The Woodmont Commons project now known as Woodmont Village passed another milestone this past Wednesday night, Nov. 30.
After extensive questioning of the principals in “Woodmont” and a public hearing, the Londonderry Planning Board gave its unanimous approval to the Conditional Use Permit, two modifications to the Planned Usage Development document, three of four requested waivers and conditional approval of the project.
The approval was for the first phase of the build-out, the “downtown” of the planned walkable community. The town and the developers, Pillsbury Realty LLC, have been working on the concept, the first of its kind for Londonderry, since 2012.
Planning Board chair Art Rugg called the meeting “An historic occasion.”
John Trottier, assistant director of public works, reminded the board that the developers have 24 outstanding “checklist items” that they are working on with staff. Member Mary Wing Soares moved that the board waive the items for application acceptance only, and the board agreed.
In the beginning
Ari Pollack, an attorney with Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell in Concord, has been with the project since the beginning and introduced Jeff Kavan, the engineer on the project, and Mike Kettenbach, the developer.
Pollack reminded the board that the developers submitted the Planned Usage Development documents and Master Plan applications in the fall of 2013. “It is a blueprint for a new urban form of development, the ‘live, work, play’ concept,” he said.
The first shovels of earth were moved last year with the redevelopment of the Market Basket plaza, which will have a connector road to Woodmont. “That was our launching pad,” Pollack said.
While residents can walk to the Market Basket plaza and its plethora of shops, Woodmont will also have its own downtown, Pollack reminded the board. “It will be a walkable and pleasing environment,” he said.
The downtown will be developed over a period of five years, he said. “We will bite it off in chunks, we will produce the infrastructure in chunks,” Pollack said.
The architectural choices will be a “palette of preferences” and have been reviewed with the Heritage Commission, Pollack said. The stormwater management plan has been reviewed by Conservation.
Kavan took the microphone to sketch Woodmont’s “Main Street” plans, including 174,600 square feet of retail, a 568-seat restaurant, 119,000 square feet of office space, and a 10,000-square-foot brew pub. There will be 286 dwelling units and a 135-room hotel, he said.
A center Common will run down the middle of Main Street, with trees and other vegetation, at about 1/2 acre of green space, he said.
A detention pond next to the existing Duck Pond will receive most of the run-off from Main Street, he said. “We will use the pond as a recreational feature, with a walkway going around it,” he said. There will be a stone dust path for 7/10 of a mile.
Kavan said he has kept the development out of the wooded area, and will not be cutting any more trees around the pond.
Other components include improving the intersection of Route 102 and Garden Lane and the intersection of 102 and Gilcreast Road.
The connector road will have two lanes in each direction, a bike lane and sidewalks, he said. As the road approaches the roundabout and becomes Michels Way, it will transition to one lane in each direction, a bike lane and parallel parking, making it more pedestrian-friendly, he said.
Two roundabouts will “feed” into the development, he said. The road is small and tight, but fire and other emergency vehicles can maneuver, according to Kavan. As Michels Way connects with Pillsbury Road the parallel parking will drop off.
Kavan said the plan includes connecting the high-pressure water system on Gilcreast to a low-pressure system at Market Basket. The 12-inch water main will provide adequate water pressure for the first stage, he said. The Pennichuck Company of Nashua will build a water tower, but that is two to three years out, he said.
The work will be phased in, with the detention pond and drainage done first, then the road extended from Market Basket to the second roundabout. The brew pub will be the first building constructed, according to Kavan.
The sewer line will be extended from Garden Lane to the development, and some other buildings will be constructed, he said.
Offsite improvements are expected to be launched in spring 2018, Kavan said, with a design review with DOT of the 102 intersection. The 10-inch sewer line will be replaced with 15-inch pipes.
From spring 2018 to 2021, the other buildings will be built on Main Street, with input from tenants, he said.
Parking was designed according to the Urban Land Institute Mixed Usage Development calculations. The MUD calculations call for 1,703 spaces and Woodmont will have 1,718, he said. There will be two parking decks with 180 spaces on each, in addition to on-street parking. There will also be bike racks for residents and workers.
The town’s regulations for a development this size call for 14 acres of green space, and Pillsbury is providing 18.9 acres, he told the board. The Conservation Commission requires 3 acres of green space, and the plan right now is at 2.6, he said.
Traffic engineer Kevin Dandrade said the developers are planning to add an extra left turn from Michels Way to 102 eastbound. “At the town’s request, we are trying to avoid a wholesale widening of 102,” he said. He added that there would be no permanent “takings” of land outside the right-of-way.
Board and staff input
Board member Ann Chiampa asked where the water towers would be located, and Kavan said they would be on land Pennichuck already owns.
Chiampa asked how tall the towers would be, but Kavan said that was in Pennichuck’s purview.
Chiampa asked about a connection with the state Park-and-Ride, and Pollack said that would be part of the conversation with DOT.
Member Leitha Reilly asked about the Duck Pond and said that in previous conversations, it had been presented as more of a recreational area. “It looked as though it was going to be more of a focused area, a meeting place,” she said, noting that the pond is an asset to the project.
“There are some buildable areas around the pond,” Pollack responded. “A community center is part of our vision.”
Trottier asked for a time frame on the project. Dandrade said he was “on the cusp” of talks with the DOT.
“When will we see earth being moved?” Trottier pressed, and Dandrade said it would start this spring.
In the public input portion, Bob McLeod and Steve Berry, who own units in a professional office condo, expressed concern about Woodmont residents and visitors using their road as a “back door” into the development, noting that shoppers already use it as a cut-through to Market Basket.
“We are pro-business and pro-development,” McLeod said. “What we’re not excited about it the cut-through.”
Steve Pernoff, a traffic engineer working on the project, said that the team would work with the businesspeople for a solution.
“We reached out to the town in 2012 and never heard back,” McLeod said, to which Pollack said, “We will not ignore you. We will work with the existing conditions — we will work with anyone.”
Jack Semplinski, owner of Benchmark Engineering, another business in the area, said, “That intersection was not designed for this amount of traffic.”
Community member Mike Speltz also expressed concern about the traffic, noting, “If you’re going south on Gilcreast at 5 to 6 p.m., the cars are already lined up beyond what you can see. It’s a huge problem.” Speltz said in his opinion, turning lanes would not solve the problem.
Speltz also expressed concern about the stormwater management plan. “Will the water from this development stay in the development?” He noted the increase in impervious surfaces.
“It is incumbent on us to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Pollack responded.
Speltz said the project feeds into the Complete Streets concept, which he supports. He asked the developers to find a safe way for pedestrians and bikers to cross 102, and noted that the complex, which is built on a former apple orchard, has prime agricultural soils. “Perhaps there could be community gardens for the residents,” he suggested.
After the votes, Rugg reminded the board and developers that this was a conditional approval, “With a lot of conditions.” He told the developers, “I’m sure you’ll be back before us.”
“We have a lot accomplished and a lot yet to do,” Pollack said.