Derry Central Business District Committee Looks at Zoning Updates

As part of the effort to make “downtown” more appealing, Derry’s Planning Board and Planning Department are updating the section of the Zoning Ordinance dealing with the Central Business District.

The Central Business District or CBD Subcommittee met Thursday afternoon, Dec. 11, to approve changes in the ordinance, which will then be reviewed by the Planning Board and discussed by the town in a public hearing before going to the Town Council for final approval.

Planning Director George Sioras said the Planning Board held joint workshops with the Town Council, from which two goals emerged: revising the rules for multifamily housing, and looking more closely at the CBD.

The subcommittee includes Sioras, Planning Assistant Elizabeth Robidoux, Councilor Michael Fairbanks, Building Inspector/ Code Enforcement Officer Bob Mackey and Assistant Building Inspector Bob Wentworth, and Planning Board members/alternates Randy Chase, Jan Choiniere, Lori Davison and Marc Flattes.

The goal is to have the revisions done by January or February, Sioras said.

Robidoux said the major changes sought are in density, parking and building height.

Much of the discussion at last week’s meeting centered on building height, with Sioras saying, “What is the tallest we want it to be?”

Sioras said the town has a long-term goal of putting out an RFP (Request for Proposals) to develop town-owned land on Abbott Court. “We need to have the zoning compatible with whatever goes in there,” he said. “We want to give them that flexibility.”

The Council has the final say, Sioras reiterated. But if a developer comes in with a project that “blows our socks off,” he said, he and the board don’t want the town to be limited in its response.

On the other hand, he said, “Some people say they don’t want 15- or 20-story buildings here.” So it’s a balancing act, according to Sioras.

The board could leave it at an arbitrary number and the developer could seek a variance from the Zoning Board, Robidoux noted.

The group agreed to have Mackey research the tallest building in the CBD and use it as a benchmark.

“You put a building on Abbott Court and it will impact the town, for good or ill,” Sioras observed.

The group also discussed parking. The current ordinance calls for one space per 250 feet of gross floor area for “Professional offices and medical clinics.”

Mackey observed that medical facilities never have enough parking and Sioras agreed. “The medical buildings on Tsienneto Road are coming back to the Planning Board because they don’t have enough parking,” he said. “The Center for Life Management just got an approval for expanding its parking.”

Fairbanks suggested changing the formula from one space for every 250 feet to one space for every 150 feet. “One hundred and fifty feet,” he said, “would cover a standard-size office.”

“A real estate office would have less volume than a doctor’s office,” Mackey observed.

Sioras said while the medical buildings on Tsienneto began as “generic” medical offices, they have since added a number of specialists.

The group agreed to divide the medical facilities off from the other professional offices, and to allot them one space for every 200 square feet.

The committee also looked at the issue of buffer zones. Because the buildings in the CBD often predate zoning and are closely packed together, they don’t have yards or room for buffers, Sioras said. Instead of requiring buffers between buildings inside the CBD, they will require them whenever a building in the CBD abuts a residential district, he said.

“Traditional downtowns,” he said, “are built that way.”