South Avenue Property Merger for Townhouse Gets OK

A Derry landlord will be able to merge three lots into one, in order to better foster a sense of community in his three properties, after the Planning Board approved his request for a voluntary merger of three properties on South Avenue.

David Barka and his engineer, Doug McGuire of the Dubay Corp., appeared before the board for a public hearing Oct. 15. After hearing Barka’s plan, the board granted four waivers, approved taking jurisdiction of the project and gave conditional approval.

The parcels are 15, 17 and 19 South Ave., and before the merger were PID 30012, 30013 and 27137.

McGuire said the sites currently contain one single-family home, one duplex and a four-unit set of townhouses. He said Barka wants to build another five-unit townhouse complex on the site.

Planning Director George Sioras noted that the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) had already approved a variance to allow all the units on one parcel. “This ‘cleans up,’” Sioras said.

The board first approved a lot merger, with PID 30013 and 27137 being eliminated and the whole lot reconfigured as PID 30012. The board voted unanimously to approve the lot merger.

The board also held a public hearing on accepting jurisdiction and the site plan for adding the five-unit townhouse complex.

Sioras said Barka is looking to expand on the portion of the property formerly occupied by the Derry Car Wash. Sioras said the proposed five units would be located between the four-unit building and the duplex.

Sioras said the developer is seeking four waivers: from the requirement for high-intensity soil mapping and wetland mapping, both of which are moot because the site has town water and sewer; from the requirement for parking to be 15 feet from the front lot line; and from the requirement for a 15-foot landscape island. There is not enough room for a 15-foot island, he said.

McGuire said the developer is planning to eliminate two curb cuts onto South Avenue. “The current renters,” he said, “have to back out onto South Avenue.” He said Barka was proposing consolidating all parking on site and eliminating the curb cuts, which serve the duplex and the single-family home on the lot.

McGuire said the developer has already been to the ZBA  and the board granted the variance to allow the two-family and single-family on the same parcel as the multi-family.

“Removing the lot lines brings the parcel together,” McGuire said.

McGuire said the combined parcels meet the density requirements. With the three parcels combined the maximum density is 14 units, “and we are proposing 12,” he said.

McGuire said the development will not meet the 15 feet from the lot line requirement for parking. “If we close the curb cuts, there is not enough room,” he said, adding, “But we are eliminating those backing maneuvers onto South Avenue.” He said Barka was planning to loam and seed the former curb cuts.

Chairman David Granese said, “I like the idea of eliminating the curb cuts.” He asked what McGuire and Barka were doing for stormwater management.

McGuire said they are proposing an infiltration pipe with two catchbasins. There are currently no catchbasins on the property, he said, and stormwater is a “sheet flow” onto South Avenue. McGuire said the development could also use the existing catchbasin on South Avenue for overflow. “These will reduce the runoff on site,” he said of the plan.

“This is a good application for that site,” Public Works staff engineer Mark L’Heureux said. L’Heureux said the staff is still waiting to finalize the details of eliminating the curb cuts with McGuire and Barka.

“We need more specific details on water, sewer and drainage,” he said.

Granese noted that he also liked the fact that Barka has his required recreational space up front, and not a walking trail behind the property.

While McGuire said the proposal meets both the town “green space” and “recreational space” requirement, member Randy Smith observed that the green space proposed is a steep grade and “90 percent unusable.”

McGuire countered that “green space” is considered “lack of impervious surface” and the piece qualified.

“There is also a gate in the rear so residents can access the Derry Rail Trail,” McGuire said.

Chase and member Michael Fairbanks, the Town Council representative to the Planning Board, questioned whether the developer would need a variance if he dropped the number of proposed new units to four instead of five. “Are you trying to put too much on too little?” Chase queried.

McGuire reiterated that with the combined parcels, Barka could have up to 14 units. “But David’s concern,” he said, “was that he wanted it to feel like a community and not be too crowded.”

“If you had four new units instead of five, would you be able to do without a waiver?” Chase pressed. “If you lessen the density, you won’t need a waiver.”

“We would still need the same amount of parking,” McGuire said, adding, “I think we’re meeting the spirit of the regulations.”

McGuire said Barka also redid the façade of the duplex to bring it in line with the townhouses, thus creating more “community” flavor.

In the public hearing there were no speakers for or against Barka’s proposal.

Who owns what?

Ownership of a sliver of land came into heavy questioning from the board. Chase noticed that a “lot 137” was included in the plan and asked what it was. McGuire said while there was no formal purchase made, the piece of land was “conveyed forward” with Barka’s three lots for several decades. “At one point there was a break in the conveyance,” he said.

Chase said that if the plans went through, the residents would be parking in the neighbor’s lot.

Fairbanks added, “You are also looking at landscaping a parcel that may or may not be yours.”

“He is using the neighbor’s land for a curb cut,” Chase said. “If the waiver doesn’t pass, we don’t want it on record that he’s using his neighbor’s land.”

McGuire proposed eliminating the curb cut, or not landscaping it. But he ran into the same problem, Chase said: the land isn’t technically Barka’s to use.

“It sounds like it was a ‘handshake deal,’” Fairbanks observed.

“I’m all for eliminating that driveway, but not on property that’s not his,” Fairbanks added.

“We could close off the curb cut and not loam and seed it,” McGuire proposed. “We have an existing driveway on the other side of the property that could be used.”

The parcel, Map 27 Lot 137, is 1/10 of an acre or less, McGuire said. Barka said he’d been using the piece since he bought the property in 1990.

It is not on the Town of Derry tax rolls as a separate lot, McGuire added.

“We could eliminate any proposed work, such as loaming and seeding, until Mr. Barka moves forward with this,” he suggested. He said the best option was to have his staff surveyor remove the parcel from the plan until Barka settled ownership.

“If we give conditional approval, we have to be very specific about this,” Sioras cautioned.

The board voted 7-0-0 to accept jurisdiction of the project and voted unanimously to give conditional approval, with one of the conditions being that Lot 137 be removed from the current plan.

Three of the waivers, for the landscape island, wetland mapping and soil mapping, passed unanimously. The waiver for the 15-foot parking requirement passed 6-1-0, with Chase the dissenting vote.

“I think the ‘need’ here is self-imposed and that he could solve the problem by reducing the density by one unit,” Chase said in explaining his vote.