Freda’s Warrant Article Increases Town Share of Land Use Tax

Before interviewing several candidates for positions on various boards and committees, the Town Council gave a brief presentation on the Town’s open space inventory.

According to the findings of the 2010 Open Space Task Force Report, Londonderry had 4,047 acres of permanently protected open spaces in either Town ownership or easements, in addition to 4,205 acres of “partially protected” land.

That means roughly 30 percent of Londonderry’s total land area is open space, compared with the Society for Preservation of New Hampshire Forests’ recommendation to preserve at least 25 percent of a community’s land for a network of trails, parks and forests.

Town Councilor Tom Freda, who has proposed a Warrant Article to increase the Town’s share of Land Use Change Tax with the Conservation Commission, noted the Town has expended a total of $10.6 million to achieve that percentage of open space.

According to Freda’s Article, the first $1,000 the Town generates in Land Use Change Tax would no longer go to the Conservation Commission, but rather the Town and Commission would share the revenue, with 40 percent going to the Commission and the remaining 60 percent to the General Fund.

In 2013, the Town brought in a total of $126,515 in Land Use Change Tax, of which, $110,606 was distributed to the Conservation Commission and $15,909 went to the General Fund.

The distribution to the General Fund in 2015 was higher – with a total of $564,879 in Land Use Change Tax, the Conservation Commission received $285,951 and $278,927 went into the General Fund.

“I think we’re shirking our responsibility when we say we’ll just pass (the cost of purchasing more open space) onto the taxpayer,” Freda said, noting the Town has cut funding in all other areas, including the Library and Fire Department. “If people are stretched, isn’t it up to us to say, ‘let’s rein this in?’ There’s over $1 million in the open space fund, and they get money every year added to that. Why are we doing that if we have 30 percent of the land in open space protected?”

Conservation Commissioner Roger Fillio argued that parcels should be scrutinized individually for purchase as conservation land, particularly parcels that can’t be developed.

“If we can acquire more swampland that will never be developed, we should keep it for recreational use, if nothing else,” he said. “When we talk about the open space we have, we don’t have as much development as we’re going to get here – 30 percent sounds like a lot now, but there are a lot of little pieces in there, pieces that are only two to three acres.”

“I think we should always keep an open mind about open space. If we could have 270 housing units versus the Commission buying the property, there may be a conversation about that,” Councilor Jim Butler said. “We can’t predict the future.”

Mike Byerly of 1 King Charles Drive, who interviewed for a position on the Commission, said he thinks “generally, more open space is better than more housing.

“Where new housing is built, I would like to see more greenery around it. One of the things that attracted me to Londonderry is you see open green space and not houses on top of each other,” he said.

Freda said he is looking for appointed members of the Conservation Commission to scrutinize purchasing more open space with a critical eye.

When asked how much land he thinks should be preserved as open space, Byerly said the amount of open space the Town has “feels right” to him.

“I feel like I live in a town that has a good amount of open space that contributes to the quality of life in town,” he said. “But with things like Woodmont (Commons development) chipping away at it, it isn’t going in the right direction. I don’t feel like we need more, but if I were in your shoes, those are the things I’d want to be prioritizing.”

Julie Christenson Collins of 23 Rossini Road, who also interviewed for a position on the Commission, said she would take a “wait and see” approach to purchasing more open space.

“I wouldn’t say it’s enough, but I don’t think we need to do more,” she said. “I think I would need to look at what the specific situation is. I would not rule anything out. I’m not saying I would never vote to purchase more land for open space, but I would want to take a look at the  individual situation.”

Because Fillio, an alternate member, unexpectedly requested the Council appoint him to the full-member position open on the Commission, the Council continued its vote on the appointments until the Commission can weigh in.

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