Neighbors Argue Against Planned 18-Apartment Building

The Derry Planning Board will delay a decision on a proposed 18-unit apartment building for 19 Kendall Pond Road until after a site walk and more study of the impact to the neighborhood.

About 30 residents of Magnolia Lane, the other street bordering the proposed project, appeared at the Aug. 20 Planning Board meeting to air their concerns. Board members also expressed concern about the impact, and the site walk was scheduled for Sept. 6.

The property is Parcel ID 24037 and is being developed by James Taylor and Aaron Hill. It is on the corner of Kendall Pond and Magnolia.

Engineer Eric Mitchell represented the developers.

Mitchell said the property is zoned MHDR, or Mixed High Density Residential. He said the parcel currently contains a vacant house and “a couple of garages,” all of which would be taken down.

The three-story building would have 18 rental units. “The density allows us 23 units, we have 18,” Mitchell said, noting 14 of them are two bedroom and four are one bedroom. There will be 43 parking spaces. Thirty-nine percent of the property is green space, more than the 33 percent required, Mitchell said.

Mitchell also said, in the event of families with children renting, the developers have sketched out a walkway to the bus stop on Magnolia Lane.

Mitchell said the Conservation Commission did a site walk and signed off on the project, and it had passed the Technical Review Committee. A consulting engineer for the town raised some concerns that will be addressed, he said.

The owners are requesting three waivers, including one for landscaping of the parking lot; one to allow them not to have full-sized trees along the border of the property, in order to provide better access for fire ladder trucks; and one from the requirement for underground utilities because Public Service of New Hampshire has poles across the street.

Vice-Chair John O’Connor, who was running the meeting in the absence of Chairman David Granese, asked, “Are these condos or apartments?”

Mitchell said they were planned as apartments, although “They could turn into condos down the road, it depends on the market.” He said the ideal tenant would be the so-called “empty nesters.”

But Magnolia residents expressed doubts that the project would fit their neighborhood.

The closely-knit neighborhood assigned two residents, Daria Mlynarski and Barry Drago, to speak for them.
Mlynarski said she and her neighbors were concerned about “a large property at the top of a small neighborhood.” The 24 homes on the street house many young children, who are used to playing freely in the quiet cul-de-sac, she said. The quiet is why she and her neighbors sought first Derry, than Magnolia Lane: “We came from Lawrence, Lowell, Medford, Everett (Massachusetts),” she said.

The families with children are worried about congestion and traffic, Mlynarski said. “It’s so congested now, if one of us has a party with lots of guests, you can’t get down the street,” she said. She’s also worried that the “empty nest” scenario won’t pan out and there will be children in the apartments, possibly affecting the current residents’ school.

And the market could also dictate an empty building, Mlynarski contended, saying, “There are too many other places to rent and condos to buy. What if they build it and it stays empty? It’s impossible to us to think all 18 units will be rented.”

Drago took the position of an empty-nester, one who likes to drink coffee on his deck on Saturday mornings. There are already problems with people crossing the adjacent Rail Trail on foot or on bikes, and “almost getting hit,” he said.

Drago said the walkway was a surprise to him, noting, “We were told earlier there would be no overflow to Magnolia. Now we’ve got a walkway?”

Drago, who has lived on Magnolia for 15 years and in Derry 25 years, said, “Everybody who moved here wanted to be part of the community.” He’s coached youth sports and said he, along with his neighbors, have invested time and taxes in Derry.

“It’s an investment,” he said, and referring to Taylor and Hill, he added, “They’re not going to be here.”

“We understand it’s a business investment for them,” Mlynarski said. “But you also have 24 families invested in the town of Derry.” Both she and Drago said they were worried about their resale value at retirement.

“We would rather see a single-family home or a duplex on that property,” Mlynarski said.

Lawrence Flammia of 25 Magnolia said, “I watch the Town Council meetings. They’re concerned about taxes. What are these extra children going to do to taxes? It costs $10,000 to educate a child in Derry.”

Shereen Hawkesworth, a young mother who is blind, said she will worry more about her children if the building goes through. “I can completely trust my neighbors,” she said, adding that they looked out for her children.
“Just because something’s zoned for it doesn’t make it right,” Hawkesworth maintained.

The developers contended that the area was zoned for their project, and that they were not asking for any “undue consideration.” They have taken pains to create a quality project, Hill said. “What we’re thinking is, ‘That’s the apartment I want to live in,’” he told the board and abutters.

Hill reiterated that midlife and older adults were their target tenants, and said, “I will bet you this entire complex will have fewer kids than the rest of the neighborhood.”

Board member Randy Chase said that while the developers mentioned their own previous projects and other multi-family complexes in the neighborhood, it wasn’t the same. For example, he said, “Aladdin Village sits back from the road.” Abutters of that complex aren’t going to “look out their bedroom window and wonder if someone’s looking down on them,” he said. But in Chase’s view, 19 Kendall Pond Road was too close for comfort.

“I don’t think a whole lot of thought went into this,” Chase said.

Taylor responded, “We thought, ‘Will it fit in the marketplace.’ And it fits the standards for Derry.”

But compliance on paper doesn’t always mean it’s a good fit, Chase countered. ‘If you live there and you send your kids out to play in the backyard pool, it’s got to be unnerving to think someone may be looking down on you,” he said.

Alternate member Marc Flattes, himself an apartment dweller, said, “I think it is too big a building for that neighborhood.”

Planning Director George Sioras strongly recommended a site walk and concurred with Chase’s “letter of the law versus spirit” stance. “The height is a problem,” Sioras said. “Yes, it’s zoned mixed use – but even if the zoning on paper allows it, you have to look at the impact on the neighborhood.

“We won’t know the potential impact until we get out in the field,” Sioras said.

The board agreed to hold a site walk Saturday, Sept. 6, at 10 a.m. and to revisit the application at its Oct. 1 meeting.