Growth Management Ordinance Set to End at Close of Year

Stu Arnett of the Arnett Development Group and Roger Hawk of Hawk Planning Resources, LLC held a workshop at the Planning Board concerning the town’s Growth Management Ordinance (GMO), with the result that the ordinance will likely sunset at the end of this year.

The pair told the board at its Wednesday, March 12 meeting that the ordinance is supposed to be a reaction to criteria that indicate a town is in a period of unsustainable growth, and noted that Londonderry has not fit those criteria for eight years

Arnett noted the Growth Management Ordinance is part of the zoning ordinance and is a tool used every year to make a determination as to whether the town is in a period of sustainable growth. If it is determined the town is in a period of unsustainable growth, the Town imposes a limit on the number of building permits issued for the year.

The ordinance is a way to put a temporary cap on growth when it is determined the town’s infrastructure and services cannot support the amount of development taking place. If the number of building permits is restricted because of an unsustainable growth determination, the town gets a chance to catch up with its infrastructure and services by slowing down the growth.

According to the Growth Management Ordinance, the criteria are:

• The rate of residential development at which the number of pupils projected by the Londonderry School Board to be enrolled in the Londonderry School System would not in any year exceed the stated capacity of the Londonderry School System in that year, based upon facilities development as contained in the Capital Improvement Program most recently approved by the Planning Board, and/or

• The rate of residential development determined by the Planning Board based upon careful studies and consultation with the agencies involved to be the highest which would not exceed the town’s capacity to service growth with public facilities other than schools, as planned in the six-year Capital Improvement Program most recently approved by the Planning Board, together with facilities anticipated to be provided by developers and others, and/or

• The combined municipal and school appropriations for capital expenditures, including debt service and capital outlay, will on average exceed 15 percent of the total municipal and school department appropriations combined over the period covered in the current Capital Improvement Program.

Londonderry Comprehensive Planner John Vogl said that if any one of the three criteria is not met, the whole criteria are determined to be “not met,” and the town is in a period of sustainable growth.

The GMO was adopted in 1988 and readopted in 1998. Its current expiration date is Jan. 1, 2015.

RSA 674:22, III states that an ordinance adopted under that section must include a termination date “and shall restrict projected normal growth no more than is necessary to allow for orderly and good-faith development of municipal services.” The ordinance must be reviewed at least annually.

Hawk emphasized the GMO is not intended to limit growth but to bring infrastructure up to meet the needs of growth.

“With the Town Hall, schools and police station and other infrastructure, the town is in a good position and is in a period of sustainable growth and has been for a while,” Hawk said.

Arnett said there are tools for guiding development such as a Master Plan, Capital Improvement Plan, and development agreements. He said that checks and balances to growth management also include zoning requirements, site plan requirements, the ability to create an emergency GMO should one not be in place, and public awareness.

In the last decade, periods of unsustainable growth were determined when the local growth rate exceeded the regional rate and the Town’s share of municipal debt for capital improvements exceeded 15 percent, in the years 2004 and 2005. Hawk said because Londonderry has not had unsustainable growth in eight years, having a GMO on the books is not necessary, especially in light of the fact that if needed, an emergency GMO could be created. He said the GMO should be allowed to sunset – i.e., to cease to exist.

Board member Chris Davies asked if there should be something in place to measure whether a GMO is needed, should this one sunset.

“We can keep track of that information, it could be logged and reported to the board on an annual basis, with or without a GMO in place,” Vogl said.

Board member Mary Wing Soares asked if developable land was running out and sought information on the number of students that could be expected.

“It’s true that developable land is going fast,” Vogl said. “Build-out for the town is between 30,000 and 37,000, depending on how much density you allow per the Master Plan. But at 30,000 residents at the low end, which would be 4,000 more residents, you’d be looking at a 3.1 family size, and I think you’d have just shy of 1,000 (students), but at the same time that would not be over the next five years but more like the next 30 years.”

Board member Lynn Wiles asked Hawk about the risk of keeping the GMO on the books for the next 10 years, when the town would be closer to build-out.

“I hope your town attorney has advised you of this, but all the positives that have come out since this GMO was put in place, you’ve got your services in order and growth is under reasonable control, and I think you having this on the books, continuing to use that provision, is going to subject you to potential legal action, and you really can avoid that by getting rid of this ordinance,” Hawk said.

Resident Mike Speltz said he didn’t think anyone would take legal action if the town were in sustainable growth. If the town were not in sustainable growth, then the GMO would be in place.

He noted that the Woodmont Planned Unit Development (PUD) is grandfathered to all of the town ordinances.

“If the GMO expires, then it no longer applies, however if the scenario that Mary asked about earlier, all of a sudden we could have a real spike in development,” Speltz said.

Vogl said there are other provisions in the Woodmont development agreement that would “kick in” and protect the town, such as a dedication of land for police and fire services and the requirement for the PUD to be tax positive.

Planning Board Chairman Art Rugg said that given that they were in workshop session, if the board does nothing, the ordinance will sunset at the end of the year.

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