Planning Board Faces More Controversy Over Gravel Road

by John Seidenberg
A request to build a single family home on a relative’s property sparked a Planning Board lengthy discussion on town obligations versus state jurisdiction, project obstacles, family connections, and keeping younger residents in Londonderry.

In a conceptual review before it formally comes before the board, planning members at their April 14 meeting examined a proposed consolidation and subdivision plan to turn two existing lots of 10.75 acres into three at 5 and 9 Greeley Road, a Class V Road, zoned AR-1.

Adam Cole, the applicant, was asking to create a lot in the middle on Greeley Road. He and his fiancée Paige Whitten want to build a house there. One lot is owned by her parents, Scott and Louise Whitten, and the other by her brother Zachary Whitten.

The couple requested the board consider waiving the town’s subdivision requirements for all lots to have road access. Their project would entail upgrading some 845 feet of Greeley Road, a two-way unpaved gravel road, up to town standards.

The road is owned and maintained by the town and currently has five houses but doesn’t meet town safety standards of having a width of 20 feet. The proposed house would require off-site improvement work to Greeley Road.

At the same time, the road doesn’t meet National Fire Protection Association requirements for access roads under the fire code. A road must be 24-feet wide and support the weight of a fire vehicle. The planning board has no authority over the NFPA fire code.

Brian Johnson, Londonderry fire prevention division chief, told the board his department can’t offer a waiver on state fire code regulations because they are law. The issue is not a new dwelling on the road as for any building constructed there now, he said, the fire code must be met.

This project is currently in design review involving input from planning staff, town engineers, the Heritage Commission, and the police and fire departments.

For Cole and Whitten, their wish to build their own home represents a desire to remain close to family and in town and after they become parents to have their children attend school in Londonderry and be part of the local community.

Town engineers have told them they could pay for widening and paving the road or build on the brother’s lot without subdividing it, but doing that wouldn’t address the NFPA road requirements.

This has become a matter of applicant responsibility to make a lot accessible as opposed to having to upgrade an entire roadway to build a house, something the couple said is well beyond their financial means.

At the meeting, Whitten pointed out the town hasn’t taken steps to improve Greeley Road which it owns. The couple questioned why they would be prevented from subdividing the land if the town hasn’t upgraded the road it’s on.

This dilemma may explain why NH has trouble attracting younger residents to build in the state and fill jobs, said Administrative official ex-officio Bruce Hallowell.

The board pondered whether there could be a waiver that doesn’t burden the town or compromise safety. Some members wondered if there must be a fire access road to a new house built, but not the entire road, could the intent of code be met by coming from Old Nashua Road to the lot driveway and just doing improvement to a certain point.

The Planning Board can waive the town standard of having a paved road and allow a gravel road. But the board’s ability to waive certain regulations is limited by state statute, Chairman Arthur Rugg added.

Town Council ex-officio Deb Paul called for the council to address road safety and similar situations affecting families.

Member Roger Fillio suggested other residents of the road could share costs for an upgrade, while member Al Sypek said another option might be Cole and Whitten petitioning for a warrant article at the Town Meeting next March to upgrade the road.

Granting the waiver could have unintended consequences, said member Lynn Wiles, if those who live on other town roads make similar requests.

Town Planner Colleen Mailloux said the issue would be the board granting waivers over the entirety of the road standards and not just lane width as well as other associated improvements.

Hallowell also asked about an alternative entrance to the back of the lot through a right of way from another street such as Chartwell Court and if that could meet the town and NFPA requirements for the applicant.

In being close enough to one end of the road, Cole said maybe just the first 300 feet of Greeley could meet the NFPA standards for a new building up to the existing driveway and be acceptable to the town.

There would still have to be compliance with the zoning ordinances, Mailloux added.

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