Citing previous investments for economic development, the Londonderry Town Council has indefinitely tabled a request from a local developer to rezone land at 280 Rockingham Road.
The developer, Charles Evans, was requesting that the town rezone a portion of the parcel from Industrial I to Residential III. The rezoning would have expanded the residentially-zoned portion of the property from 20.8 to 47.3 acres.
Earl Blatchford, an engineer with Hayner/ Swanson, Inc., represented Evans. The land is Tax Map 17, Lot 45 and is owned by the Evans Family Limited Partnership.
The parcel is 200 acres and is split-zoned, with a portion zoned industrial and a portion residential. The land has frontage on Rockingham, Sanborn and Page roads. The request would expand the area of the lot currently zoned R-III, with frontage on Sanborn Road.
In a memo dated Feb. 22, John Vogl, Geographic Information Systems manager and comprehensive planner, wrote that “by rezoning this piece to R-III, opportunities for reasonable development are increased for the portion of the lot with Sanborn Road frontage.” Vogl wrote that the area would be consistent with two adjacent parcels zoned R-III.
In February 2016, the request was unanimously approved by the Planning Board after a public hearing. The proposal received a first reading from the Town Council in February and a second reading and public hearing in March.
Blatchford said the portion of the property proposed to be rezoned had both natural and man-made barriers separating it from the Industrial portion. Much of the property in question is wetland or wetland buffers, which limits development potential, and the topography is uneven.
“It is steep and peppered with wetlands,” Blatchford told the Council. “it better lends itself to smaller buildings.”
Different day, different objection
The project has already come under fire from the Londonderry School District, with Superintendent Nate Greenberg writing a letter in opposition to the rezoning and development, as reported previously in the Londonderry Times.
In a letter dated Aug. 3, 2016, Greenberg wrote, “The zoning change to R-III as identified in the impact analysis has the potential of generating a significant number of students in the North Elementary School enrollment area.”
Based on projections by Vogl, Greenberg posited that if a multi-family market rate complex were built, it would generate 37 students for the elementary/middle school level and 15 high-schoolers. A multi-family workforce housing complex could generate as many as 51 students for elementary/middle and 27 for high school.
“Either of the above options,” Greenberg wrote, “would have a significant negative impact to North School.” He pointed out that in addition to students coming from Mill Pond, Lorden Commons and Wallace Farms developments, the expanded student population would exceed “functional capacity” at North School by 71 students at market rate and 81 at workforce housing.
“From an educational capacity view alone, the School Board opposes the zoning change,” Greenberg wrote.
The financial impact on all schools for Market Rate would be $299,306 to $382,106 and the financial impact of Workforce, $475,706 to $572,906, including classroom teachers, music and art, transportation and Special Education.
It would also “stimulate a process of contemplating redistricting,” Greenberg wrote.
But Council Chair John Farrell said it would also negate improvements the town made to the area eight years ago with economic development as the focus.
Farrell said, “Economic development was the focus of what we intended at that intersection.”
Farrell pointed out that the town received $1.28 million from the state for improvements at the intersection, plus funds from its own impact fees, in order to improve the intersection for economic growth and industrial development. “Now we’re just supposed to say, ‘Oh, never mind, we’ll do this instead’?” he asked.
“Should we rezone it for something else when the other form of government is strongly opposed?” Farrell asked.
Blatchford asked if economic development was specified when they did the improvements, and Farrell said it was.
“We had a number of companies approach the landowner at that time, and we learned that in order to do something, we needed to upgrade the intersection,” he told Blatchford. “We upgraded the intersection in 2009, with economic development as the reason.”
Farrell added, “Your client wants to change this to residential, which was not in the vision at the time we appropriated the money.”
Councilor Tom Dolan said, “We are seeing the industrial development happen now, at Pettengill Road. But it wasn’t happening at that time.”
Blatchford countered, “A number of those companies, including Milton CAT and FedEx, did look at this parcel.”
Blatchford said that with the slopes and wetlands, the portion of the parcel in question is “not appropriate for bigger users. Its physical features limit its industrial use.”
A wetland also bisects the property, cutting the proposed residential area off from the industrial, he said.
But Councilor Tom Freda said, “We took in $1.2 million from the state for a particular purpose. Do we have to give it back?”
Blatchford said not necessarily, adding, “There is still a substantial interest in the industrial land fronting on Page Road.”
“I am not in favor of it at this point,” Dolan said. “I’d like to see the town absorb the impact of the current residential developments.”
It’s not a “no” forever, Dolan added.
Farrell gave Blatchford two options. “You can withdraw the request and go back to the Planning Board, or I can call for a vote.” Blatchford withdrew the request, and the Council tabled the issue.