Skewed Priorities

Londonderry pays particular attention to the appearance of buildings proposed for construction in town. While everyone expects regulations to address such things as wetlands disturbance and setbacks, that focus also can mean asking developers to change the shade of paint or brick, to alter the type of landscape tree, to change the style and size of windows, and to tweak the roof design.

A goal, as was recently mentioned at a Londonderry Heritage Commission meeting concerning a tire business seeking to build in town, is to have a “softer” facade on Route 102, which is better known as the town’s commercial “plastic strip.”

Whether the traveler coming off Exit 4 for a quick burger or a refill of gas, or the commuter heading to the grocery store really cares about window size or white vs. purple lilacs is a debatable question.

And it becomes more than a little strange when we look at how residential development is being handled.

While there may be standards for building height and size, in Londonderry at least those standards frequently are met with variance requests that are granted. Developers know the size and shape of the property they wish to buy or build on before they propose a building; when the site doesn’t meet their profit needs, they ask for variances, and in Londonderry, they are easily granted. And all of a sudden, a residential neighborhood of single-family homes is faced with the addition of multi-story, multi-unit apartment buildings more suitable to large cities and highway interchanges.

Derry is experiencing some of that as well, with large multi-family units proposed for areas that have been single-family residential neighborhoods for decades. Zoning makes it possible for such development to occur, and people who have long lived in a neighborhood of single-family homes find themselves with a multi-story, multi-family, multi-car complex looming above their decks and backyards.

Both towns are looking at their zoning ordinances to see if they are up to date or need serious tweaking. That’s a good thing. Times change, and the needs and focus of the community change as well.

This isn’t a question of “gentrifying” older neighborhoods; both in Londonderry and Derry, the proposed developments can be expected to change streets of single-family homes. And while there’s nothing wrong with apartments, there should be consideration for what a large complex can be expected to do to a quiet neighborhood.

That’s at least as important as belaboring the number of panes in a window.

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