Town Manager Kevin Smith and members of the Planning Board presented their findings from a recent trip to North Carolina for a firsthand look at a completed shopping center the proposed Woodmont Commons development is being modeled after.
“It was very beneficial,” Smith said last week of the visit, noting he is very happy with Pillsbury Realty’s choice to hire Shook Kelley to complete the Planned Unit Development (PUD) for Woodmont Commons after seeing the firm’s completed designs in Birkdale Village, N.C.
But not everyone agreed the trip was of value to the Town – Dana Coons, a member of the Town’s Budget Committee, questioned how the trip was paid for, calling it a waste of resources.
Smith, however, said the trip “was no cost to the Town.”
Pillsbury Realty Principal Mike Kettenbach was going to North Carolina to meet with the designers of his Woodmont Commons development, and he invited Smith and other town officials to fill empty seats on his plane, according to Smith, who ran the trip by the Town Attorney.
“As a resident, I believe a trip paid for by the developer is a conflict of interest,” Coons said.
Smith said the visit was an opportunity to learn more about the design of the project that will be coming to Londonderry and how the Town can prepare for the major changes Londonderry will undergo as a result of the massive commercial development.
“I was very impressed with Shook Kelley and the thought they put into the design of Birkdale Village. They planned the design so it doesn’t feel stale, like a shopping strip,” Smith said. “When we all got out of the car, we all virtually had the same reaction, ‘there’s nothing in New Hampshire like this – the way it’s designed, and the look and feel of it. It reminded me of Winchester Mass., or Newton, that have the older downtowns with the smaller streets. This development had the mixed-use, with accessory dwelling units above and commercial, retail below. It really had a ‘wow’ factor, that nothing in the Northeast really has.”
The 52-acre commercial center features curved roads, which help keep speed down, multiple parking garages and expansive green spaces spanning the length of the village.
“One thing they did say is the lighting they used in this development they would do differently with Woodmont. They used LED lighting throughout, but they weren’t downcast lights,” Smith said.
In addition to visiting Birkdale Village, Smith, accompanied by Planning Board members Rick Brideau and Gianni Verani, walked through a failed PUD in North Carolina.
“There weren’t all the different designs of accessory dwelling units. The condominiums were all the same-looking, and it was all very linear. It looked like big apartment buildings,” Smith said.
The group also visited with the mayor of Huntersville, who shared her community’s experiences adjusting to the substantial development in their town.
Smith said Huntersville’s population rose from 3,000 residents in 1990, before Birkdale Village was constructed in 2000, to 54,000 residents today.
And at 52 acres, Birkdale Village is much smaller in scope and scale than the proposed 600-plus-acre Woodmont Commons development off Exit 4 of Interstate 93 in Londonderry.
“We don’t anticipate that happening in Londonderry, but to say it changed the face of that area down there would be an understatement,” Smith said.
Overall, Smith told the Board the mayor spoke positively about the Village and said it has been a great asset for the community, bringing many new community events.
“The community next to Huntersville, prior to Birkdale Village being built, was ‘the’ place to live, with a population of 10,000 to 15,000 residents. They had the opportunity to have Birkdale in their community, and rejected it. So, it went to Huntersville, and now Huntersville is the place to live and the other community is losing population,” he said.
In their meeting with the mayor, the group also discussed the development’s impact on police and fire services.
“Huntersville doesn’t have their own local fire department. It’s done by the county. But their police force grew quite a bit. The force now has about 96 employees,” Smith said.
Verani said the mayor shared concerns her community had about crime among youth in the development’s new parking garages, noting she advised additional lighting would help ameliorate those issues.
“They just needed more officers, but the development hasn’t increased crime,” Smith said
Moving forward, the mayor of Huntersville will be connecting the Town with their city planner and public safety officer for a conference call with Londonderry staff to discuss what Londonderry should be planning for with the new development coming down the road, according to Smith.
“We did talk to the mayor about how Huntersville had a commercial downtown, similar to Main Street in Derry. They had struggled trying to get that area revitalized even after the Village was built,” he said. “Londonderry doesn’t have that problem in not having a commercial downtown. I took away that this is so different than the Town Common area. There have been concerns the Town Common area is going to become obsolete once Woodmont goes in. But the Town Common is historic – it’s part of our tradition in town. This really had a commercial downtown retail feel to it. I don’t see any conflict with the two. In fact, I think they’ll complement each other nicely because they are so distinct from one another.”
The Woodmont Commons buildout is under way, having launched in May with Pillsbury Realty’s presentation of the conceptual design for a private driveway connection to Pillsbury Road and the redesign of the Nashua Road (Route 102) Market Basket site.
Most recently, the Conservation Commission unanimously approved a dredge and fill permit application for the first phase of Woodmont Commons construction.
The relocation of an existing detention basin on the Market Basket site is necessary to make way for the construction of an access road to the future Woodmont Commons development, which is to begin at Garden Lane and wrap around the Market Basket Plaza before connecting with Pillsbury Road.
The proposed access road needs Planning Board approval for construction in the wetland buffer and other site improvements to move forward.
Smith said Director of Cable Services Drew Caron, who also traveled to Birkdale Village with the group, will produce a presentation with photos and video he captured during the visit, to be aired on Londonderry Access Television.