Planning Board Sends Developer Back to the Drawing Board

After more input from abutters, the Derry Planning Board has continued a local developer’s request to build multi-family housing to its first January meeting.

Mark Fougere, a consultant, and Brian Pratt, an engineer, represented builder Robert Lamontagne, who wants to build 10 townhouses at 30 Brook St.

After an extensive look at the plan and discussion of an alternate plan at its Wednesday, Nov. 5 meeting, the board accepted jurisdiction of the project but did not grant conditional approval, and directed Lamontagne to come up with a more complete look at his alternate plan and to consider three single-family homes instead.

The property is PID 23016 and the site plan review was continued from September.

On a recent site walk, the Planning Board had criticized Lamontagne’s request for a waiver from the required 30-foot buffer, saying the site did not support it.

Lamontagne and his team responded with the alternate plan, which would put the garages and parking in the front of the building and expand the green space in the rear. However, Fougere said, having the garages in front would necessitate raising the height of the units, as the garages in the back were lower.

The garages in the original plan were “drive-under,” Pratt said.

Pratt and Fougere maintained these would be higher-end units, renting at $1,600 to $1,800 per month, and would add $37,000 to the tax base. They expressed doubt that the project would add children to the schools, but pointed out that the schools are currently “under capacity.”

“There is a potential for five police calls and two ambulance calls a year,” Fougere said in explaining that the development would not strain town services.

“The apartments are higher-end and would attract stable and higher-end tenants,” Pratt said. While Derry has an abundance of rental property, he maintained that “the majority of Derry’s housing stock is outdated.”

The original design has a wide lawn in front and parking and garages in the rear.

Planning Director George Sioras said the hearing was continued from Sept. 17 because the board wanted to hold a site walk and listen to concerns of abutters.

Pratt said the town requires a 10-foot buffer except when a multi-family unit abuts residential property. Then it increases to 30 feet. He said the developer is requesting a waiver to allow it at 10 feet.

Buffering would include a fence atop a retaining wall and several new trees, Pratt said, adding, “We are happy to work with the abutters on the buffering.” But if the waiver is not granted, they will go to Plan B, which involves shifting the building back 20 feet and accommodating both garages and parking in front. They will reduce the green space in front, Pratt said, adding, “It won’t look as residential.”

In the public hearing, Don Bodwell, a lifelong Derry resident, expressed concern about adding children to the neighborhood. “It will bring a lot of kids into the area,” he said. He noted that there aren’t that many places for children to play and some ask him if they can play on a vacant lot he owns.

Bodwell also said the building “didn’t fit” in a residential area. “It looks like the Ritz-Carlton,” he said.

But in Bodwell’s opinion, the board’s mind was already made up, he said.

Resident Rich Hirtle echoed his concerns. “Where will the children play?” he asked.

And Hirtle challenged the notion of high-end renters, saying, “This building will be 100 yards from the dump.”

After the public hearing closed, Planning Vice-Chair John O’Connor asked Lamontagne to develop more blueprints. He and other members noted that the rendition of Plan B wasn’t a full conceptual drawing but the back of the original plan adapted for that meeting to show what the garages would look like in front.

The rendition was not exactly what Plan B would look like, Fougere agreed. “The windows would be different, and it would be one-car garages instead of two-car,” he said of Plan B.

“We will shrink the garage doors and have a better-looking entryway,” Pratt said.

Member Marc Flattes asked, “If we don’t grant the waiver, what will the new height of the building be?”

The current plans are 28 feet 10 inches high, with a 9-foot rise toward the back, Pratt said. If they go with Plan B they’ll have to add a story and the plan would add another 9 feet to accommodate the garages in the front.

The lot is 38,393 square feet or .9 acre, Pratt said.

“Why don’t you just put three houses on it?” Chairman David Granese said.

Lamontagne said that had been his original plan and he discussed it with the Technical Review Committee. He said he had been under the impression the board didn’t want three houses, and that the Technical Review Committee preferred the townhouse concept.

“What is best for the abutter?” Town Council representative Michael Fairbanks asked. “I’m not a big fan of buffer waivers, but this one could work.”

Member Jim MacEachern disagreed. “It would put it closer to some abutters’ property,” he said.

Member Randy Chase said he had stood on the second-floor deck of a homeowner on Bridge Street. “From that height, she could see cars come in,” he said. “She would have headlights in her windows.”

Fougere said the developer planned to plant evergreen trees as a screen. “They will have year-round foliage, with no leaves lost in the fall,” he pointed out.

MacEachern proposed three single-family houses with a shared driveway instead of the townhouses. “If I had to grant a waiver, I’d prefer to grant one for a common driveway,” he said.

Lamontagne responded, “Based on what I’ve been through, I’d like to get a vote on this plan first.” He said he would have to go back to the Technical Review Committee, and had already spent $50,000 on this version.

Shared driveways “typically don’t work,” he said, adding, “But I’ll keep my mind open.”

The buffer waiver failed 4-5. Members Ann Alongi, Lori Davison, Frank Bartkiewicz and Fairbanks voted in favor, with Fairbanks saying, “It’s better for the abutters, but I’d like to see more vegetation.”

MacEachern said he voted no because he wants to see a more complete set of plans for the alternative design, and also because he wants to see the three-house option considered.

Flattes also voted no, saying, “We don’t have structural drawings for the second option.”

Chase said he thought the second plan was better for abutters, and Granese and John O’Connor also voted no.

The building team agreed to return Jan. 7 with a revised plan, with Fougere saying, “We have some thinking to do.” The board voted unanimously to continue the matter to Jan. 7, 2015.