Heritage Sends Woodmont Design on to Planning Board

The developers of Woodmont Commons believe in the three R’s — retail, restaurant and residential, preferably in the same space.

The lead attorney and the engineer for the project came before the Heritage Commission at its Sept. 22 meeting to receive input on the design features of the planned mixed-use development. While some members had concerns and asked for tweaking, the group as a whole recommended that the design for land and buildings be forwarded to the Planning Board.

Ari Pollack, an attorney who has been with Woodmont since its inception and Jeff Kavan, an engineer with T. F. Moran, presented a plan for the architecture and streetscape. Pollack reviewed the project so far, saying that the PUD (Planned Unit Development) and accompanying Master Plan were approved by the Planning Board in fall 2013.

“It is the first development of its kind for Londonderry,” Pollack said. “It’s a novel development concept where you can live, work and play in the same place.”

It is a “customized district” and more than could be accomplished with a municipal ordinance, Pollack added.

The effort so far has included redesigning the Market Basket Plaza. The old grocery was torn down, a new Market Basket built, and local stores relocated, including Annie’s Hallmark and the State Liquor Store from the previous Market Basket plaza and T.J. Maxx and Home Goods from another plaza in town. In addition, the parking lot was expanded, and several “pad sites” were created for future freestanding businesses.

“This sets the stage,” Pollack said. “It is the gateway to Woodmont.”

Pollack and Kavan presented Phase I of Woodmont to the group. It includes Michels Way, the new connector road to Gilcreast Road, a new detention pond surrounded by a green area, and the downtown, including retail, restaurants and residential. Some of the businesses are already under agreement, Pollack said; some are in negotiations; and some are interested.

The project is expected to have a 20-year build-out, with the downtown alone taking five years. Pollack explained, “We want to get your likes and dislikes.”

He prefaced Kavan’s remarks by noting, “Nothing like this exists now in Londonderry or New Hampshire. It will be unique from what’s around it. It’s not radically different from classic New England architecture – but you won’t see single-family homes, you won’t see cul-de-sacs.”

“It is tasteful, attractive, inviting – but it’s different,” Pollack said.

In the slow lane

Kavan said MIchels Way narrows to one lane each way after the shopping plaza, with sidewalks and a bike lane. The objective is to keep traffic slow, he said. There is a three-quarter–mile path around the detention pond, which he predicted will “see a lot of activity.”

The first phase covers 60 acres and is a mix of retail, restaurants and offices on the first and second floors. There will be a brew pub with outdoor seating, and an entertainment venue, he said.

There will also be 170,000 square feet of office space, 260 residential units and a hotel with 135 rooms. An assisted living facility on the north side is part of the future plans, he said, and would have 250 units.

The area will be walkable, with parallel parking by the sidewalks and diagonal parking along a central green area or common. The common won’t just be a median island, but will have benches and be a venue for outdoor events, he said.

There will be varying heights to the buildings, ranging from one story to four, Kavan told the group. Parking lots will be placed behind buildings.

Up on the roof

Kavan led the group through some of the proposed architectural styles, from a Beacon-Hill style townhouse to a brick block reminiscent of Portsmouth to farmhouse and clapboard styles. The Brew Pub will have a barn-style design, complete with silos to hold deliveries of brewing ingredients.

Deliveries will be planned for off-peak times, so as to minimize disruption, Kavan said.

Waste and snow removal will be conducted by a private firm.

Kavan said the plantings by the detention pond and existing Duck Pond will be native trees such as maple and oak. The landscape architect is also planning to mix it up with flowering crabapple and flowering pear, he said.

Member Janet Cichocki had a question about the flat roofs, noting, “I don’t know why we use flat roofs in New England.” The roofs often fail under snow load, she said.

Kavan said the longer the span of a building, the more difficult it is to put in a peaked or mansard roof.

Pollack said one reason the larger buildings have flat roofs is so the builders can put the “mechanicals” on the roof, thus saving space and aesthetics in the lower levels. Also, he said, “These roofs are built to bear a snow load.”

Member David Colglazier had questions about the aesthetics. “The buildings all seem to be the same height, though their materials are different textures,” he observed. He pointed to one sloped roof with dormers and said, “I would like to see more of these, or more mansard roofs.”

Colglazier compared most of the downtown buildings to “blocks with different fronts.”

He was also concerned about one larger stone building with a tower, noting that “I expect to see larger stone blocks with a structure that size.”

Member Noreen Villalona observed, “I did not expect to see a city within a city. I thought of Brooklyn or Queens, New York. But this is pastureland, farmland.”

Kavan agreed, noting, “The only thing it’s close to in New Hampshire is Portsmouth.”

Member Tom Bianchi asked about stone walls and Pollack said while none are planned at the time, it could happen, especially if stones native to the property are discovered during the earth work.

And Colglazier returned to the topic of traffic, saying he wasn’t sure the developers could “keep it that slow,” even with the single lanes and bike paths.

“You may need enforcement,” Colglazier warned.

“If we have to go to Plan B, we will,” Pollack responded.

Colglazier also noted that at least in the drawings, the commercial fronts of each building all look alike and seem to be at odds with the other two and three stories. “They should be designed from top to bottom, not like they came along at different times,” he said.

John Vogl, the staff member assigned to Heritage, said that when the Planning Board approves the design, it will do it as an overall design and not building by building.

Chairman Marty Srugis said, “This is still in the concept stage. We have to look at the whole picture.” When Woodmont was initially proposed, he said, there was a lot of skepticism as to the promised design. “But you are moving in the direction you said you would,” he told Pollack and Kavan.

The committee voted unanimously to pass the plan on to the Planning Board.

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