Housing Out of Zoning Proposal for Route 28 South

Mixed use is out, mixed use overlay is out, and housing is definitely out.

The Derry Planning Board reviewed its draft document for the proposed General Commercial (GC) IV district at its June 4 meeting. In order to capitalize on the extension of town water and sewer up Route 28 to Windham, and in order to glean the biggest possible tax benefit, the board, with advice from the Town Council, has narrowed the focus of the proposed GC IV to business and industry.

GC IV was hammered out in several Planning Board workshops and one recent workshop with the Town Council. After the last Planning Board workshop and the joint meeting with the Council, it was a “general consensus” that residential development was not wanted in that area, for a variety of reasons. Though the board has discussed Mixed Use Development, both the board and the Council determined that was not a good usage for the area, because it is usually construed to mean housing.

The Town Council has also decided to make General Commercial IV extend all the way to the Windham line, Planning Director George Sioras said. While the extension of water and sewer is currently scheduled to go as far as Berry Road, the Council said it “made sense” to include all of Route 28 South in GC IV, in view of the eventual extension of water and sewer to the Windham town line.

“We want to take the full bite,” Michael Fairbanks, Council representative to the Planning Board, said.

“We’ll be doing it in five years,” Planning Board chairman David Granese said. “Might as well do it now.”

But Fairbanks warned that the community can’t expect to see large chain stores in GC IV. “Small business drives a lot of our economy, and Route 28 South, with the exception of a few large parcels, will be small businesses,” he said. “I don’t see big box stores there — it’s too ‘landlocked.’” Fairbanks was referring to the fact that 28 South does not have easy access off a major highway.

Sioras reminded the board that these buildings won’t be eyesores. “We have more stringent design requirements than we did 30 years ago,” he said. “We also have better buffer and landscaping regulations.

“We’ll get good stuff down there,” Sioras said. “It just won’t be Kohl’s or Target.”

Referring to an article in a recent Londonderry Times, member Ann Alongi noted that Londonderry is “set to grow.” She asked, “What are they doing that we’re not?”

“It’s not anything Derry did wrong,” Sioras replied. “That land they’re talking about is near the airport and there’s a new connector road. Also, they have a direct exit ramp off the highway. And they have 1,000 acres of vacant land. It’s not Derry’s fault.”

The board discussed a list of proposed “permitted uses” for the district, including bank, bus depot, commercial service establishment, conference center, “essential services facility,” filling station, hospital, hotel, inn, indoor recreational facility, light industry, manufacturing, movie studio, professional office, private educational facility/private school, public use, publishing, radio broadcasting, research and development facility/research lab, restaurant, restaurant/drive in, retail sales and television broadcasting.

The list states that “no use shall be construed or interpreted to allow sexually oriented businesses.” Single-family dwellings established as of July 19, 2013 may remain, and automobile sales facilities existing at the time of the amendment will be considered legal permitted uses.

Board alternate Marc Flattes expressed concern about “private schools,” noting that many are 501(c)(3) nonprofits and do not pay taxes. “I’d like to see that taken out,” Flattes said.

Vice-chair John O’Connor pointed out that employees of such schools also shopped and dined in town.

“I’d like to see businesses that pay taxes,” Flattes said. “These schools do not grow the community.”

Alternate member Lori Davison asked Sioras the difference between “mixed use” and “mixed use overlay.” Sioras said “mixed use” is a more generic term, while “mixed use overlay” can be stringent and specific in its requirements.

Granese said he still “had a problem” with gas stations, which were listed in the draft as one of the permitted uses.

Member Randy Chase said gas stations were allowed for several years, during which time the town did not see an influx of them. He didn’t think a gas station would impact the infrastructure that much, unless it also put in a car wash.

There are fewer “fly by night” stations and more corporately-owned ones, O’Connor and Chase said. Chase pointed out that under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, a station has to change out its tanks every eight years. It’s expensive, he said, “and that’s why most of them are owned by the corporation.”

The group agreed to take “public use” out of the list, because as a town they didn’t need permission. They left filling stations on the list but removed the provision for a buffer between stations, and approved the document by consensus.

Sioras said the next step was to run the new district by legal counsel. He will bring the document back to the board in its July meeting and they will set a public hearing on the agenda for the August meeting. Sioras said he would also notify the property owners in the area that GC IV will be extended to the Windham line.