, Derry, New Hampshire

January 2, 2014

Editorial: Towns must manage growth well

Derry News

---- — It’s a new year and an appropriate time both to look back at the major issues of 2013 and ahead to what to watch in 2014.

In Derry, town leaders will continue to deal with the fallout from the departure of former Town Administrator John Anderson. Hiring a new administrator will be a priority for 2014.

In July, Anderson was charged with two counts of lewd behavior and indecent exposure following an alleged incident at his East Derry home involving a satellite TV salesman. Anderson has a date in court this month.

Anderson was placed on administrative leave immediately following the incident. Derry cut its ties with Anderson in October and declined to renew his contract.

Derry’s fractured Town Council will need to work together to find the right candidate to replace Anderson. So far, the signs are not good as council members recently squabbled over the details of how to proceed.

“I’ve been baffled by the direction and/or lack thereof that council leadership has taken for months,” Councilor Neil Wetherbee said recently. “I have personally asked for some of what I feel are the more global issues to be placed on the agenda, but have thus far been disregarded.”

Wetherbee’s remarks came after a late November goal-setting workshop, which the councilor said served mainly to emphasize the difficulty members of the council have working together.

“It more highlighted what we have failed to do as a council over the last nine months,” he said. “At the rate we’re moving, it will be months before we simply address the process to fill the vacant town administrator’s job, let alone consider candidates.”

Derry’s leaders need a greater sense of both cooperation and urgency. The longer the council goes without the mediating influence of a town administrator, the more fractured it will become.

Frankly, Derry residents have more important things to do than watch their councilors squabble week after week. They have to figure out how they are going to pay their taxes this year, which are among the highest in the state.

Economic development is key to easing the tax burden afflicting Derry residents. Previous economic development efforts have suffered from a lack of focus and failed to deliver much in the way of results.

The widening of Route 28 north of the town center and other road improvements around town have given Derry the solid infrastructure needed for future economic development. Getting a new town administrator on board to facilitate that effort is essential.

Londonderry town leaders will have to continue to explore ways to manage the town’s growth.

In September, town planners approved the mammoth Woodmont Commons development. The plan calls for homes, businesses, streetscapes, hotels, gardens and open space over 600 acres of the former Woodmont Orchards. The billion-dollar project will be built over the next 20 years.

Woodmont will keep Londonderry officials busy for years. Planners will need to monitor the progress of the development and its impacts on the larger community. Developers will be submitting plans for each piece of the project as the work proceeds.

Woodmont will have a huge impact on Londonderry’s police, fire, public works and school services. For the coming fiscal year, new Town Manager Kevin Smith has asked department heads to keep the town under the default budget of $28 million. Police Chief William Hart and fire Chief Darren O’Brien said their budgets will be tight but the town will suffer no reduction in services. That trend cannot continue indefinitely.

“Moving forward we have challenges,” Hart said recently. “It’s something we need to be considering right now. (We need to think about) what we’re going to look like in two, five, 10, 20 years.”

The Woodmont development itself as it progresses will add needed tax revenue to town coffers. So, too, could a carefully planned use of developable land near the airport.

Stuart Arnett of the Concord-based Arnett Development Group in October suggested to the Town Council a plan to establish a tax-increment financing district on Pettengill Road. The plan could open up 1,000 acres to development and potentially result in 10,000 jobs.

Smith said Londonderry is losing out to other towns that take a more aggressive approach to development.

“The longer we wait, the more opportunities we’ll miss out on,” he said.

Londonderry needs business growth to survive and thrive. At the same time, currently residents don’t want to lose the small town they love.

Finding the right balance will take considerable skill on the part of town leaders.