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Londonderry residents say 'not in my backyard'

Union Leader Correspondent

March 21. 2014 10:35PM

LONDONDERRY — Developers of a local retirement complex have agreed to pay $35,000 to the town of Londonderry for the release of a decade-old agreement to build a public walking trail.

The walking trail has been a bone of contention for many Nevins Active Adult Community residents who are worried about pedestrians being too close for comfort. If the town accepts this offer, the trail won't get built.

But some town officials are questioning the legal process of releasing part of an existing easement and there are many complicating factors, as noted during Thursday night's Town Council meeting.

Following a lengthy debate with property owners, attorneys and town officials this week, the Town Council opted to table the issue until its April 7 meeting, with a final decision on the matter to be made sometime next month.

The trail in question is part of a town-owned easement around the development's perimeter. The easement was approved by voters in 2003, after previous developer Elmer Pease initially pitched the subdivision that was much larger and not age-restricted.

During a special meeting, voters had agreed to spend $2.9 million to appease the developer, who in turn agreed to make the Nevins a smaller project limited to senior citizens. Intended for both neighborhood residents and the general public, the conservation easement was part of the deal.

Pease is no longer involved in the project, and these days the Nevins community, a cooperative neighborhood of detached units, has grown to 135 homes and approximately 270 residents.

Gilcreast Property Holdings are the current developers.

Last fall a number of Nevins residents petitioned the town to release its rights to the easement, with some noting that the planned trail would be within 20 feet or closer to their homes.

Attorney Morgan Hollis, who spoke on behalf of the Nevins residents, said the trail would lead pedestrians through at least three of the residents' backyards and underneath bedroom windows.

Since then, Hollis, who returned before the council this week, said he's looked into the matter further and has determined the public owns rights to the walking trail.

"It became apparent there really isn't a need, nor the desire of the town to give up the easement right itself," Hollis said. "So we're requesting the town (instead) release all rights to build the walking trail, but keep the easement."

"If (the trail) isn't built, the average citizen isn't going to know where it is," the attorney added.

Town Manager Kevin Smith said that if the town agrees to the deal proposed by the current developer, the $35,000 would be put into an account for "future enhancement of neighborhood trails" in other parts of the community.

"My understanding is that planning staff would work with Londonderry Trailways and the Conservation Commission to decide how to enhance the town's trail system," Smith added.

Resident Greg Carson said he "doesn't think we should let the developer off the hook for $35,000."

"We know whose fault it is," Carson said. "The developer did this and there's no excuse for what he's done. And to pay the town this amount is completely unacceptable."

Council Chair John Farrell said he agreed, "the amount needs more zeros after it, but this is a negotiation."

"These Nevins property owners are citizens of this community," Farrell said. "And they want our help to move on. So we need to work towards an agreement that can help everyone move on."

Conservation commissioner Mike Speltz noted that the Nevins trail site is "clearly labeled as a conservation easement," meaning the easement is currently in public trust and any amendments to that agreement would require approval from the Attorney General's office.

"I think the Attorney General would object to this due to the purchase price and the compensation being paid," Speltz said. "I would ask the council to take a look at their own homes and ask what they'd do if this was in their own backyard. What would you pay to get rid of this trail?"

Another public hearing on the matter will take place during the council's April 7 meeting at 7 p.m. in the Moose Hill Council Chambers at Londonderry Town Hall.

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