find the money for historic preservation. He also felt that a renovated property would increase surrounding property values.
Tim Loraditch, the nearest abutter also spoke in support. He said in the past he was against it, but now that the drive through and outside ATM had been dropped, he felt it would increase his property value to have the credit union there. He acknowledged that traffic would increase, but noted that there was already a lot of traffic.
When Loraditch finished a procession of residents spoke against the project. David Ellis pointed out that in the 2006, the Town Council adopted a special ordinance just for this property which limited use of the property to residential or office space. With this in place he was not clear how the ZBA could approve a different use.
Vice Chair Jacqueline Bernard replied that the Town Council ordinance was something that the ZBA was not allowed to consider in their deliberations, but if the ZBA granted the variance, the applicant would still need to get Planning Board approval and get the Town Council to revise the ordinance.
Several residents expressed concern about the increased traffic at an already busy five-way intersection, especially with the entrance to the property being a short distance from the intersection. Others shared their view that property values would decline with a high traffic business in that location.
Resident Martin Sturgis described that the C-3 zone is intended to be a buffer between residential and more intense commercial areas and felt that a bank at that location would generate so much activity that it would not be a buffer. He said that a business like this belongs up on Route 28.
Deb Paul shared that she had talked with corporate people at St. Mary’s Credit Union and TD Bank to get a sense of their customer volume. She claimed that they told her that they get 20-25,000 walk in customers a month plus another 10-15,000 using the ATMs.
In the end, the ZBA voted 5-0 to deny the variance citing the inability for the applicant to give a clear answer on expected customer volume and traffic impact. They also did not agree that a credit union was similar in nature to other lower impact financial businesses that are allowed in the C-3 zone. The Board also felt that it was unclear whether the value of surrounding properties would be diminished or not, but the burden is on the applicant to show that there would not be.