Multiple Variances Likely for Stonehenge Workforce Housing

The Planning Board is considering a proposal for an apartment complex featuring “workforce” housing units on Stonehenge Road.

But citing economic challenges he will face during construction, such as the cost of extending water and sewer to the site and the construction of elevators in each building to accommodate senior residents, Windham developer Raja Khanna told the board he will likely seek a variance to reduce the minimum workforce housing occupancy requirement from 75 percent to around 50 percent.

“I was hoping to see a development that adheres to the law, not a development that works around it,” member Lynn Wiles said.

Member Scott Benson also expressed concern with reducing the number of workforce housing units offered, noting the increase in dwellings per unit, if permitted, would mean the developer would gain a significant number of units at full-market value.

“There’s no ordinance anymore. They’re gutting it,” Marty Srugis of 17 Wimbledon Drive said following the meeting. “This is the third building that has come to town that has asked for a reduction in the amount of workforce units.”

Srugis said the town loses out on impact fees and the large development creates a “quality issue for the town,” detracting from Londonderry’s “small town feeling.”

Khanna said economic challenges associated with developing the 62.29 acre site must be subsidized in some way, and decreasing the number of workforce units would be the best way to do that.

The developer also anticipates he will request a variance from the 16 unit-per-building limit in the ordinance to allow for construction of 24-unit buildings, as well as a variance from the limitation on residential construction in multi-family workforce housing developments to no more than 48 dwelling units per year.

Khanna said he would like to complete the project over a span of three years, as it’s difficult to secure a loan for a project that stretches out over the six to eight years it would take to complete the proposed apartment complex without the variance.

The conceptual presentation described construction of eighteen 16-unit buildings and twelve 24-unit buildings in the heart of the two-lot property.

The development would have a “college campus” feel, with three-story, garden-style rental buildings located around a centrally-based community build-ing for residents, said Steven Keach of Keach-Nordstrom Associates, Inc., an engineering services company in Bedford that is representing Khanna.

The community building would likely feature a fitness room, entertainment space, and possibly meeting rooms and an audio-visual space. The developer also envisions a central mail facility, with the site designed to foster a spirit of community among residents.

Member Leitha Reilly, who plans to take a look at the property again, asked the developer to re-consider three-story build-ings, as their location on the already elevated property could potentially “create an eyesore.”

Members also raised concerns about the cost of the “affordable” units the complex would offer – pricing for the workforce housing units was determined using information from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.

For 2014, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority estimates the maximum affordable monthly rent for Western Rockingham County, which includes Londonderry, is $1,440.

Khanna said his workforce housing units would be in the range of $1,400, which would include his renters’ utilities.

“I realize you’re doing this to make a profit, but there are some seniors who can’t afford $1,400 each month on their fixed incomes,” said Jim Butler, the board’s town council liaison. “Would you consider offering a percentage of units that would accommodate seniors who can’t afford $1,400? If there’s any way you can help us help the seniors, it would be very much appreciated.”

Khanna said he would consider Butler’s request, adding the complex will include more affordable one-bedroom units, which would offer sufficient space for a senior resident living alone, or perhaps an older couple.

“This is a big investment for my client and they want to yield a favorable project for themselves and for the Town of Londonderry,” Keach said.

In addition to considering members’ input during the conceptual discussion, Keach and Khanna said a complete traffic study of the area will be completed as a next step in moving forward with the project.

This is the second workforce housing project proposed for the site. The first generated neighborhood opposition and ended up going nowhere, with the property going back to the bank.

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