Planning Board OKs First Phase of Woodmont Commons

The Planning Board unanimously granted final approval for the proposed Market Basket redevelopment, the first phase of Woodmont Commons construction.

The proposed 33-acre project includes making way for a boulevard entrance to the development, with the removal of the original Market Basket building.

“As part of that, we will be renovating existing retail just to the north of Market Basket to relocate tenants in the other space, and putting an addition of 42,220 square feet of retail just to the north,” Jeff Kevan, a civil engineer with TF Moran, Inc., told the Planning Board at its Sept. 2 meeting. “We are proposing a new parking field and access to that, and that the parking field in front of Market Basket be left intact.”

Overall, the development will result in a total of 186,000 square feet of retail space, a total reduction of about 30,000 square feet.

Parking will be more than adequate for the plaza, with 867 spaces where 741 spaces are required, he said, noting the parking lots will feature long islands with pathways down the center, providing open space and connectivity between the retail area and walkways on the future boulevard.

According to a traffic study completed as part of the plan, the 30,000-square-foot reduction in retail space is expected to reduce traffic in the plaza.

“The next step for the project is to connect the two-lane access from this development to Pillsbury Road. We will meet with (the New Hampshire Department of Transportation) and provide a traffic study. That’s the next step in the (Woodmont Commons) PUD (Planned Unit Development) process,” Kevan said.

Redevelopment of the former Market Basket site required four waivers to site plan regulations, as well as a Conditional Use Permit to allow 68,700 square feet of impacts to a 100-foot wetland buffer in the Conservation Overlay District.

The relocation of an existing detention basin on the Market Basket site is necessary to make way for the future construction of an access road to the future Woodmont Commons development, which is to begin at Garden Lane and wrap around the Market Basket Plaza before connecting with Pillsbury Road.

To mitigate impacts, the project will also include construction of a new, 16,000-square-foot wetland pond at the opposite end of the site that will be superior to the existing man-made detention pond in its capacity and ability to treat the water it stores.

The new pond will be a standing water pond and will have a longer treatment time than the existing pond.

But Mike Speltz, who voted as a member of the Conservation Commission in the minority against the proposal, said he would like to see additional mitigation for the impacts to the buffer.

“It’s extremely rare there’s a split vote of the Conservation Commission,” he said.

Commissioner Eugene Harrington also voted against the proposal. The Commission voted 3-2 to approve the Conditional Use Permit, with the condition that every effort be made to minimize impacts to the wetland buffer.

“When the applicant tears down the old Market Basket, it creates the opportunity to bring that road out of the wetland buffer,” Speltz said. “What that does, according to the applicant, is eliminate one of four additional stores to be built in the old parking lot. In reality, they don’t meet the criteria for a Conditional Use Permit, because the criteria say there must be no feasible alternative route.”

Speltz noted Market Basket has said it will leave the store up if there isn’t the potential of developing the remaining four pads for retail use after the structure is torn down.

“It’s a bit of a judgment call,” said Speltz, who spoke during the public hearing as a resident of Londonderry. “I don’t think it would be in the interest of the applicant to leave the store up as it is now. I don’t know if it’s a ‘red herring’ or what they really plan to do. I think we could do better than running the access through a wetland buffer because space is there.

“Economic benefit is not supposed to be the sole reason,” he continued. “The other reason given is to maintain a sufficient speed limit, but that road is going into an intersection, and with pedestrian activity, I’m not sure we would want to encourage high speed. Technically, this doesn’t meet two conditions – there is a feasible alternative, and really the sole reason is to put additional stores in to make more money. It’s reasonable for the applicant to want to do, but it’s not the Town’s job to help the applicant make more money. It’s the town’s job to enforce zoning.”

Speltz recommended the Board require the applicants to work with the Conservation Commission and town staff on determining appropriate mitigation for impacts to the wetland buffer.

“I don’t know if a board has ever done that before, but this would be the appropriate time to do it,” he said. “It would provide incentive to minimize impacts to the buffer and the amount of mitigation required.”

Pillsbury Realty Development Attorney Ari Pollack called Speltz’s testimony “an interesting mixture of minority report and personal opinions.”

Pollack said the plan is the first of a series of PUDs the developer will be bringing in, and that the application reduces further complications and ensures the process is presented in the least complicated way moving forward.

“Taking down the store costs us leasable space. We’re trying to bring forward a project that will emerge as conceptualized,” he said. “What you heard from the Conservation Commission was a recommendation to grant the (Conditional Use Permit), and what you heard (from Speltz) is the minority and personal opinion.”

Pollack noted their application for Phase one of Woodmont Commons features the redevelopment of the former Market Basket, not construction of the new boulevard access.

“I understand it’s a bit of an awkward fit for a project that proposes new and exciting, to have the first piece of information before you be a redevelopment of what is already existing commercial space. But that’s the reality of how Woodmont is emerging from the (Route) 102 corridor,” he said. “We’re going to be in front of you almost immediately with an application for the boulevard road that’s going to bring more of these building blocks of the PUD forward, and extend the development area from Route 102 to Pillsbury Road.”

Member Mary Soares expressed concern that the straight line of retail stores doesn’t align with the innovative PUDs they saw in photos shared from a similar development completed in North Carolina.

“I have been advocating for this project because I think you have a nice product for the Town that will be good for both the Town and the developer. It’s disappointing to see the first thing that will go in is a strip mall,” she said. “It’s also sad to see if those are tenants going in, that leaves existing business anchors in town losing some of their help. I wish the first thing going in could be a little more exciting than a straight line of shops.”

“It is something of unfortunate timing that we’re starting with the redevelopment instead of the blank slate that a lot of the PUD land affords us. But, we have to start somewhere. This is the most logical place in terms of where the public is already comfortable, in shops and those experiences,” Pollack said. “What we’re doing by taking that building down is opening up the possibility for those pad sites, which will serve as an entryway and be quite consistent with what you were shown last month, and where the concepts for the Master Plan will lay out. I guess all I can say at this point is thanks for your patience.”

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