June 06. 2017 8:35PM

Groundbreaking ceremony held for Woodmont Commons development

Union Leader Correspondent

A pile of dirt was brought in after the rain moved the Woodmont Commons groundbreaking ceremony indoors on Tuesday. L to R: Tom Dolan, Town Council chair; Kevin Smith, town manager; Gov. Chris Sununu and his son, Leo; Nancy Michels, an attorney whose late husband John helped with the project; Michael Kettenbach, owner and master developer; and Paul Finn, CEO of Bank of New England. (MELISSA PROULX/Union Leader Correspondent)

LONDONDERRY — Nearly a decade in the making, the official groundbreaking for Woodmont Commons kicked off what ultimately will be the largest economic development project in the state.

The fact that this multi-use development is finally moving forward, supporters say, is a good sign for the region’s economic growth and a major step for the statewide initiative to encourage young people to stay, work and play in the Granite State.

In 2010, Londonderry changed its own zoning to allow the planned unit development, which over the next 20 years is designed to accommodate 833,000 square feet of retail, 700,000 square feet of commercial and 1,300 new homes.

“The entire Northeast really needs to do some catching up when it comes to building these kind of communities,” said Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith.

“The reality is these village developments will meet demand of the market for both millennials and seniors. People are saying these massive malls and box store destinations aren’t what people want anymore.”

Woodmont Commons is designed by the same architects who created Birkdale Village, a successful, smaller, multi-use community in Huntersville, N.C., a suburb of Charlotte. 

The start of Phase 1 begins modestly during this construction season — a connector road from the existing Market Basket Plaza to Pillsbury Road, a brewery pub and a few apartment buildings.

Upgraded infrastructure to and within the development during 2018 will pave the way for an assisted-living complex for senior citizens, along with many retail and residential buildings, Smith said.

“A project like this is a great selling tool for the state of New Hampshire,” said Gov. Chris Sununu. “It says we can get things done.”

Londonderry was recently named the fastest-growing town in the state since 2016, according to Town Council Chairman Tom Dolan.

“The golden goose has laid her eggs and they’re right here in Londonderry,” Dolan said.

Located just off Route 102 near Interstate 93, Woodmont Commons will include a 135-room hotel; the two-building, four-story assisted-living facility with 250 beds; a music hall or other entertainment venue with about 350 seats and apartment or townhouse complexes on an original 603 acres, once a thriving apple orchard.

“(That) always struck me as a funny coincidence,” said Ari Pollack, legal counsel for developer Pillsbury Realty Development LLC, referring to the orchard acreage being the same as the state’s area code. The total development space is about 640 acres.

Traffic concerns

State Rep. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, said residents in both Londonderry and Derry should be worried about traffic congestion, especially along Route 102, which now faces backups at morning and night rush hours into downtown Derry.

“My problem with this kind of development is by the time traffic improvements are made, they are already obsolete because the growth in cars is greater than planned for,” Sapareto said.

Road upgrades next year include an additional lane on Route 102, an added turning lane into the project from Michael’s Way and some ancillary roads, Smith said.

Local officials and developers agree building the long-stalled, $55 million, Exit 4-A off Interstate 93 is critical.

“Both towns badly need it because 4-A would not only bring consumers and residents right to this community but it would greatly relieve the congestion on Route 102 going into the middle of Derry,” Smith said.

The project is in the state’s 10-year highway plan for construction to start in 2020, but Rep. Sapareto remains skeptical.

“It’s hard not to be cynical about it. Ever since the access road to the airport was built on the other side of the river in Bedford, I’ve questioned whether there will be follow-through for what Derry needs economically off I-93,” Sapareto said.

The entire Phase 1 on 62 acres just north of Market Basket is not to be completed until after 2020, and will bring 650 new jobs, developers said.

It will include 45 buildings, 260 residential units, 164,000 square feet of retail and 108,000 square feet of office space.

Union Leader Staff Writer Kevin Landrigan contributed to this report.