Residents Express Concern Over Enforcement of Workforce Amendment

An analysis of data from Town Assessing records reveals there are no income restricted affordable rental units in Londonderry; however, almost 200 units of affordable housing are under construction or have been approved, and all rental units in the Town are priced at or below what is considered affordable.

Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Londonderry ranges from $760 to $1,150 per month, well below the $1,440 affordable rate. “It’s a good thing such a large percentage of our housing stock is affordable. But as time goes by and new housing gets built, the proportion available to the current broad economic spectrum of residents will continue to diminish,” Town Planner Cynthia May told the Planning Board at their May 13 meeting.

The Town must provide reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing, and workforce housing of some type must be allowed in a majority of land areas where residential uses are permitted. It’s the responsibility of the Town to demonstrate its compliance with the law, GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Manager John Vogl said.

Planning staff has recommended a zoning amendment to address the requirements of the State statute in a way that accommodates housing affordability by promoting choice and diversity for residents, offering new opportunities for existing properties and fostering traditional community design.

Proposed changes to Inclusionary Zoning include removing limitations on the phasing of workforce housing developments, the number of units per building and the minimum 20-acre limit, as well as limiting multi-family structures to three stories and lowering the minimum share of workforce units from 75 percent to 33 percent.

Pauline Caron of 369 Mammoth Road expressed concern with the proposal to reduce the minimum workforce housing share to 33 percent, noting recent workforce housing projects were granted variances down to 50 percent and developers are making money off the projects. “Why reduce the share just because other communities are lower?” she asked.

The Board agreed and changed the proposed workforce housing share to 50 percent. Other proposed changes include adding assisted living facilities and multi-family dwellings in commercial districts with a Conditional Use Permit (CUP); adding to the “Use Table'” new categories for “small workforce housing developments,” “Dwelling, Multi-family Workforce,” affordable elderly housing, and “Live-Work” units; and removing a section limiting uses to single family homes and prohibiting accessory dwellings.

Live-work units, for example, which would be permitted with a conditional use permit in commercial and industrial districts, would encourage entrepreneurial, small business or artists/craftsmen and potentially in-fill smaller industrial sites, according to Vogl.
Accessory dwellings would maintain the character of the Town, while providing opportunities for workforce, in-law, multi-generational or income units in existing neighborhoods.
“The Millennial cohort, people who are out of college, with good jobs and who don’t necessarily want to buy a house, are looking for very nice apartments that are going up in other communities that are designed to be more modern. That’s what this group is looking for, and that’s the workforce the State is trying to attract. If we don’t provide it, they will go somewhere else where they can find that,” May said.

“The State is finding one bedroom apartments with a bonus space is the most sought after situation these days.” “The plan overall put out by (May) and her team is fabulous, and very much in keeping with most livable communities throughout the country, including ‘Live-Work,'” Richard Flier of 9 Isabella Drive said. “Going forward, this will put the Town in a great position to keep the charm, character and way of life, and balance the economics that are needed to do that.”

But other members of the community expressed concern over whether or not the amendments would be enforced moving forward. Deb Paul of 118 Hardy Road, publisher of the Londonderry Times, argued that the Town adopted amendments five to six years ago to limit big, multi-family housing projects, but the ordinance wasn’t defended when developers challenged it.

“The attorneys we paid said it was defensible,” she said. “It’s like we’re chasing our tails. We rewrite and in a couple years we’ll end up rewriting it again because a developer doesn’t like it. I feel really frustrated. I feel like you really dropped the ball on the residents of this Town.”

“I see deja vu here. We went through this a few years ago, moving the line. I fear we’ll move the line again down the road,” Martin Srugis of 17 Wimbledon Drive said. “We felt the amendment then was defensible, that’s what the lawyers told us then. Now, they’re telling us this amendment is defensible. I don’t know if I believe it. I don’t think it’s going to hold.”

“I think this is a good step, but I believe there’s some sort of disconnect,” Paul said. “Somebody comes here with a conceptual design, then it goes to the Zoning Board and Zoning had no clue you were looking at the ordinances. I’m fearful the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

“I have zero confidence in the Planning and Zoning Board to enforce the rules,” David Nease of 11 Faye Lane said. “All the workforce housing projects that have come forward have not followed the rules and gotten variances for the projects.”

During any challenge, the Courts will look at the totality of the Town’s zoning amendments, according to Vogl, who thinks the proposed amendment is less reactive than some of the amendments the Town has passed in the past. “This is more forward thinking,” he said.
The Board voted to continue the public hearing on the amendment to its June 10 meeting.

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