In what could be termed an about face, the Londonderry Town Council made a motion at its May 21 meeting to recommend that the Planning Board revise the current Performance Overlay District zoning in place on Route 102 and Route 28 | the two main gateways for Londonderry. While this motion was made under the guise of spurring economic development to provide tax relief, there is much more to the story than that.

These two districts, known as the PODs, were approved by the Planning Board and Town Council just a few years back, after an extensive series of yearlong public workshops and meetings. The community input process even included two widely attended corridor workshops that supported retaining both of the PODs as part of the revised Master Plan completed in 2004.

So, why the sudden change of heart by the current council? After all, the original impetus for implementing the PODs in the first place was to help the town better manage rapid growth while guiding the size, scale and traffic impact of commercial development on these already congested roadways. A key element of this strategy was the inclusion of a building size cap, so that Londonderry would avoid its own big box version of South Willow Street in Manchester or Route 28 in Salem.

The council should remember that a large segment of the community spoke loudly about not wanting Londonderry to have the same look and feel as every other community that allowed large scale retail sprawl from one end of their main thoroughfares to the other. Once that's done, there is no going back folks. Just take a quick trip outside of Londonderry and look for yourself.

If residential tax relief is what the council is really after here, then changing the PODs is definitely not the best path to take. There are a number of recent fiscal impact studies that show large scale retail development to be an annual net loss to communities from a tax relief standpoint. The key data shown in these studies is that carrying costs for hosting this type of development (i.e. police, fire and traffic-related services) far outweigh the tax revenue generated on an annual basis.

One such study in Barnstable, Mass., showed that big box retail generated an annual tax deficit of $486 per 1,000 square feet. In other words, large scale retail requires much more in town services than they return in annual tax payments each and every year.

While some may posture that we would see millions of dollars in tax revenue each year from having big box sized development on 102 and 28, the numbers just don't match.

Consider that the total tax benefit the owner of a $300,000 home sees each year from our 130,000-square-foot Home Depot is $27, based on their current assessment and tax bill of $295,000. As noted above, that $27 savings is quickly used up by the added costs to pay for police, fire and traffic related services.

This is one resident who hopes the council will reconsider their request and look elsewhere for real tax relief.



Michael Brown is a 16-year resident of Londonderry and has served on the Town Council, Planning Board, Zoning Board and Budget Committee. He also produces and hosts a weekly cable show about Londonderry.



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