EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 13, 2013

Londonderry planners give Woodmont the OK

By Julie Huss
jhuss@eagletribune.com

---- — LONDONDERRY — After months of hearings, the Planning Board granted unanimous conditional approval Wednesday night to the massive Woodmont Commons project.

The 625-acre multi-use development plan has been before town boards for several years, often drawing criticism among residents and making for some very long meetings and planning sessions.

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.

The plan would create a new village concept, combining business, streetscapes, residences, hotels, gardens and open space.

It’s been a long process.

A five-day design charrette took place in June 2010. That included state, regional and local officials, all gathering to discuss what Woodmont’s development might mean for the town.

Months of meetings followed between planners and the project developers. Future subdivisions and other development plans would have to come before town boards for the required approvals as the project gets moving.

“Site plan and subdivision (town control) will still be in place,” town attorney Mike Ramsdell said. “They will still have to come before the Planning Board with each and every site plan and subdivision application just like any other developer.”

Woodmont Commons proponents always have maintained the project would be a good fit for Londonderry.

As the project moves ahead, developers have agreed to provide land for a future elementary school, several acres for cemetery space, and will provide substations for added fire and police services if needed.

The vote Wednesday didn’t please everyone. Some residents still see trouble ahead.

Doug Hatem is associated with the Londonderry Square Association, a business complex at the corner of Gilcreast Road and Route 102.

He said traffic already is a problem there. Woodmont will make it worse, Hatem said.

“We have serious traffic impact concerns,” he said. “The way it sits now, I don’t think it’s going to work.”

Planning Board Chairman Art Rugg said it’s been a long process and one that will potentially have many impacts, for residents, town services and the local economy.

“There has been a lot of give and take on this,” Rugg said. “But it has a good, positive vision to it.”

Having residents be part of the long process was valuable.

“Citizens have had as much of an input as the board,” Rugg said. “I think the citizens have been a integral part of the process.”

Resident Mary Treteau has been outspoken about Woodmont since the start.

She led a charge earlier this summer to protect some apple trees still standing on the former Woodmont Orchards land along Pillsbury and Gilcreast Roads.

The Woodmont plan will incorporate some of those trees into the landscape.

Tetreau said citizens worked hard to get their feelings out to the public about the huge impact Woodmont would have in town.

“We did it to make the town better and make Woodmont Commons better,” she said. “I feel good things can happen and I appreciated the fact that Woodmont listened. I think it will be a great asset to the town.”

Ari Pollack represents Pillsbury Development and said residents had a lot to contribute.

“I think the citizens have been a integral part of the process,” he said.

Kettenbach said the project will serve Londonderry well.

“I am the builder of this property, and I appreciate everything this board has done and also all the people who have touched it,” he said. “We’re going to give you something this community will be proud of.”