It’s decision time for Londonderry’s Planning Board on the Woodmont Commons development. It’s a decision that should be made carefully and thoughtfully as there is no doubt that the massive project will change Londonderry forever.
The Woodmont Commons development would essentially create a new village within Londonderry over its build-out over the next 20 years. The project will transform a 600-acre orchard into a network of homes, businesses, hotels, streets, walkways and parks. A study found that the project potentially could bring more than 3,000 new residents to Londonderry, increasing the town’s population by 14 percent. The development could add 800 new students to Londonderry’s schools.
Woodmont Commons is proposed by Michael Kettenbach and Pillsbury Realty Development.
Pillsbury purchased the Woodmont Orchards property two years ago for $7 million. The project, as proposed, would be completed in phases over 20 years.
Town officials have described the review of the Woodmont project as long and often frustrating. Town officials received Woodmont’s 246-page master plan document just three weeks ago.
“There have been many frustrations back and forth and many frustrations with the public,” Planning Board Chairman Art Rugg said at a meeting Aug. 14. “It’s our first venture into this type of thing and it’s getting time to finish.”
The plan incorporates feedback and concerns expressed by town officials and residents over the course of several public hearings and board meetings, according to Pillsbury representative Ari Pollack. Now, it’s decision time.
“It’s time to start a discussion on how we get to the finish,” Pollack said.
Woodmont Commons deserves fair consideration from officials. It is, after all, one type of project called for in Londonderry’s planning policies. The vision to create Woodmont began in 1997 when Londonderry’s master plan included the possibility of creating a new village concept in town, combining businesses, streetscapes, gardens, community centers, hotels and homes. Since then, the town passed its Planned Unit Development ordinance, outlining regulations for new developments that are separate from current land use rules.
Woodmont Commons is the first project proposed under the town’s Planned Unit Development ordinance.
There is a cautionary tale here. It seems that many times when community leaders are assembling master plans and designing new ordinances and policies, the goal is creating the document itself — with little thought to what these proposals mean in the real world.
Then along comes a project of the scope of Woodmont, and some in the community express shock and concern at its size and potential impact.
If Woodmont Commons is approved, Londonderry will change. The town will be more populous, require more services and employees to provide them, require more schools and teachers. Its roads will be more congested and traffic patterns will change.
This is not necessarily a bad change. But it is change. Town officials must decide if it is the kind of change that’s right for Londonderry.