Town Council Votes to Pave Portion of Derry Rail Trail

The Derry Rail Trail will take one more step toward linking up with the Londonderry Rail Trail, for the benefit of bikers, runners and walkers from both communities.

At the Jan. 5 Town Council meeting, the Council voted unanimously to approve a supplemental appropriation of $125,000 from the Land and Building Capital Reserve Fund to pave Phase 1 of the project, from Hood Park to North High Street.

The paved section of the Rail Trail currently ends at Hood Park, with approximately 4,500 feet unpaved between Hood Park and the Londonderry town line. The project is proposed in two phases:

• Phase I, Hood Park to North High Street, estimated at $100,000 to $125,000; and

• Phase II, North High Street to the Londonderry town line, estimated at $300,000 plus land acquisition from Boston North.

Controller Janice Mobsby presented the financial end of the project, explaining that the Land and Buildings Capital Reserve Fund currently contains $341,000. “This is not enough to do both phases of the project,” Mobsby said.

Phase I is doable now, Mobsby said, because the town owns the rail bed and has easement rights over the Waterview Estates development. The land is also maintained and fairly flat, she said.

Funding Phase I through the Land and Buildings Capital Reserve Fund would reduce the fund from $341,000 to $216,000, Mobsby said. It would have no impact on taxes or the Unassigned Fund Balance, and any unused funds would be returned to the Capital Reserve Fund.

The other option is using the Unassigned Fund Balance, but Mobsby said the staff recommendation is the supplemental appropriation from the Capital Reserve Fund.

What about 4A?

The proposed Exit 4A off Interstate 93 is an elephant in the room in any Derry discussion, and it arrived on Jan. 5 in the public hearing, with local Realtor Steve Trefethen asking, “Do we have a price on the old Boston North land?”

Council Chair Tom Cardon said he has spoken with the developer and that he was willing to work with Derry. “I am going to take him at his word,” Cardon said. “He wants to see 4A developed and then he’ll work with Derry. But that is years away. They’re supposed to start building 4A in 2019. It makes no sense to do anything now.”

Resident Donald Burgess wasn’t so sure. “Why don’t you get an agreement, a stipulation now, and not wait till 4A is developed?” he asked. “What if it’s five years down the road and the developer dies?”

Residents also expressed concern that without an agreement, Boston North wouldn’t let trail users cross its land. But Mark Connors, vice-chair of the Rail Trail organization, said he was sure Boston North “knows what we’re envisioning. They are building a walkable planned community” (the Woodmont Commons project in Londonderry). I’m sure they will allow us to cross it as is or in a slightly improved state without paving.”

Councilor Richard Tripp said, “I have walked both sections of the trail. I suggest that in conjunction with 4A, we make more effort in planning what happens in that area. We should get an agreement with the property owner. If we have a little more planning, we’ll have a little more certainty.”

But Cardon said a written agreement wasn’t necessarily useful. “At some point, it will be handed over to the state,” he said of Boston North’s land.

Council views

Cardon asked about parking, and Public Works Director Michael Fowler said there would not be a parking lot at North High Street because of sight distance. But there is plenty of parking at nearby Hood Park, he added.

Councilor Mark Osborne had another caveat. “I support this,” he said, “with the condition that we maintain this section as respectfully as we maintain all our other parks.”

Councilor David Fischer said he supported it because “it’s a positive initiative for the community.”

Councilor Joshua Bourdon said, “I am for this regardless of whether Phase II gets completed or not. I will support Phase I.”

Bourdon said paving that segment of the trail would be good for economic development, make Derry more vibrant, and increase property values without increasing taxes. Also, he said, “It is shovel-ready.”

Tripp said he would vote for it, but warned the rest of the Council, “We have had a number of ‘starts’ here in Derry that we’ve never finished. We should talk to the property owner, we should talk to the state. There needs to be a plan in place to allow the people to cross.”

The Council voted 7-0 in favor of the supplemental appropriation.