They can get there from here, but it will involve a plan and more money.
The Derry Town Council, Planning Board and Economic Development Advisory Committee held a joint meeting Tuesday, Oct. 11 and discussed Derry’s zoning and economic future in light of the proposed Exit 4A off Interstate 93 and the Woodmont Commons development in neighboring Londonderry.
“We need to get everyone on the same page,” Council Chair Brian Chirichiello said in convening the meeting.
Chirichiello reminded the group and television audience that this year’s Council put money in the operating budget to fund economic development activities.
Fellow Councilor Jim Morgan updated the group on the two Requests for Proposals that were sent out, one for a contracted Economic Development Manager and one for “Business Attraction Services.” Morgan said the committee would be interviewing the finalists for the manager position that Friday, Oct. 14, with an eye toward recommending a candidate in the Oct. 18 Town Council meeting (see story page 7).
Planning Director George Sioras gave an overview of zoning. Sioras, who has been with the town since the 1980s, said that downtown Derry developed as a “traditional urban area,” with housing, businesses and several shoe factories, all on town water and sewer. In a 1965 Master Plan, he said the recommendation was to zone Manchester Road industrial, “and the growth happened,” he said of Derry’s busy shopping area.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the Ryan’s Hill area of Route 28 South was zoned commercial, he said. Also in the ‘70s, the Windham Road area was zoned industrial in anticipation of an Exit 3 at the Windham/Derry line.
“That never happened,” Sioras said.
Sioras said when he started with the town in 1984, it was all one-acre zoning, and high-density projects could be built anywhere. As Derry grew, going from 18,000 to 29,000 residents over a decade, the Planning Board revisited zoning and effected a growth-management ordinance in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. This provided for traditional 1-acre zoning and allowed high density in the town center, while, beginning at the Rotary, 1-, 2- and 3-acre zoning went into effect, with the largest parcels the furthest from town.
The Manchester Road area is largely zoned industrial, he said. The properties on the north side of Folsom Road, into which Exit 4A will empty, are zoned industrial, while the parcels on the south side, with the exception of several near the intersection, are zoned Medium High Density Residential (MHDR).
Sioras said the Folsom Road north area is zoned I-IV, which allows for commercial, industrial, office or retail. Crystal Avenue is zoned commercial, he said.
Planning Board member Jim MacEachern observed, “If you start messing with people’s houses, it is going to be a nightmare. We will probably have mixed zoning for a while.”
MacEachern also observed that the residential owners in the area have “known 4A is coming for a while. I don’t think the people on the other side of Folsom will have an issue.” He also pointed out that commercial zoning would increase those people’s property values.
Laurel Bistany, president of the Regional Economic Development Center in Raymond and a guest at the meeting, said, “When you drastically increase the traffic count, people inevitably realize the benefits of changing the zoning. It’s best to be out in front of it.”
MacEachern countered that he wasn’t sure there would be a drastic increase in traffic, noting, “it’s the way people go now to avoid downtown.”
Chirichiello expressed concern that if the other side of Folsom remains MHDR, developers can buy the smaller parcels and put up apartment buildings, which are not always tax-positive for Derry. “By going commercial, we can make changes without the ‘threat’ of multi-family housing,” he said.
But the lots are small, MacEachern countered, and a developer would have to buy up two or three to build a complex.
Planning Vice-Chair John O’Connor reminded the group that a multi-family housing complex is also required to be one-third open space.
Economic Development Advisory Committee member Nick Del’Etoile said, “We don’t know how wide the street is going to be.”
Sioras said the conceptual Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by CLD, the contracted firm to provide the EIS, calls for taking some of the houses on the north side of Folsom, including the front portion of the Salvation Army building. “The back part stays, along with the car wash and police station,” he said.
Planning alternate Marc Flattes asked about moving the Police Station, noting that using the police land would “complete the commercial block and open it up to more commercial and industrial development.”
