Planning Board Takes Look at Pillsbury Road Housing Proposal

In December 2013, the Londonderry High School library received a donation of approximately 400 volumes on art and art history from new resident Richard Flier. He had moved to town from Brookline, Mass., and wanted to see his books put to good use.

Flier was back in the news at the Planning Board on Wednesday, May 14, to ask that property he purchased at 132 Pillsbury Road be rezoned from Agricultural/Residential to Commercial IV. The property is the former Naylor Farm and is between Orchard Christian Fellowship and Londonderry Presbyterian Church.

Flier said he plans to call the property Pillsbury Farm and wants to build three additional buildings on the lot behind the existing Naylor farmhouse – two Cape Cod style homes and a long red barn to serve as covered parking with a multi-bedroom space above.

He said he is currently renting a home and wants to move to the property along with his children and grandchildren, and use a small space for an office.

“The farmhouse is in such disrepair that I don’t think it will last another winter. There are holes in the floor where it’s rotted through and a lot of mold. My main goal is to save the house,” Flier said.

He said that even with the disrepair, “it still has good bones.”

Flier told the board, “Our goal is to employ the recommendations of the Master Plan to create a more vibrant Town Center by introducing village-scale residences within a live-work setting on our lot, while preserving the existing structure,” he said. “This plan is reminiscent of how town centers grew in agricultural-centered communities in the past, and allowed families to live near and support each other in their work and their daily living.”

He said the parcel would be under one ownership and he expects taxes to “quadruple.”

His plan, however, led to an allegation from an audience member that the Master Plan may have been designed around Flier’s vision of the property. After making that claim, resident Ann Chiampa also suggested that members of the Planning Board who were on the Master Plan Steering Committee not take part in any votes regarding the property.

Planning Board chairman Art Rugg said Chiampa was not correct in her opinion, and Planning Board member Leitha Reilly, who chaired the Master Plan Committee, asked to rebut the accusation.

“Mr. Chairman, I have just been accused of collusion and would like to respond,” Reilly said. She had earlier in the meeting greeted Flier and told the board he was, “a staple at the Master Plan meetings, who spent the majority of the time listening.”

In response to Chiampa’s allegation, Reilly said, “My reference to Mr. Flier earlier, I thought was clear in reference to my chairing the Master Plan Steering Committee, of which we had many participants, some from outside, as Mr. Flier at that time was in transit. Like anyone else participating in the Master Plan, including yourself, Ms. Chiampa, I welcomed everyone, heard opinions and thoughts from everyone. I didn’t dissuade anyone, I invited them to offer all, so I take umbrage with what was just said and I want that on the record.”

The Planning Board members had several questions and comments on the plan.

Rugg brought up the issue of succession.

“We have to consider what would happen in the future with future owners,” Rugg said.

Flier said future owners would have to go through the zone change process again if they so desired.

He noted that he has an agreement with the two abutting churches that should his property be sold, they would be notified.

“They don’t have right of first refusal, but they would be notified so that they could have input,” Flier said.

Assistant Public Works Director John Trottier said that even though the plan was conceptual, staff had questions. He said the design calls for 12 bedrooms in total, and the septic system is proposed to connect to the abutting Orchard Christian Fellowship system.

“It would require an expansion of that septic system, as it was designed for the 300 seats in that church today,” Trottier said.

He added that the plan calls for two entrances off Pillsbury Road, and noted, “Staff is concerned that one of those should be eliminated for access control in that area. I understand the width of the access is 14 feet and doesn’t meet our standards. I would question the drainage, understanding that this is conceptual. To the east there is a retention pond associated with the Presbyterian Church.”

Trottier also said two of the proposed buildings are less than 15 feet apart, while two buildings are less than 20 feet apart.

“I believe the fire department is looking for at least 20 feet, maybe even 30,” Trottier said.

Town Planner Cynthia May said that from a planning perspective, however, “this vision is very much in keeping with the Master Plan vision.

“It’s a really good way to bring people living here in the town center, which we really don’t have,” she said. “The more people that we bring into the town center, I think the more sustainable it’s going to be, and there will be more investment into the town center.”

She said the plan is reminiscent of farmhouse expansion in the past and allows a live-work situation that is an asset to the community.

“You need to tailor your regulations to fit the needs of the community,” May said.

Board member Chris Davies said the plan seemed to “check off a lot of boxes on the Master Plan” and he agreed with May’s assessment.

“The other aspect is that you’re looking to preserve the original structure, and that’s another objective in the Master Plan that we want to encourage,” Davies said. “Notwithstanding, the devil being in the details, there will be concerns with the fire department with trying to fit so much in a small space, but in general it looks like something we would want to have.”

Board member Jim Butler asked about the experience of designer William Byrne, who accompanied Flier to the meeting.

“I implement ideas,” Byrne said. “My background is building, most recently in Boston. I have built in downtown Manchester, Andover, Mass., Waltham, Mass., and Wakefield, Mass. I’ve worked on Mass. Eye and Ear.”

Butler said the Master Plan had been well thought out.

“This is probably the toughest area for you to start,” he said. “It’s the historical fabric of this town and there will be debates on what people want. A vision is a vision; it doesn’t mean that’s the way it’s going to end up.”

But Butler said he was open minded and thought the plan could fit. “But it must fit correctly,” Butler said.

Butler asked about the timeframe for construction and Flier said he thought it would take a year.

Board member John Laferriere said the fact that Flier had a passion for the community was articulated very well and that he would work with what the town was trying to achieve.

“Unfortunately I think that over time, we may not be so lucky (with future applicants),” Laferriere said.

Board member Scott Benson said his only concern was the total square footage of all the buildings. “I think it’s a better use than something else that could go in there. It preserves the integrity of the town center,” Benson said.

Board member Lynn Wiles asked how much impervious space would be put on the lot.

“The driveway will be pervious material and the rest will just be plantings,” Flier responded.

Wiles said there was an “awful lot being put on a small space.”

Byrne explained it would be 57 percent landscaped area and 15 percent buildings, with the rest pervious driveways.

 “Clearly the devil’s in the details,” Reilly said. “I love your design. If there was ever a vision that has something that truly plays to what the town would like to see there, this is certainly what we heard. This is quite lovely for that area.”

“It’s a lot of buildings in a small area,” board member Maria Newman said. She asked if uses could be changed under the proposed zoning and May said that would come under Planning Board approval.

Board member Al Sypek said conceptually he liked the idea.

Resident Ray Breslin asked if the property was in an historical district and board Chairman Art Rugg said it was not.

“The Town Common, the Town Forest, the Grange and the Historical Society are in a Historic District,” Rugg said. “That’s it.”

Karen Cartier, Assistant Pastor of Orchard Christian Fellowship, one of the abutters, said she was glad for Flier’s vision.

The planned vote on the issue of rezoning the property was tabled until the June 4 meeting, as Laferriere, Butler and Wiles want the town attorney to weigh in on the matter.

In other business, May suggested a change to the plan signature policy to allow any two board members to sign plans instead of all board members, unless the plan was large or exceptional. The board agreed to address the issue at its next meeting.

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