The Derry Town Council has approved a sometimes-controversial zoning change for what a property owner calls “the last frontier” for commercial development.
At the July 7 meeting, the Council unanimously approved changing Route 28 South to the General Commercial IV zone, or GC IV.
Among other provisions, the new zoning restricts future housing in the area, with the intent of drawing larger businesses to increase Derry’s tax base and recoup the cost of extending town water and sewer into the district.
Planning Assistant Elizabeth Robidoux and Planning Board Chairman David Granese spoke to the zoning amendments. Robidoux said the long-range plan for the town has included the expansion of town water and sewer down Route 28 South. The initial expansion was completed last fall, with water and sewer expanded to the Robert Frost Farm/Berry Road area.
Robidoux said, “The Planning Board has been looking at this since 2011. They made changes in the existing General Commercial district, which went into effect in 2013.” They then at the Council’s urging reviewed the entire length of Route 28, and expanded the district, wrote new definitions and created the GC IV, she said.
The Planning Board held 14 public hearings and workshops beginning in June 2014, Robidoux said.
In the public hearing, Realtor Sheldon Wolff, who owns property on Route 28 South, said, “Ever since it’s been thought of, that it was directed by the Council that the Planning Board should look at this, you gave the Planning Board direction, ‘Let’s look at the last frontier on Route 28.’ You want to put water and sewer in. When is it going to get down to the end? That whole area is going to change. When is the town going to do something for the landowners?”
Wolff said he would like to see more solar energy on Route 28.
He questioned several definitions, including the one for “professional office.” “The offices in there are professional offices,” he said. “If somebody wants to open up a campaign office, it’s not professional, it’s temporary.” He recommended taking out the definition of “professional” office.
Wolff also mentioned the definition of clinic, which is in General Commercial and absent from GC IV, and said, “You have medical marijuana coming into New Hampshire. You should have it in here, not necessarily under hospitals. You are giving landowners more opportunity to utilize their space.”
Regarding casinos he said, “You’re not going to get a Foxwoods in here, but maybe a gaming parlor. This is the last frontier, the last place where you’ll have commercial space.”
Marjorie Palmer, who with her husband, Wilbur, owns a piece of property off Route 28, asked the Council to postpone establishing the GC IV until the water and sewer was extended further down Route 28, to make it more attractive to buyers.
Palmer said, “Until the owners are willing to sell their property, your efforts are useless.”
Wilbur Palmer, whose family has owned their property for generations, said, “I used to sit where you guys sit. The farm was originally a King’s Grant. I was born here, my father before that, my grandfather before that, my great-grandfather before that. In1838 my great-great-grandfather married a girl whose family owned the farm.
“In 1961 my father told me, ‘We’ve got a problem. We’ve got the problem of all these fellas moving up here from Massachusetts. They’re buying postage stamps and they’re trying to tell us envelopes what to do.”
Palmer said, “I own an envelope, and I hate to see that come about.”
He served in the Marines and Army and remembers being told, “You’ve got to defend the rights of the people.’ Now I’ve got people telling me I can’t do it.”
Someday his daughter Melissa Polk would like to build a house on the old family farm, “And she can’t because we’ll have industry there,” Palmer said.
Palmer’s granddaughter Rebecca Polk, a teenager, said, “I am opposed to changing my residential area to commercial.”
Resident Brian Chirichiello, a former Councilor and former Planning Board member, said, “I see car lots are allowed under GC IV. I spent 10 years on the Planning Board. We want to attract businesses that will bring tax revenue, and used car lots don’t bring it.”
The public hearing was closed and the Council asked questions of Robidoux and Granese. Richard Tripp asked what the timeline was for extending water and sewer down the rest of 28.
Robidoux said the project was not in the CIP (Capital Improvements Plan) and it would depend on when the money was available.
David Fischer said, “Some people talked about postponing the zoning change. What are the advantages or disadvantages?”
Granese said, “If you look at the general use comparison, there are more uses approved in GC IV. We want to get it done before the extension of water and sewer to the Windham line.”
Fischer said, “What do you see as the advantages or disadvantages of postponing?”
Robidoux said, “The advantage to residents is that everything stays status quo. The disadvantage, in my opinion, is that the town is doing its very best to try to bring economic development to town. The Planning Board and town are looking toward the future. Eventually it will be developed, and we’ll see the benefits.”
Councilor Mark Osborne said he has watched nearly every Planning Board meeting concerning this topic and said, “Everyone has had a chance to speak.”
He added, “The bonds went in, the water and sewer went in, and here we are still talking about zoning. I would not support any other infrastructure projects until the zoning was addressed first.”
Osborne added, “This motion is consistent with the direction the Town Council gave the Planning Board.”
Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores asked how much land the Palmers have. Palmer said, “We have 45 acres that go all the way from Rockingham Road to Stark Road. We’d like to build a house on Stark Road, and the point is, we’d like to be able to do it. We don’t want someone up there telling us what we can and can’t do.”
Palmer added, “Some day? We’re talking about Derry here. Why should we have to go by these rules because some day, maybe, water and sewer would come by here?”
Katsakiores asked Granese, “Why is there a problem with this?”
Granese responded, “Single-family homes are not allowed in General Commercial, unless it already exists. Under the GC IV is the same.”
Robidoux said the Palmers could obtain a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment and build their home.
Councilor Albert Dimmock said, “My heart goes out to this gentleman. But you hit the nail on the head. That’s what the ZBA is there for.”
Councilor Joshua Bourdon said, “With regards to car lots, I thought we had given direction not to include.”
Granese said, “We took it out, put it back, took it out. It’s in there now. We figured that when the water and sewer is down there the people with the car lots will want to sell to bigger businesses. The market will dictate that change.”
Bourdon said, “The one thing Derry doesn’t have is a hockey or ice-skating rink. Is there enough land out there?”
“That would be allowed,” Granese said. “It is allowed in GC and GC IV.”
“I will have to support this,” Bourdon said. “It’s a tough decision, but it’s what we asked the Planning Board to do.”
Regarding the Palmers, Robidoux said she and Planning Director George Sioras had several conversations with the family.
“Their land abuts Stark Road, and that is one of two scenic roads in Derry,” she said. “It’s the perfect place for a house. But they would have to be very specific in the variance request.”
Granese said, “I will go to a Zoning meeting and speak on behalf of the Palmers.” Dimmock said he would also be there to support the Palmers.
The Council voted 7-0 to approve the zoning.