Conservation OKs Conceptual Plans for Senior Housing Project

The Conservation Commission considered plans to re-develop a former tire dump site on Sanborn Road for affordable senior housing.

Following presentation of the conceptual discussion with developer Steven Lewis, whom the Senior Affairs Committee asked to pursue the project, the Commission said, “it appears the project can be executed in a way consistent with existing conservation values on the property.”

Lewis is proposing construction of three 36-unit affordable housing apartment buildings, to be constructed on the 13-acre lot at 30 Sanborn Road in a campus style, with a community garden, a playground where tenants’ visiting grandchildren may play, and extensive trails that would provide connectivity to the Londonderry Rail Trail, which abuts the site.

Commissioner Mike Speltz noted the importance of an adequate buffer between the Rail Trail and the development, as well as access to the Rail Trail for tenants.

Lewis said after looking at the site, as well as neighboring properties, they plan to plant white pines to buffer the Rail Trail from the apartment complex.

“I think over time, with some good plantings, the development would be relatively obscure. You’re not going to put mature trees there, you’re going to put plantings in that will grow and fill in,” Lewis’ business partner, Tim Kleiner, told the Commission.

In regard to access to the walking trails, Lewis said he plans to create walking trails on the site as part of the re-development, and he has deeded walking trails for previous housing projects as rights- of-way to the towns to ensure their preservation and access for tenants and the larger community.

As part of an affordable housing project he recently completed in Salem, Lewis will be transferring a 30-acre park to the Town.

“We will treat this site as a neighborhood, not a project,” he said.

Other questions raised about the proposed development related to cleaning up the “brownfield” site, a property with environmental issues, and whether or not it could be made safe for seniors.

LeClair’s Garage, formerly located at the property, stored thousands of tires on the property, which caught fire multiple times.

“The feds look at that being a brownfield site as a positive, because they would prefer federal dollars be used on a site like that,” said Lewis, who has been working with a number of agencies and organizations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the University of New Hampshire, to develop advanced infiltration techniques for the site, such as rain gardens. “I’m trained in soils and land planning. There’s no reason not to clean everything on site before it goes back into the groundwater, and that’s what we’re known for.”

Lewis noted that of all the contaminants they could have found on the site, a tire dump does not create insurmountable obstacles.

The Town has completed some mitigation of the property and is considering selling the parcel to Lewis for $10, as an incentive for the in-demand developer to revitalize the site and bring a quality, affordable senior housing development to Londonderry.

Lewis said the $10 sale price would also make his application for the federal tax credits stand out from others in that funding cycle, with the Town’s investment in the project showing there’s a real need for affordable senior housing in Londonderry.

Lewis said although the Town has done a substantial amount of work to clean the site, the parcel will have to undergo extensive testing, and additional work must be completed to ensure it’s safe for future tenants.

“This is a class of people who need to be protected living here. We need to make sure it’s absolutely clean, and there are many processes we need to do before submitting the project for approval,” he said.

With the Conservation Commission’s determination the project could be completed according to Conservation values on the property, Lewis will move on to the Town Council for a decision on the Town’s proposal to sell the property to the developer for $10.

The Planning Board voted 5-0 at its Sept. 9 meeting to recommend the Council approve the sale.

Town Manager Kevin Smith told the Board at the Sept. 9 meeting that there is no affordable senior housing in Londonderry’s inventory, and that it’s tough to find a developer who would bring such a project to fruition, due to the arduous process of obtaining necessary tax credits.

If Lewis is able to enter the fall 2016 funding cycle, he would hire a firm to develop a site plan, which would be reviewed by the State, something that usually takes four to six months.

Preliminary applications for the federal tax credits are due to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority by July of 2016. Funding would be announced at the end of October or early November 2016; and the developers could break ground in the spring of 2017 if the project moves quickly through the planning and permitting process.

Moving forward, the Town Council will hold two public hearings on the proposed sale and development of the property.

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