Is the Grass Greener Next Door?

At last week’s Derry Town Council public hearing on the Land Use Change Tax, Derry Conservation Commission chairman Margaret Ives pointed out that the town had a chance years ago to buy the Murdoch-White property on South Main Street, and chose not to do so.

What’s there now? The Fairways, a huge apartment complex.

At that same meeting, the Town Council met with the Derry Planning Board to discuss multi-family housing. And everyone seemed to agree that Derry has plenty.

Derry has been seeing more plans lately for multi-family housing, and neighbors are not happy. Planning Director George Sioras said of the new proposals, “The infrastructure, including town sewer and water, is reading for multifamily housing. The neighbors, not so much.”

That’s somewhat of an understatement. Local boards have heard neighbors decry the potential change to their neighborhoods, property values and lifestyles that apartment complexes would bring. And while the projects meet zoning requirements, the question remains: are they meeting the needs of the townspeople or being built to maximize developers’ profits.

While New Hampshire towns are obligated to provide workforce housing, Derry already does so more than adequately.

Referring to building a three-story apartment building in a residential neighborhood, Planning Board alternate Mark Flattes said, “it’s as toxic as building a cement plant.”

That may be going a little far, but there’s also the matter of taxes. “If it’s an 18-unit apartment, there is no way we’ll get the taxes out of it to pay for what we’re giving in services,” Town Councilor Al Dimmock said. And he’s right.

Derry has one of the highest tax rates in the state. Its number of apartments contributes mightily to that situation.

Derry is not looking to eliminate new multi-family projects entirely, but may alter the ordinance to reduce the number of units allowed. Work on this matter will continue.

As it does, we suggest Londonderry pay attention to the issues raised. Have large apartment units, such as projects currently planned for Londonderry, helped Derry? Just how much workforce housing does Londonderry need, and does it have to be in large, sterile, multi-family buildings?

The answer to that last question, by the way, is no. But in contrast to what Derry is considering, multi-family buildings in Londonderry are getting variances to allow them to exceed established size and occupancy levels on a regular basis.

Londonderry would do well to consider what is going on next door, and pay attention to what is happening at home.

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