, Derry, New Hampshire

February 21, 2013

Londonderry officials still put hopes on Pettingill

By Julie Huss

---- — LONDONDERRY — Hopes are still high for many in town that the Pettingill Road project might someday fly.

Londonderry Housing and Redevelopment Authority members want town councilors to put Pettingill back on the radar to help bring economic growth to town and pave the way for future savings for taxpayers.

Paul Donehue heads the Redevelopment Authority. He told town councilors the time was ripe for the Pettingill project to happen.

“The plan is for us to take the underdeveloped properties and make them productive for the town,” Donehue said. “That’s been our goal through the years.”

The 1,000-acre project has been on the town’s list for more than a decade. Many call the land near the Manchester Boston Regional Airport a perfect place to attract new business and helping Londonderry grow in more ways than one.

It’s also strategically located to support not only the business in and out of the airport, but future commercial and industrial uses that could bring a boom to the town.

“We’ve been involved in Pettingill Road conversations for 10 to 12 years and we’ve had opportunities,” Town Council Chairman John Farrell said. “We haven’t succeeded in any of those opportunities.”

Farrell questions how the town can make it happen.

“We’ve worked closely with the airport, we’ve had a number of reports,” he said. “How do we get there and where do we go from here?

Many are willing to help.

Russ Thibeault of Applied Economic Research was contracted to conduct studies of Pettingill. He was asked to offer direction on how to proceed when the town is ready and provide pros and cons as to what Pettingill could do for Londonderry.

If developed, Pettingill could generate thousands of jobs in that area, he said. Once development happens, it could take years for the town to reap the financial benefits, but those benefits will come.

“If you do decide to build this, to front end this, you will get your money back,” Thibeault said.

Paying for Pettingill is another challenge.

In 2002, the town approved financing for the engineering portion of the project and permitting was put in place. But the total cost to get the project done could top $12 million.

With belts being tightened during this budget season, councilors said taking on Pettingill now and having residents agree might be difficult.

“We’ve been scratching at this for several years now,” Councilor Tom Dolan said. “To get a general obligation bond, we would need 60 percent of the voters here to agree. We’d be paying for this for six to eight years before seeing any economic benefit.”

Thibeault said funding help could come through development impact fees, a tax increment financing, or TIF, plan, or through public and private partnerships.

There are a lot of people in town opposing the Pettingill plan. Coming up with the money is the biggest hurdle.

“This project could happen quickly if funding were there,” Kathy Wagner said. “We have to come up with the money ourselves if we believe in the project.”

Farrell said Pettingill is like having a “bird in the hand” over the past decade — a long 10 years of trying to figure the project out and how the town should move forward, if it ever does.

“This is the general opinion of the council, I think, that we’ve seen the results of 10 years of waiting for the bird, and the bird has not come,” he said. “Everyone here would like the opportunity to build Pettingill Road, but there is only so much money in the piggybank.”

Dolan agreed and said money is tight for many.

“It’s hard for people take a long-term view when they can’t pay the bills on the table now,” he said.

Councilors said it would take a lot of convincing right now to get voters to approve money to pay for Pettingill, but Farrell told Thibeault they were willing to listen to the development experts to get closer to an end result.

“You’ve piqued our interest,” he said. “You have us, now you have to close us.”