The former Woodmont Orchard's acres of undeveloped land stretch along Interstate 93 and abut the northern edges of Exit 4, seen in the top-left of this photo looking southward in Londonderry. The development planned for the site, known as Woodmont Commons, would be built in stages over the next 20 years. (File Photo Courtesy Steve Young/ImageAbility Inc.)
Woodmont process begins to take shape
LONDONDERRY - Project officials for the controversial Woodmont Commons development laid out an anticipated schedule for its planning process during a public hearing before the Londonderry Planning Board on Wednesday evening.
This week's meeting is the first in a series of six, according to board Chairman Arthur Rugg.
"We're putting things in bite-sized amounts for people to chew on," he said, noting the project's "review clock" would now be extended through mid-April of next year.
The Woodmont Commons Planned Unit Development (PUD) master plan was originally dated and submitted in October 2011, but after a preliminary evaluation by town staff, developers requested a continuance.
In September, staff members at Howard/Stein-Hudson Associates, the third-party review consultants hired by the town to offer an outside opinion on the plans for Woodmont Commons, submitted their updated evaluation to the town, which the planning board accepted as complete on Oct. 11.
This week's public hearing had originally been scheduled for Nov. 14, but was delayed as town and project officials worked to address various questions on the project's infrastructure specifics, including the potential need for expanded public safety measures and the future maintenance of the site's roadways.
The $1 billion development, to be located on 625 acres of former apple orchard land near Route 102 and Interstate 93, calls for several phases of construction, with plans to build 1,300 homes as well as offices, retail areas, hotels and more.
Howard/Stein-Hudson officials said they've had several meetings with the project development team in recent months to help develop a detailed outline of what's going to be included in the application.
"There's a lot to do," project planner Steve Cecil said. "In thinking ahead, we feel there's a really important series of discussions that still need to happen."
Discussions on such issues as land use, transportation, infrastructure, open space, the environment and design standards will take place over the course of the next several months, with meeting dates to soon be posted on the town website.
"We want to make sure we bring those issues to the table," said Cecil. "Once those are in place, we need to decide how do we deal with design guidelines. Finally, we'll talk about the notion of what the procedures might be and be putting the whole package together before we ask (town officials) to begin making decisions about this."
Attorney Ari Pollack, who represents Woodmont developer Mike Kettenbach and Kettenbach's development company, Pillsbury Realty LLC, said it makes sense to extend the public hearing process considering the size and scope of Woodmont Commons.
The ultimate goal, Pollack noted, is to present finalized plans to the board sometime in early spring.
"When we're finished with all this, we really need to have an operator's manual for the planning board and Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance," Cecil added, noting that Woodmont Commons marks the town's first time working with its new PUD ordinance, which essentially allows for a parcel or parcels of land to have a master plan for development.
Town Planner Cynthia May said it's important for the public to continue submitting their questions to the board, as town and project officials will attempt to address all citizen questions over the course of the Woodmont Commons review and approval process.
Board member Mary Wing Soares noted that some of the questions that residents have submitted have yet to be addressed.
"In some cases, we just don't have the answers just yet," she said. "But we will eventually."
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April Guilmet may be reached at AGuilmet@newstote.com..