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January 09. 2013 11:55PM

Londonderry residents given more insight into Woodmont process

LONDONDERRY - Dozens of residents gathered inside Town Hall Wednesday evening for a presentation detailing how developers of the $1 billion proposed Woodmont Commons project plan on working within Londonderry's Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance.

The presentation was the second in a series of six meetings, with other topics to be discussed in further detail over the coming weeks and months.

On Dec. 12, Woodmont developers laid out an anticipated schedule detailing the planning process for the 600-acre town village project slated for former orchard land abutting Interstate 93 and Route 102.

Board Chairman Art Rugg said the goal of this week's presentation was "mainly to gain public input," stressing that the town is nowhere near making any decisions.

Project planner Steve Cecil said they broke the entire project's PUD master plan into a series of topics, with the goal of presenting the complete project proposal before the board this spring.

"We're thinking of how to focus on a series of topics that in a sequence will allow you to look more deeply," he told the crowd.

Woodmont Commons marks the town's first time working with its new PUD ordinance, which essentially allows for developers to propose a master plan for a parcel or parcels. Sharing conceptual drawings, Cecil said the developers' interpretation of the PUD aligned new development with existing streets and landmarks.

"Part of the key idea here is that this fits into existing rights-of-way and utility agreements," Cecil said.

The intention, Cecil said, is that "while all of these land parcels are being advanced, the idea is that over time it could be subdivided amongst multiple owners."

With that in mind, Cecil said it's important to define zoning codes in the project's early stages.

"The purpose of the PUD is to provide for increased flexibility in land use while recognizing that there's some real benefits in doing this," he added. "Looking at the land as a whole and thinking about usage categories is very important."

Among the different uses mapped out are agricultural, residential, civic, institutional, accommodations (i.e. hotels and inns) and business.

Within the "institutional" category are nursing homes, assisted living centers and hospitals, while "accommodations" could include anything from large-scale grand hotels to some much smaller bed-and-breakfasts.

"There are several areas where it's appropriate for mixed-uses," Cecil said. "The idea in traditional zoning is that once something meets required conditions, you don't control the total amount. What Woodmont Commons does is place some important caps."

Those caps include the number of permitted dwelling units and the maximum size of standalone office buildings. For example, housing units would be capped at 1,430, including single-family homes, condos, apartments and accessory (in-law) apartments As for agricultural and civic uses, Cecil said it might "make sense not to place as many limits, as we don't expect much of this to occur."

"It's not one-size fits all. We need to break down each area to see where each use is allocated," he said.

In one conceptual diagram, residential housing and green areas flank the parcels to the Londonderry side of I-93, with more commercial and retail uses closer to the highway, while parcels on the opposite side of the highway show a higher prevalence of mixed-uses.

Board member Chris Davies suggested the project planners add a glossary of terms to make the drafted document somewhat less confusing - for residents and town officials alike.

School board liaison John Laferriere said he'd like to see "some concrete examples of how all of these uses will fit into this space."

"I can't think of any five-story buildings like you're describing here in Londonderry. I'd have to go to Manchester to find something similar," he told the developers.

The next public hearing on Woodmont Commons will take place during the Feb. 13 planning board meeting. Those interested in viewing complete project documents may do so online by visiting the Woodmont Commons PUD Master Plan page on the town's website, www.londonderrynh.org.

aguilmet@newstote.com

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