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Derry councilors discuss putting limits on skyline

Union Leader Correspondent

July 22. 2014 9:53PM

DERRY — When it comes to the height of buildings in downtown, how tall is too tall?

Town councilors are discussing the ramifications of setting a height limitation.

The maximum height of buildings used to be 60 feet, which is as far as fire truck ladders could extend, according to councilors. But the restriction has changed with the addition of sprinkling systems and other safety advances in buildings.

The decision of how high a building can be constructed is now left to the Planning Board and the site review process, Councilor Michael Fairbanks said. A developer who wants to construct a building of a certain height will have to go before the board and public, Fairbanks said.

In a meeting last week, Councilor Thomas Cardon asked: “Crazy question, what if somebody wants to go and put a 25-story building in there?”

Fairbanks said it would be possible, if a developer with enough financial resources could be found to complete the project. But even if a developer were found, the Planning Board would still have to approve the site plan before the work could proceed, he said.

“He or she would still be subjected to the same scrutiny that anybody else would be,” Councilor Chairman Mark Osborne said.

Councilor Al Dimmock added, “I mean we want to promote Derry, but we don’t want the Empire State Building being built there, either.”

Councilors grappled with whether buildings should be limited to a certain height for aesthetic reasons or if exceptions could be granted if the addition of a building might help spark economic development.

Councilor Joshua Bourdon said he would prefer that buildings not exceed 100 feet in the downtown area.

“I want to keep the existing character,” Bourdon said.

Osborne asked hypothetically if there was a building project that would exceed 100 feet, but have the potential to bring economic development to Derry.

“I wouldn’t want to lose that opportunity just because of what presently sounds like an arbitrary limit on height,” Osborne said.

Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores also said she didn’t like the idea of setting a height restriction.

The council didn’t take any action on the item.

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