Derry residents set priorities including revitalizing villages, expanding affordable housing and creating a community center

By Cherise Madigan
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At the second in a series of meetings about the future of Londonderry, residents identified three primary priorities for the coming years: expanding affordable housing, developing a community center and revitalizing the North and South village centers.

The Thursday, Feb. 25 meeting followed an information session at the beginning of the month, where approximately 150 community members discussed challenges facing the town of Londonderry before breaking into smaller conversations about economic development and jobs, village centers and housing and transportation. The ideas that arose from that discussion included:

  • Improving internet access and connectivity
  • Supporting local farms and food access
  • Improving public transportation
  • Expanding affordable housing
  • Expanding and improving recreation facilities
  • Improving and expanding pedestrian and bike infrastructure
  • Boosting tourism and marketing
  • Developing wastewater infrastructure
  • Expanding access to quality childcare
  • Supporting and fostering local businesses
  • Developing a community center
  • Developing a co-working space
  • Re-developing the old Town Hall
  • Improving community connections and unity
  • Expanding community events
  • Coordinating youth and family programming
  • Revitalizing the village centers
  • Planning for flood mitigation and resilience
  • Increasing access to alternative healthcare
  • (Find more information on each of these ideas here.)

The process is part of a broader initiative from Londonderry town officials with help from the Vermont Council on Rural Development, aimed at defining a direction for community action in Londonderry. Members of the town’s Select Board and Planning Commission invited the VRCD to town, as the organization has worked with nearly 80 communities for similar initiatives.

Those initiatives are guided by feedback from residents, says VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello, and their efforts often pay off.

“Local leadership is what it’s all about, state and federal resources follow those who are organized,” he said. “The towns that come together as a collective spearpoint of activity have a different power and momentum — they get things done and resources come to them because they’re ready, they have a common sense and direction.”

At last Thursday’s meeting, participants deliberated the issues that could be most effectively addressed by residents themselves, and which priorities would have the most impact on the community. While affordable housing, building a community center, and revitalizing the North and South villages won out, eight top issues were initially identified, including:

  • Improving internet access and connectivity
  • Supporting local farms and food access
  • Expanding and improving recreational facilities
  • Improving and expanding pedestrian bike infrastructure
  • Developing wastewater infrastructure

Wastewater, internet issues highlighted, but are others’ hands

While many residents said they favor prioritizing internet connectivity, Select Board chair George Mora pointed out that the town is already a member of two Communications Union District and has two active representatives. A broadband committee may be in the works, she said, and those two mechanisms may be the most promising solution to the problem.

Investing further effort into the town’s wastewater infrastructure was also eschewed because town government is actively addressing the issue, as Planning Commission chair Sharon Crossman pointed out. Regardless, a handful of community members went on to emphasize the importance of the issue.

“I’m still going to speak in favor of the wastewater. It is the single thing preventing The Collaborative from moving forward with an infant and toddler childcare center,” said the organization’s director MaryAnne Morris, adding that wastewater could also tie into expanding affordable housing.

Planning Commission member Gail Mann encouraged Morris and others to participate in the town’s Wastewater Task Force, indicating that increased membership could move the project forward more quickly.

Town Clerk and state Rep. Kelly Pajala spoke in favor of prioritizing recreational options in town and encouraged community members to volunteer with organizations like the Londonderry Parks Board and the Flood Brook Athletic Organization if they are also passionate about expanding recreation.

Task forces to spearhead addressing priorities

The identified priorities — more affordable housing, a community center and revitalizing the  village centers — received the most community support, with many residents arguing that the three concepts are broad and intertwined, and thus may also prompt action on other priorities.

“I’m championing revitalization because so many things fall under that idea: wastewater, affordable housing, connectivity,” said Planning Commission member Larry Gubb. “It’s hard to prioritize any one of those without considering the other one.”

While action points for each task force have yet to be defined, the affordable housing group will begin with a focus on fostering “more affordable, safe, and quality housing for people of all ages and income levels.” Partnerships with regional organizations could help the group assess Londonderry’s needs and explore options to address them, alongside efforts to review zoning and other regulations.

The group focusing on the village centers will look to create and implement a plan to “revive, beautify and redevelop” the North and South villages, striking a balance “that protects the rural character of the community while creating a stronger sense of place, improved aesthetics and accessibility.” This could include signage, sidewalks, traffic calming strategies, bike lanes, benches and more.

Finally, the task force focused on creating a community center will seek a location that can serve as a gathering spot, after-school hub, youth center and possible childcare site. Possible locations include the Mill Tavern property, the Old Town Hall or even a new development.

Addressing the three priorities, residents say they hope to build a future that supports local businesses, provides housing opportunities for all, and fosters community connections.

Organizers will continue to solicit volunteers for the three task forces, and the VRCD will work to “assemble another visiting team of professional experts” for a final community meeting at 6:30 on Tuesday, March 16, which will also be held via Zoom.

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Filed Under: FeaturedLatest NewsLondonderry

About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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