Westbrook plan proposed at site of town's oldest home

COURTESY IMAGEAn aerial view of the property on South Main Street in Derry where owners hope to plan a mixed use development combining retail, housing, restaurant, pub and event space. Historical records place this land in a top category for being very valuable in the history of the community and its original settlers.

DERRY — A former preschool property with rich ties to Derry's history may someday offer the area a mixed use development opportunity, all while keeping the town's integrity and past in mind.

The Planning Board got an early look at a conceptual design for the Westbrook development, a proposed plan that would be located on property owned by the Siragusa family, at 45 and 49 S. Main St.

Gerry Siragusa owned and operated the Circle of Friends Preschool and Daycare at 49 S. Main St. for 38 years. The school closed its doors in June.

The big yellow house on the property where the school was located is believed to be the oldest in Derry, circa 1720. Another centuries-old building is located on the adjoining property at 45 S. Main St.

The property is also believed to be the location of the first potato planted in the new world by the area's original Nutfield settlers.

Siragusa and his son Marc came before the board at a meeting Aug. 5 to hold a conceptual discussion on the plan they hope to someday create on the nine acres of land, combining retail, hospitality, residential and event space.

The project would also be the first to fall under the town's new West Running Brook zoning district, approved last year, and a zone that could mean growth for Derry and a chance for the town to combine multi-use retail/housing and other permitted uses in that area.

The zone includes West Running Brook Middle School, the historic Robert Frost Farm and areas stretching over to include portions of property on Rockingham Road, (South Main Street), Island Pond Road, and Humphrey Road. The new district would encourage a mix of land uses, including residential, small-scale retail/commercial, recreation and conservation that could be built in close proximity to each other.

Uses allowed in the district include banks, performing and fine arts schools and studios, conference centers, daycare centers, hotels, inn-style businesses, indoor commercial recreation, medical, manufacturing, movie/recording studios, restaurants and professional offices. Allowed housing development would be multi-family residential and a more smaller-scale village-style development that could have interconnected paths and walkways, streetscapes and access for bicycles and pedestrians to use.

Westbrook planning would keep all updated details and rules in mind, based on the new West Running Brook district and also Derry's recently updated Master Plan.

Siragusa said he felt Circle of Friends had a positive impact on the community for the more than three decades it operated. He added the Westbrook development could also have a positive impact.

"We understand the goals within the town," Siragusa said. "We would make sure we are creating a space for people to enjoy."

The plan would include walkability opportunities on streets lined with 28 buildings including residential townhome-style living and apartments tailored to all income levels. There would be possible brew pub space, a potential hotel, event opportunities, and smaller retail or farm market areas.

"We want to create a destination," Marc Siragusa said. "We feel Derry needs that."

The familiar yellow 1720 historic home that was once was part of Circle of Friends would remain standing as an anchor to the development, he added.

Derry Economic Development Director Beverly Donovan said this plan is the first to come before the town under the new West Running Brook district. She admitted she was a bit overwhelmed at first, but then was excited about the prospect.

"It really does seem to make a lot of sense to me," she said.

The plan has a long way to go prior to being ready for any approvals, officials said. That includes many more details on the plan, weeks of consideration with town departments, and making sure the development meets all the rules and guidelines put in place with the new zoning district in that area of town.

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