LONDONDERRY — A new chapter has begun for the town of Londonderry.
The Planning Board on Wednesday night gave conditional approval to the master plan for Woodmont Commons after signing off on a number of requested waivers, including an exemption of permit requirements for “excavations and renovations” and exemption from “landscape and design standards.”
The vote to move the plan for the $1 billion, 625-acre town village project forward was unanimous.
Also approved were waivers for setback limits and other existing subdivision regulations as the board agreed “such is consistent with the intent and purposes of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) master plan.”
Londonderry Town Planner Cynthia May said on Thursday that developers would still have to submit individual subdivision and site plans to the Planning Board before they can build anything.
“They’ll still have to go through the board’s approval process in about the same manner as any conventional application,” May said. “The only difference here is that each (site plan) will be reviewed based on the standards and regulations in the Woodmont Commons PUD master plan (as opposed to general town zoning codes).”
Board members agreed Wednesday night that the plans were consistent with their vision for Londonderry’s future, noting that the PUD master plan includes a fiscal impact analysis that suggests a positive impact at full build-out.
The public hearing concluded shortly before 10 p.m. on Wednesday night.
“This is a historic moment,” Chairman Arthur Rugg said.
Developer Michael Kettenbach said the process “set a precedent not only for Londonderry but for the state as well.”
Kettenbach vowed to remain closely involved in the project as its builder and thanked the town for its persistence and patience in the process.
“This is going to be something the community will be proud of,” Kettenbach said. “We’ll be seeing you soon.”
The Planning Board accepted project plans as complete in October and over the past 11 months about a dozen public meetings have taken place. Residents expressed concerns over traffic, crowding and the preservation of the town’s rural character that could result from developing the former apple orchards.
Indeed, many members of the public attending Wednesday night’s final hearing said they took issue with the fact that the Town Council approved the project’s development agreement without a public hearing.
A public discussion on the matter took place on Monday, when the council voted to approve the development agreement on the condition that the Planning Board grant conditional plan approval for the Woodmont Commons master plan on Wednesday night.
“In my opinion, this just wasn’t done properly,” resident Ray Breslin said.
Former Town Councilor Mike Brown said he felt the plans should be subject to Londonderry’s growth management ordinance, which would require an ordinance reenactment on the town’s behalf.
“I think the phasing of this project should be approached on a site-plan-by-site-plan basis,” Brown told the board.
Martin Srugis agreed. “We’re talking a 20-year project,” he said. “So I’d just like to see the town keep a finger on the phasing.”
Planning Board member Mary Soares said the town would still have the final say when it comes to future development.
“There will be plenty of opportunities to make these decisions when each site plan comes in,” Soares said. “So, in fact, we’re not letting go of phasing at all, as (the developers) are prevented from overbuilding at any particular time.”
Doug Hatem, a board member for the Londonderry Square office park on Route 102, expressed concerns over future traffic.
“I’m thinking we’ll see a lot of people cutting through our parking lot to avoid the light,” Hatem said. “We fear our property may become a convenient through-way.”
Residents Walter and Marilyn Stocks sent a letter to the board to ask “what benefit this really has to the town and citizens.”
The Stocks added that “20 years of construction vehicles and construction dirt” would be an ongoing nuisance to abutters.
“In our opinion, this development needs to be downsized,” the couple wrote.
Resident Mary Tetreau, who organized the Save Woodmont Apple Trees rally last month, grew emotional as she read her poem “I Love the Apple Trees in Winter,” which she dedicated to developer Michael Kettenbach.
“Let’s face it, Woodmont Commons is the biggest thing to happen to Londonderry in about 50 years,” Tetreau said. “And the apple trees are part of who we are.”
Kettenbach approached Tetreau following her speech and applauded her input. He urged her to contact him personally should further concerns arise.
Project officials from Pillsbury Realty Development gave a brief update on the finalized plans at the start of public hearing, with team members Emily Kelley and Tom Goodwin noting that they’d received nearly 50 questions and concerns from residents following the recent series of meetings, and as a result made 39 modifications to the plans.
Kelley said the project’s final master plan, which represents Londonderry’s first time working with its Planned Unit Development zoning ordinance, now includes provisions for a quarter of the site to be preserved as green space.
That’s not including an additional 13 percent of the site’s overall acreage, if you count perimeter buffers, Kelley added.