Planning Board Hears Plan for Commercial District

Town of Londonderry will take a closer look at how it defines a commercial district, with an eye toward providing business and retail while keeping the flavor of the town.

GIS Manager and Comprehensive Planner John Vogl presented a draft plan for the proposed Commercial Performance District. He discussed the plan in the April 12 Planning Board meeting, accompanied by consultant Bill Parker of the Arnett Development Group.

Vogl said the proposed district would combine the current Commercial I, Commercial II and MUC (Mixed Use Commercial) districts for a more streamlined code.

Vogl explained that the current commercial districts, on routes 28 and 102, have a mix of uses which is complicated by a Performance Overlay District. The POD was put in to help control design issues and scale, but has become “onerous,” according to Vogl.

The goal of the proposed CPD is to retain the design and characteristics of the current districts, while “simplifying and coalescing” the zoning, he said.

The revised zoning would include new language to reinforce good design principles for Londonderry, Vogl said. “Currently, we rely on the Heritage Commission to keep design appropriate,” he said. “This (the new zoning) would give the Planning Board a leg to stand on when it comes to design.”

The Planning Board will receive another tool when standards fro roofing and exterior finishes are moved into the zoning ordinance, he said.

Existing language on vehicle access, parking and loading and minimum setbacks will carry over to the new ordinance, he said.

The ordinance will contain “strong language” that outdoor storage and loading docks remain out of sight, he said.

The CPD would allow more provisions for pedestrian access, he said, including right-of-ways, sidewalks, trails and easements set aside for the future.

The new zoning if approved would limit most buildings to a 60,000-square-foot footprint, he said, “unless it is otherwise provided for in the building footprint.”

“This is the average size of a supermarket,” Vogl said.

Board member Gianni Verani observed that residents have been asking for a Target store, and that Target footprints are larger than 60,000 feet.

Planner Colleen Mailloux clarified that building size will be subject to the conditional use permit. “If there’s an overwhelming demand for a particular store or business, it could be approved,” she said.

Vogl said, “Our goal is to use the Innovative Zoning permit of state law.” A developer can ask the board for a conditional use permit for a larger building, “and it’s up to the board to grant it,” he said.

Verani wasn’t sure of the effect on the developer. “Suppose a developer goes through the engineering cycle, spends hundreds of thousands of dollars, then he’s told he can’t do it?”

Verani added, “I think there should be a mechanism up front.

Mailloux agreed that could be a problem. “Someone can come in for a conceptual discussion, and get the sense of the board, but that is no guarantee,” she said.

Verani noted that a piece of developable land near Vista Ridge could support a facility as large as 150,000 square feet, and that some businesses, such as a hockey rink or other indoor sports facility, would require that much footage.

Member Chris Davies said, “I assume there will be public hearings on this.” Personally, he said, “My neighbors would be after me with pitchforks if we allowed 150,000-square-foot buildings.”

Member Ann Chiampa asked what protection would be offered if a project abutted an AR-1 district, under the proposed zoning, and Mailloux said the buffer of 50 feet would be the same.

Verani, a Realtor in private life, warned, “If you make it too restrictive for commercial, they will develop housing instead.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” member Leitha Reilly said.

Other provisions

Reilly wondered about the pedestrian access provision. “If it’s an existing building, can you ask the owner to put sidewalks in? What if it’s a change of usage?”

Vogl said this particular provision is “content sensitive,” and he directed the board’s attention to the language. “It says that pedestrian access may be required,” he said.

Mailloux used a recent home business case as an example. “The owner had a four-bedroom house, and they wanted to change it to three bedrooms and an office,” she said. “Obviously we’re not going to make them put sidewalks in.”

The key, Mailloux said, is “Is it logical and does it make sense?”

The proposed zoning would also expand the possibilities for public recreational facilities, which are not currently allowed in C-I or Mixed Use, but they will have to get a conditional use permit. Cultural and performing arts facilities would be allowed in the new district, while they are not currently allowed in C-I or C-II.

Commercial kennels will be allowed under the proposed zoning, while they are currently only allowed in AR-I.

“We are allowing new uses, without opening the floodgates,” Mailloux said.

Verani urged the staff members to look at what Londonderry really wants, which is appropriate design and landscaping. “At the end of the day, that’s what they want to see,” he said.

The session on zoning was a workshop and the board took no action.

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