The Town of Londonderry will continue to keep a close eye on the community’s growth, but will not resurrect its Growth Management Ordinance (GMO) in the near future.
In its April 12 meeting, the Londonderry Planning Board heard from John Vogl, Comprehensive Planner and GIS Manager, on the status of the town and ordinance. They also fielded questions from residents who worry that Londonderry is growing too fast.
Vogl explained that the town’s last GMO lapsed, or “sunsetted,” on Jan. 1, 2015.
Vogl said Londonderry has historically had two GMOs, one adopted in 2002 and one adopted in 1998. The 2002 version required compliance with two of the following criteria for a determination of “unsustainable growth”:
• The present year of building permits authorized by the Building Department exceeds the average rate of dwelling unit authorizations in Londonderry over the six preceding calendar year. Vogl said the average number of permits over the previous six years was 63.5, and in 2016, Londonderry authorized 94 permits, meeting the condition.
• A percentage of housing units over the previous calendar year is equal to or greater than the rate of housing units in the preceding year, across the six abutting communities of Auburn, Derry, Hudson, Litchfield, Manchester and Windham. Londonderry housing units grew by 1.06842 between 2015 and 2016, while those in abutting municipalities grew by 0.67867 percent, meeting the condition.
But Vogl added that the town is meeting the third and most important criteria, that of being able to absorb new growth in its schools, community services and tax base. “It is difficult to say the town hasn’t been able to absorb growth,” Vogl said.
Board member and vice-chair Mary Wing Soares asked if the report had taken into consideration the engineering study and potential expansion for the Central Fire Station, to which Vogl replied that the fire station project is based on not meeting current needs, and was not tied to growth.
“Any growth that would come into the town would exacerbate that need,” Soares said, to which Vogl responded, “We are looking for the inability to absorb growth. The Fire Department can get their equipment in and out of the bays, although it is tight at times.”
“We do meet two of the three criteria,” Soares said. “At what point would we consider reenacting the GMO?”
“The town should consider reenacting it if it’s demonstrable that the facilities are taxed by growth,” Vogl responded.
He said the state RSA on growth management ordinances looks for “a demonstrable inability to meet current needs” and that to prove this would require further study.
Member Chris Davies asked if the Council gave its approval, could the town put the ordinance back into place?
“It would require a completely new study,” Vogl responded.
Member Ann Chiampa asked where Woodmont Commons stood in all of this, and Vogl said that both Woodmont and any elderly housing projects are exempt from the GMO.
Member Al Sypek asked about housing developments that are being phased in, and if a Phase II or Phase III could be affected by a GMO that was not in place when the original project was approved.
“It could be,” Vogl said. “There will be a ranking order of projects that are allowed permits.”
While the GMO allows the town to put a limit on the number of building permits it issues, the flip side is that it limits the rights of property owners to do what they choose with their land, he said.
“In a period of unsustainable growth, we will be able to calculate how many building permits can be absorbed by the town,” he said.
Board member Leitha Reilly, also a School Board member, said that the superintendent’s office works closely with town staff to determine how growth will affect the schools.
For example, she said, the elementary school population is on the rise, and “that’s why we put an elementary school in the CIP.”
The town is already being proactive by the projects it puts on the Capital Improvement Plan, “and that’s a good thing,” Vogl observed.
Refining the concept
Town Council Chair Tom Dolan, the Council’s representative to the Planning Board, distinguished between the GMO and growth management in general. “The concept of growth management is broader than the GMO,” he said, and includes factors such as land conservation, wetlands management and other tools. “Growth management doesn’t need an ordinance,” he said. “It’s citizens trying to control their own destiny.”
And their elected and appointed representatives, Dolan added. He reminded the board and audience of the original plan for the Nevins senior community off 102. “They originally wanted 300 units with no age restriction,” he said. “The town engaged in negotiations with the developer, who agreed to consider senior housing.” In a special meeting residents voted to compensate the developer with $2 million if he put in senior housing, and it was done. “That meant zero kids in school and less impact on town services,” Dolan said.
Though the discussion was not a public hearing, Soares polled the board and they agreed to let members of the public speak. Resident Janet Stone expressed concern about traffic safety, especially in light of the recent interest in the Residences at MacGregor Cut, a workforce housing project planned for the corner of Stonehenge and Hardy roads. “So you’re not concerned about all the cars?” she asked.
Member Gianni Verani said that each subdivision is required to submit a traffic study, and Soares said, “it has been taken into consideration.”
“So you’re all fine with it?” Stone asked.
Board members said the agenda topic for that night was the GMO and whether or not to bring it back.
Resident Debra Paul asked if public comment could be put on all Planning Board agendas, and Soares said it could be considered.
Paul said, “People want to be part of how their town grows.”
Resident Tiffany Richardson asked how the school enrollment projections were done, and Vogl said they are based on case studies. “We look at similar units in the region, fiscal impact reports from the development community, and multipliers from a Londonderry study,” he said, adding that the full study is available at the Town Hall.
And resident Ray Grissom, a member of the Master Plan Implementation Committee, wondered why more attention wasn’t being paid to the Master Plan.
“There are priorities that need to be acted upon,” he said. “We are making decisions that are not part of the Master Plan.” In particular, he said, the Stonehenge/ Hardy project should never have happened in the first place.
Grissom called for traffic studies to be done up front and observed, “We may be sued over a development that never should have happened in the first place.”
Davies reminded residents that the Planning Board does not reestablish the GMO, but that it recommends action to the Council. And Soares said, “This ordinance has already sun-setted. We will not recommend it unless we feel it should be implemented again.”