Earlier this month, the Town Council invited all of Londonderry to think of ways to help control the increase of growth it has seen in the last few years. Council Chairman Tom Dolan and councilors Ted Combes and Jim Butler joined Town Manager Kevin Smith and Town Planner Colleen Mailloux last Saturday for an early morning brainstorming session. They brought coffee and doughnuts for those awake enough to attend.
Some of the tools for guiding development that Mailloux proposed at the last meeting were brought up again. Most of the discussion focused on two ideas: land acquisition and easements and adjusting the town’s master plan. The meeting was scheduled to start at 8 a.m., but the news of the Amazon proposal prompted Dolan to spend the first half an hour explaining some of the details and how the company coming to Londonderry would influence any future growth management. At the past growth management meeting, Mailloux said there was already a concern for housing affordability and cost. Having Amazon drop on the town like Dorothy’s house on the witch could lead to a potential exacerbation of those costs.
Dolan explained that in its current form, the town could support up to 35 thousand residents “before we’re capped.” That number is dependent on the water and sewage access in town. As of 2014, there were 24,247 people living in Londonderry.
Deb Paul, owner and publisher of the Londonderry Times said, “we have to stop being reactive and be proactive.” The crowd agreed, and Dolan explained that one way to do that would be through looking at conservation easements versus land ownership. He gave the example of Mack’s Apples, where the town owns the land, but the farm still works it and tends to it. Mack’s is able to operate its business, but there is no risk of that land being sold to a developer without town approval.
State Representative Al Baldasaro suggested the council and planning board put more focus on developers who would build smaller, “starter homes,” rather than complexes that would be rental properties. The town should still invest in workforce housing, but should also promote ownership.
Richard Flier, the Managing Director of Visionary Institute echoed Baldasaro’s sentiment about the need to bring young families into town. He also said there is a need to educate developers on the community. “It’s up to the developers to pitch in more money,” to help invest in maintaining Londonderry’s current culture.
There was a concern raised that too many 55 plus communities were allowed to build and that the demographics of the town were skewing too elderly. Paul said having mixed housing rather than 55 plus versus family neighborhoods would be best. It mixes the community and gets people to care about each other. She gave the example that that couples without children in the district could be more likely to vote in support of it if they had younger neighbors to remind them of why it’s important. However, she pointed out that, “traffic is our number one issue.”
David Lundgren, another state rep, said he was growing tired of the roads being ripped up by the constant flow on construction trucks. “Who’s going to pay for them?” he asked Dolan. He said the roads by his business always seem to need of repair and it should not have to come out of his tax dollars if it caused by a development.
John Wilson said whatever the council decides on should, first and foremost, preserve the quality of life in Londonderry. He believes more thought and proactive strategies should be written into the master plan to do just that. With the school system being “top of the line,” as Wilson said, the council should ask the district what it needs to maintain peak performance and take those ideas into account when issuing building permits. “We’re not gonna wait until the classes are up to 25,” said Wilson.
Dolan agreed that getting more people, especially younger people, to buy homes in town would help with managing growth. “Ownership is a jumping off point,” he said. “It gets them into the equity game.” He admitted that it’s hard to go from a rental to a 3 to 4-bedroom home. Encouraging workforce housing developments through ownership, rather than renting is “a good formula for living out the American dream,” said Dolan.
Even if the town could increase the number of those kinds of homes, the trick would be to entice young families to town. Dolan said the council is “trying to be more collaborative on what the citizens want.” Having a strong school system is a great selling point, but it’s also a reason why the housing prices are high.
Having more informal conversations with voters, Dolan feels, is a fantastic way to get people to open up about what they want for the town and from their council. He believes coming to the official town council meetings can be intimidating for some.
“The council relishes these direct impacts from our voters,” Dolan said.
The council has yet to decide on whether there will be more growth management meetings. Dolan said they will discuss it and if they do, they will most likely be on specific topics with more focused conversations.