Due to a rather small agenda during the Planning Board’s most recent meeting on November 1, the board decided to use their extra time to enter a discussion concerning housing in the downtown area.
More specifically, the idea spawned back from a similar workshop that occurred back in May, wherein members of the board believed that the Central Business District and Traditional Business Overlay District zoning rules should be reevaluated.
This is due to a claim by Anne Struthers, the town’s Economic Development Coordinator, that reevaluation is necessary due to the rules’ current restrictions on building apartments on first or second floors downtown. Essentially, the logic behind the rule hoped to keep businesses on the first floor of a building, office space on the second floor and apartments on any subsequent floors.
This rule was originally established in May of 2015, but it was noted by the board that no new buildings have been built downtown since then, thus no building has had to keep this rule in mind.
Board Chairman David Granese felt that before they make any pushes towards changes, several things need to be undertaken first. Granese would like to speak with Struthers on how specifically she thinks Derry would benefit from the alterations of these rules. Granese also suggested that a survey form be sent out to citizens and property owners downtown to see where they stand on the issue, on top of a public forum during one of their future meetings.
Board Member Jim MacEachern is not opposed to the idea, but does think that a long term plan needs to be thought up and analyzed before pursuing this any further. He too wishes to hear from citizens and property owners about the issue and had several concerns over what impact this would have on the relocation of several projects being undertaken by the town at the moment. Finally, as the town is currently looking to review and fix the 2010 Master Plan for planning and zoning, MacEachern felt that those discussions should also keep downtown housing in mind.
“I don’t have a problem going back and looking at it again, but you have to tread a little lightly here”, Maceachern noted.
Board Member Mark Connors also appeared open to the idea, but felt that each building should be judged on its own merits before any construction occurs, taking into account its size and age.
However, Board Vice Chairman John O’Connor was less than excited about these possible changes, concerned over the additional strain that more housing downtown could place on the already compact parking problem in the area.