Londonderry keeps growing and town administrators want to work with locals to keep it under control. Last week, Town Planner Colleen Mailloux and Town Manager Kevin Smith joined Town Council Chairman Tom Dolan to discuss with the public what the town’s best options are to manage the increase in growth the town is expected to see in the next few years.
Londonderry has become a go-to spot in southern New Hampshire, with an average growth rate of 1.13 percent for the past six years. The local population in 2014 was just over 24 thousand and is projected to grow to 27 thousand by 2020. More people living in town means more money will need to be spent on services like police, schools and the fire department.
Mailloux explained that in the last seven years, the town has seen about 716 housing units built. That’s about a hundred a year. With a steady population increase like that becoming common across southern NH, Mailloux said there is a concern about housing costs and availability, not to mention the financial impact it will have on Londonderry in the future.
The town administrators proposed several different ways the town can keep things from getting out of hand. One way is through the master plan for the town. Another is through land acquisition and easements. There is also a capital improvement plan, managing public infrastructure, town staff technical assistance and growth management ordinances. Each solution has its pros and cons, and residents may want to consider more than one to help manage growth in a way that will be best for Londonderry.
In 2010, the Open Space Task Force identified different land parcels around town for acquisition. In the last seven years, the town has acquired 100 acres. These pieces are part of conservation lands or easements, according to Mailloux. One of the issues with trying to control growth strictly through land acquisition is the town is dependent on if the land is available and if the owners want to sell it back to the town.
Zoning ordinances help to control what can be built where. 73 percent of Londonderry is what is called an AR1 zone, or an agricultural/residential zone that supports single family homes and duplexes. The town administrators could change the zoning ordinances to control housing or industrial builds, but that would only do so much. This is where managing the public infrastructure could come in handy. If there is no access to utilities, developers could be less likely to want to build in certain areas.
Phase development is another way to help manage projects, like Woodmont Commons. It’s currently in phase one, and will go onto phase two in a few years and phase three a few years after that. By spacing out the phases, it allows municipal services like police, fire and the school district to budget for if they will need to add more buildings to accommodate for the new residents.
Londonderry used to have a growth management ordinance, but it sunset in 2015. Back then, the town was doing well enough financially to maintain and improve its infrastructure, so it was deemed unnecessary to keep it up, according to Dolan. One of the provisions of a GMO is to have a sunset clause built in. This was the town can “restrict projected normal growth no more than is necessary,” said Mailloux in her presentation.
“GMOs don’t restrict population, it delays it,” said Dolan.
When the meeting was turned to public discussion, residents jumped at the chance to speak. One proposal was to have a “cost benefit” analysis study done so people can see how development versus conservation would affect costs and taxes. Having the numbers available would help tax payers see makes more economic sense, developments or conservation. Town Council member Jim Butler suggested that maybe conservation should be more “proactive.” He believed “we have to just start saying ‘no’” to developers’ requests for waivers.
Smith explained that not all of the areas in town available for development are “shovel ready.” Some have too many wetlands or are on slopes or would require too many waivers and changes before they could be built on. One way to help curb development would be to prioritize. “What tracks of land that could be developed are really worth developing?” Smith asked. By answering that, the town would have a better idea of whom to grant permits to first and how many should be given out.
Martin Srugis, Chairman of the Heritage Commission made the point that working on the GMO now is a little like “putting the cart before the horse.” and added that these meetings may be too late with all the development happening.
There will be a second meeting on Oct. 21 at 8 a.m. for anyone who wants to take part in a brainstorming session. The first meeting was to inform the public of their current options. If people can’t make it to the next meeting, Mailloux said at the budget meeting that they can visit her office or email her. Her email address can be found on the town website.
“We’re always here as staff willing to hear concerns the public has,” said Mailloux.