By Julie Huss
---- — LONDONDERRY —They dot the landscape and are often the stone barriers between properties.
But when development moves in, aging stone walls can sometimes stand in the way of progress.
That’s when town officials pay particular care when hearing details of subdivisions and other projects when stone walls may be impacted.
Londonderry’s Heritage Commission heard details recently of a proposed six-lot subdivison at 115 Hovey Road. The plan included ways to protect stone walls on the existing property and offered solutions about what to do with other stones that may be moved to accommodate development.
“Most existing walls will remain,” engineer Bill Gregsak told officials at a meeting March 27.
He represents the Kestral Estates subdivision plan.
But some walls will be impacted.
“Some will go away, some sections will have to be moved for road construction and lot development,” Gregsak said.
Right now, this plan includes 2,310 feet of existing stone walls on the property. The impact is minimal here, Gregsak said, with only 190 feet of stone walls slated to be removed.
Stones removed would be used to build up other walls that will remain on site, he said.
Communities like Londonderry have rules on the books to protect stone walls, giving specific details on what can and cannot be altered, or how to move stones when development impacts the old walls.
For this project, stone walls relocated or moved will be shown on the actual site plans, according to town planner John Vogl.
Several years ago, the town updated a stone wall ordinance to give clear rules on what is allowed and what specifications must be followed if a wall needs to be altered or rebuilt during a development project.
The Heritage Commission hears preliminary details of plans that may affect stone walls around town and the Planning Board gets final approval.
If stones go missing, that’s another story.
The state’s General Court drafted a law back in 1791 to protect stones against theft. Those rules carried on for generations, with an updated version signed into law in 2009. If caught, people stealing stones will be fined, from an original $15 noted in an earlier version to three times the cost of restoring the damaged wall, plus legal costs.
Although Derry doesn’t have stone wall rules as part of its town ordinance, planning director George Sioras said the town has worked well with developers to maintain valuable walls when they are part of a proposed project.
“We’ve been very fortunate and lucky,” Sioras said. “We’ve worked with developers to maintain the character (of the stone walls) and the charm.”
Sioras said there are official scenic roadways in Derry that do have tighter restrictions when it comes to stone walls and what can be done.
Many area residents want stone walls to remain whenever possible.
“I view the stone walls around my property as almost sacred,” Chester resident Mike Corey said. “I think about the work that went into building them. I come away with a great feeling of responsibility to preserve, hesitating to even borrow a stone from the walls running through the middle of my land.”
Londonderry resident Kathy Wagner said stone walls add beauty and character to the town — and should be protected at all costs.
“They need to be protected because they represent our farming history, and the show the hard work our earlier settlers did,” Wagner said. “It is hard to believe that these walls were all made by hand and all these rocks came out of the soil. Have you ever noticed the patina of the rocks? You just cannot get that look out of new rocks.”