LONDONDERRY — After a year of legal wrangling, it appears the $1 billion Woodmont Commons project is ready to move forward once again.
Representatives from Pillsbury Realty Development LLC and DeMoulas Super Markets Inc. will appear before the Planning Board on May 6. The group's intention is to restart the project that has been on hold for nearly a year, due to the DeMoulas family impasse over the Market Basket grocery store chain, according to Town Manager Kevin Smith.
"They're eager to show the town they're ready to get going," Smith said.
The Woodmont Commons project is a 600-acre, village-style development that would cater to populations New Hampshire is struggling to keep — aging baby boomers and young adults. The development, which would be phased in over 20 years, would bring 3,600 new residents to town, 800,000 square feet of retail space, two hotels and a hospital.
Pillsbury Realty Development spent $7 million to buy the land from Woodmont Orchard in 2010, after which the town spent several years working with the company to design the master plan for the project.
The linchpin to the plan has been the construction of an access road to the site. In May 2011, Market Basket agreed to contribute to the design, construction and funding of the access road as a condition of the town's approval for the construction of a new store just off Exit 4 of Interstate 93, which was completed last year.
When the longstanding feud over control of the company between Arthur T. DeMoulas and his cousin, Arthur S. DeMoulas, heated up last year, the road construction was put on hold, leaving the project's future in flux.
"I always felt it would eventually get going as long as they could hash out their differences," Smith said. "Obviously, it was disappointing we lost a whole construction year because of the family feud."
In April 2014, Pillsbury Realty Development filed a $22.5 million lawsuit against Market Basket's New Hampshire assets for breach of contract on the Woodmont project, citing what it claimed was a lack of cooperation on the road construction.
Two months later, Arthur T. DeMoulas was ousted as Market Basket's CEO by the company's board, kicking off a two-month battle that ended with Arthur T. buying out his cousin and retaking control of the company.
Further complicating matters was the fact that Pillsbury's principle owner, Mike Kettenbach Sr., is married to Arthur T.'s sister, Frances, and also serves as head of Market Basket's real estate acquisitions arm. Kettenbach has said on several occasions that the Pillsbury development was a separate project of his and not tied to his role at Market Basket.
Without the access road, Planning Board Chairman Art Rugg said the project "probably wouldn't have happened."
Rugg believes the conversation at next week's meeting will be conceptual and conversational as Pillsbury representatives look to begin permitting and pre-construction of the road.
The project is important to Londonderry not just because of the millions of dollars in potential tax revenue, but for its future growth, Smith said.
"In the long term, it keeps Londonderry current, which is very important right now when looking at retaining young people in this area and keeping older folks from moving out of town," Smith said. "People young and old want walkable communities. They want to live near a place where they can go to the grocery store, the pharmacy or do some shopping."
He said he has been in regular contact with Kettenbach and his attorney, Ari Pollack. Neither returned phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Smith and Rugg both said a week doesn't go by that someone doesn't ask about the project. Until now, they have had few answers, but now feel optimistic progress is coming.
"The first big step is to get that access road done," Smith said. "After that, you will really start to see things."