Affordable housing for Londonderry seniors got one baby step closer to reality after the developer of the proposed Lithia Springs complex met with the Planning Board.
The board heard a conceptual and non-binding discussion of the project in its Jan. 11 meeting. Concerns expressed centered on the height of the proposed buildings and the traffic impact, though no decisions were made.
The property is Tax Map 15, Lot 83-2 and is at 30 Sanborn Road. It is zoned R-III and being developed by Steven Lewis.
Lewis, who had been initially contacted by representatives of the Londonderry Senior Citizens, said, “It is nice to be approached by a community.”
He has been developing senior housing since 1980, he said, pointing to projects in Salem and Atkinson.
Since the project is for affordable senior housing, he will partner with the Federal HUD program and the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, he said. The type of project is called LIHTP, for Low Income Housing Tax Credit Project.
The rents are capped at a certain amount, and the Feds set the rates and the caps, Lewis explained. A third party is required for verification, and in New Hampshire it’s NHHFA, he said. There are annual inspections to make sure the complex remains affordable, he said.
The site was formerly a Brownfields site, Lewis said, and those take longer to work with. In cleaning up the hazardous waste site, the topography was altered and the 100-year-flood plain lowered, he said. Several man-made wetlands were created, and it is still required to submit a dredge-and-fill permit for an artificial wetland, he said.
The plan originally called for three buildings to be phased in, according to Lewis. But with the alterations to the site from the Brownfields cleanup, “we are now down to two buildings.” He and business partner Tim Kleiner redesigned the complex to two buildings. But the redesign has made it necessary to go to four stories instead of three, he said.
The buildings are modeled after his Salem project and, Lewis said, “It does not look like ‘affordable housing.'” His Salem complex is in a high-end neighborhood, he said. There are community gardens, heavy landscaping and walking trails, Lewis said.
Kleiner interjected, “We have 18 people on a wait list in Salem.”
The project, if approved, will be the first LIHTP senior housing complex in Londonderry, according to Lewis.
Lewis said he likes to name his projects after something meaningful to the community, and he held a contest last summer at the Senior Center. The winning name was “Lithia Springs,” after an historic water production company in Londonderry.
While the project fits its zoning and will not need a variance, Lewis said he was requesting several conditional use permits: one to build in the wetland buffer, one to work in the flood zone, and one to build the four-story buildings. “In order to keep this project large enough, we need the four stories,” he said, adding that they still fall within Londonderry’s 50-foot height limitation.
There will be 51 units per building for a total of 102. The density is 10.7 units per net acre. “Your ordinance allows 12,” he told the board.
One building will have its end facing toward the road, he said, but the second will be parallel to the street. “That’s the only way we can make it fit,” Lewis said. While there is existing foliage, people will see the top of the building from the street, he said.
But Lewis doesn’t think it will be a problem, noting that most of the neighborhood is non-residential. The nearest neighbors are an auto mechanic and a natural gas facility, with a wooded lot across the street.
John Trottier, assistant director of public works, asked how many bedrooms each unit would have and Kleiner said it would be a mixture of one-and two-bedroom units.
“The bulk of them will be one-bedroom,” Lewis said. “But the Federal government requires that we have some two-bedroom units.” A two-bedroom unit could accommodate a live-in healthcare worker, he said.
But unlike workforce housing, there is no requirement to have more than two bedrooms, he said. “That does not meet seniors’ needs.”
The bulk of his residents in similar developments are women, at an average age of 72 or 73, and the “occasional” married couple, Lewis said.
The neighborhood is also home to North Elementary School, and that raised concerns with board members, who worried about the traffic generated on an already-busy road.
“There is a concern about the traffic,” Trottier said.
Member Gianni Verani agreed. He often takes his children to school and said, “I drive that road every day. It is a mess. That will need to be addressed.”
Lewis said he was doing a traffic study with traffic engineer Steve Pernow, based on one of his existing projects. “The best proof is the people already living there,” he said.
Member Ann Chiampa said, “I don’t like four stories. That sets a precedent. I’d like to see three stories.” She was also unhappy with the bright blue color on the Salem buildings.
The Salem Planning Board chose those colors, Lewis responded, and he’s planning softer earth tones for the Londonderry site. “As long as it doesn’t make me gag, it’s okay,” he said of building colors. The earth tones will make the taller buildings of Lithia Springs less visible, Lewis said.
Chiampa, also a member of the Historical Society, didn’t like the name “Lithia Springs,” pointing out that there is really no association with the Sanborn Road area. The original Lithia Springs was at High Range and 102, she said.
“I am not married to the name,” Lewis said.
Member Chris Davies was concerned about the height and Lewis said he could give him a fuller picture when the team came before the board again, but he reiterated that the four stories still come in under 50 feet. “If this was a residential neighborhood it would be different,” he said.
The four stories gave member Leitha Reilly a different kind of hesitation. She said, “Will the seniors have trouble getting out in an emergency?”
Lewis said there was one elevator in the middle of each building, wide enough for stretchers, and stairways at either end. There won’t be trampling to get out, he said, noting, “The chances of everyone being there at the same time are slim.”
Also, he said, each building will be sprinkled. “My biggest fear is water damage,” he said.
Reilly pressed Lewis about who will be allowed in the homes. Lewis said the complex is restricted to those 62 and older.
“What about a grandparent taking care of a child?” Reilly asked.
“That is an emergency situation,” Lewis said. “They may have to get a waiver.”
Member Al Sypek said, “This is the best use of a Brownfields site I have ever seen in town. The height fits our requirements, I don’t care how many stories it is.”
“It is a good use of the land,” member Scott Benson said. “This is something we need to provide in our town.”