MacEachern said that had been looked at during the EIS meetings in early 2000, when the town discussed moving the Police Station and establishing a new Safety Complex on the Route 28 Bypass. “It is something we could look at again,” he said.
Selling the police property, a desirable corner lot, to a developer would pay for the cost of a new building, MacEachern added. “It would be even-steven,” he said.
Moving the police station would be “incredibly smart,’ Del’Etoile observed.
Morgan said, “That corner would be ideal for a hotel.” He advised his fellow board and committee members to handle the police land with care, noting, “It is our diamond in the rough.”
Morgan estimated the lot could sell for $20 to $30 million.
Bustany noted, “The tax revenue for a corner lot, with easy access, could pay for the cost of adding to your municipal infrastructure.”
Sioras reiterated that Manchester Road to the Londonderry line is already zoned industrial. It’s also the home of the town’s second Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, the first being on Ash Street.
“This is an area where we need to be proactive,” Chirichiello said.
Several members of the group mentioned Scott Hayward’s purchase of the old Gold’s Gym and the move of his Tupelo Music Hall to Derry from Londonderry. Del’Etoile said his vision for this area includes a sort of Arts District. At least one of the town’s craft breweries, the Kelsen company, will be affected by the building of 4A, he said.
“My vision is to cerate a destination, an area for date nights, a hub for the arts,” he said. “We need things that are different from what’s usually found.”
The old Hadco site has potential, Morgan said. He could see the 10-1/2 acres filled up with a restaurant, convenience store and gas station, a bank or credit union, and maybe over-55 condos in the back. “There are incentives for developers for over-55,” he told the group.
There are several financial incentives out there for over-55 or low-to moderate income, Bustany agreed. While she’s a workforce housing advocate, she also agreed that Derry has a sufficient amount of that form of housing.
Bustany mentioned the concept of walkable village districts, an idea that is gaining ground across the country. People want to live, work and recreate in the same area, she said. That is part of the concept at Woodmont Commons.
The Hadco property is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Brownfields site, Michael Fowler, Director of Public Works, said.
Fowler said that contamination had been discovered on the site. Hadco sold the property to Sanmina, which closed the plant and tore it down. “You can build on part of the land, 11 acres,” Fowler said. “You can’t use the front part.” The property is currently on the market, he said.
Fowler added that the Hadco site is being monitored by the EPA. “At some point there will be a need for soil removal, at the developer’s expense,’ he said.
Morgan said the contaminants are “low-level toxins” and that there are about seven years of treatment left.
The current parking lot, abutting the Fireye property on Tsienneto, is the best chance for development, Morgan said.
Councilor Joshua Bourdon expressed concern about the possible residents of the possible over-55 condos, asking, “Will the music from Tupelo bother them?”
Morgan reiterated that the back portion of the lot is more favorable to development, and the buildings between the development and music hall would provide a buffer.
The property has town water and sewer, along with a curb cut, Fowler said.
Vision for the future
Members of the various boards agreed that extending town water and sewer to the Windham line is crucial for commercial/industrial development on Route 28 South. While the state has extended water up Ryan’s Hill, due to a discovery of MTBE in local wells, “sewer is a costly proposition,” Fowler said. And there’s the rest of Route 28 to think about.
“There is a long-term plan,” he said. “But how do we fund it?”
Morgan said, “We need a mechanism to predict the potential tax benefit, and offset a bond. The rates are low – this is the time to do it.”
A 20-year bond would be the best option, Fowler said.
MacEachern wondered if the combined group was “putting the cart before the horse.” “We need to get the economic development person in place, and the market research firm,” he said. “Once we know that, the rest will fall into place.”
For Gordon Graham, a local attorney and member of several previous “downtown” groups, the key is still the downtown. The “revulsion” to residential will not work downtown, he said. The current zoning calls for commercial or retail on the first floor, offices on the second and residential on the third.
“Allowing residential on the second floor may be a turning point,” he said, noting, “People want to live in town.”
Chirichiello and others reiterated that the town needs to be proactive, and not wait until 4A is built or Woodmont is completed.