Man-Made Wetlands May Slow Senior Housing Project

A number of man-made wetlands may slow the implementation of affordable senior housing in Londonderry.

Developer Steven Lewis spoke at the May 25 meeting of the Conservation Commission about the property at 30 Sanborn Road.

Town Manager Kevin Smith said Lewis had come to him and Town Planner Colleen Mailloux with an update. “The wetlands footprint,” Smith said, “has changed considerably.”

Lewis explained that the plans had originally been done before the town had to “clean up” the site. Several berms have been created and water has been sitting in them for two to three years, creating man-made wetlands.

“If you make a ridge, water can’t get out,” Lewis said. “Whether it’s manmade or not, it’s still a wetland.”

While the manmade wetlands and subsequent aquatic plants are a significant change to the parcel, it is not a do-or-die situation, Lewis said. But, he said, a wetland is a wetland and this will require a dredge-and-fill permit.

Lewis said that in the past he would simply knock the berms out and let the water drain out. But this is a Federal project and has stricter standards, he said.

“Even dumps,” he said, “have to be carefully soil-mapped.”

The original plan did not include the manmade wetlands, Lewis reminded the commission. “We haven’t had to change the plans, but this new soil map will change the process,” he said.

One of the newly-discovered wetlands is out of the way and will not affect the process going forward, according to Lewis.

The project is in three phases, and the first phase should go forward without any issues, Lewis said. But one of the wetlands is in the area mapped out for Phase Two. “It is by the road and affects a tremendous amount of frontage,” he said.

Lewis said he could make the buildings work in the area by raising them one foot above the 100-year floodplain.

He dealt with a similar situation in Salem, he said. “There was a lot where the state pulled out material to make the highway,” Lewis said. “They just left it that way. We went in, regraded it, did some plantings, and ended the neighborhood flooding problem.”

He could do the same in Londonderry, he said, noting that the Sanborn Road piece is a “relatively flat” site, and the “parent soils” are good, he said. The soil beneath the wetland soil is upland soil, Lewis told the Commission.

Chairman Marge Badois asked about a time frame and Lewis said, “The Federal government moves slowly.” They expect to file the application in 2016, receive the funding in 2017, and begin building in 2018, he said.

Lewis said, “I just wanted you to know up front that we ran into this. We will have to come in for a dredge-and-fill for an area we didn’t know existed.”

The Town Council approved the project in January to build affordable senior housing on 13.67 acres of town-owned land. The property is a former junkyard and classified as a Brownfields site.

Lewis has developed similar projects, including Braemoor Woods in Salem.

He is proposing three buildings with 36 to 40 units each and a community garden, a playground for visiting grandchildren, and trails connecting to the Londonderry Rail Trail. He is applying for Federal tax credits.

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