Londonderry zoning proposal sparks community pushback, a board resignation

A wall to wall overflow crowd of Londonderry residents jammed into the Town Office meeting room Monday night to discuss and question the Planning Commission's zoning proposals. <small>Photo by Cynthia Prairie. </small>

A wall-to-wall overflow crowd of Londonderry residents jammed into the Town Office meeting room Monday night to discuss and question the Planning Commission’s zoning proposals. Photo by Cynthia Prairie.

By Shawn Cunningham and Cynthia Prairie
© 2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The row during last week’s Londonderry Select Board special meeting over proposed zoning regulations, which caused one board member to resign, continued on Monday night as more than 100 residents crowded into the Town Office meeting room, then spilled into the hallway and outdoors.

At the meeting’s outset, with a county sheriff’s deputy standing in the hallway, Board Chair Tom Cavanagh read a statement asking all those attending to “be civil tonight,” then laid out ground rules for public comment, including a three-minute limit and one comment per person.

Board member Martha Dale explains the six-year process that led to the proposed regulations. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted.

Board member Martha Dale then explained how the proposed regulations reached this point, and said that the Planning Commission had gone out into the community to elicit feedback. Later in the meeting, that point was disputed by those in attendance, who said that none had been approached.

But Londonderry resident Tony Boston called the Planning Commission’s draft “shameful,” saying that Londonderry and South Londonderry were built by tradesmen and industrial workers. “Our town is not an HOA (homeowners association) and shouldn’t be regulated that way.” Boston said he was saddened and disappointed that this was the best that the commission could do. Boston’s comment was followed by applause as were most others.

The 218-page document, which is two to three times larger than the current bylaws, has drawn harsh criticism from firewood processors and other residents. One of the most often cited complaints was a prohibition on firewood processing and delivery on weekends and limiting such work to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

Steve Twitchell suggests finding a better way to keep townspeople informed.

In response to a question about what in the document was required by state law, Zoning Administrator Will Goodwin told the meeting that he would mark a draft with those things, but in general, he said that anything that has to do with water — flooding, wetlands, erosion and stormwater treatment — are from the state.

A sentiment repeated by several people was that Londonderry is changing too fast and these changes are not in line with the town’s long-term character. Board member Jim Fleming noted that change is inevitable. “I’m as old school as anybody in here, I’ve been here all my life too, but change is inevitable,” Fleming said. “Things move along, but they don’t have to move at a pace we can’t stand.”

Steve Twitchell echoed Fleming, noting that a bigger state government puts more requirements on towns. “We still have to make progress. When this is done and over, you might want to look at how the word can get out more effectively,” he said, addressing the Select Board and what many in attendance said was a lack of notification on the Planning Commission changes.

Anna Stoddard asks if any of the business owners in the audience had been contacted for their opinion.

Amy Corwin suggested that rather than coming forward with the whole package 218-page zoning document, the Select Board could break it up into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Anna Stoddard wondered if any of the business owners in the audience had been asked for input on the proposed changes, then suggested that “if they had, none of the people in the room would be here.”

In response to the assertions made by board and a Planning Commission member at meetings that the public had been consulted on the bylaw changes, Rebecca Skadera asked for a show of hands by people who had been asked for their opinion. There were none.

Londonderry resident Brooke Cote calling the time and money that went into the proposed zoning regulations ‘shameful’

Near the end of the meeting, Brooke Cote said she would do whatever it takes to be at every meeting from now on. She also said that it’s not just the document that needs to be revised, but the whole Planning Commission.

“If that took years to put together, that’s shameful,” said Cote, “Take back the town.”

An audience member suggested that Dale recuse herself because her husband Dick Dale is a member of the Planning Commission.

Cavanagh told the group they should send their suggestions and concerns to Select Board members. “Our emails are online,” said Cavanagh.

After the discussion of the proposed zoning regulations ended and most of the crowd filed out, the board talked about the details of holding a public hearing. Included in that conversation were Town Moderator Doug Friant and Zoning Administrator Will Goodwin.

The discussion included questions of how many times an attendee could speak and for how long, whether non-voters could speak and ask questions and whether the board should make interim amendments to the proposed regulations from meeting to meeting. Friant volunteered to moderate the public hearing noting that, unlike a Town Meeting Day, the rules would be up to the Select Board.

It was then decided that the board would warn a town meeting on the zoning proposal for 5 p.m. on Monday, June 17 at Town Hall, 139 Middletown Road.

Board member Brown resigns, calling tone ‘disrespectful, malicious…’

In her resignation letter, Select Board member Melissa Brown said that up until Monday, May 13, the board’s meetings had been “respectful and considerate,” but that had changed. Brown wrote that the tone on that meeting became “disrespectful, malicious and personal; leaving me feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable.” She added that the same tone had been directed toward another Select Board member, as well as a member of the Planning Commission.

Board member Melissa Brown wrote that she resigned due to a tone that was ‘disrespectful, malicious and personal.’ Telegraph file photo

But GNAT-TV videos show that Dale and Brown had also used a tone Brown complained of.

For example, at the May 6 meeting, Cavanagh said he had just gotten the regulations and wanted to read them before moving the board forward with a hearing. Dale said she hoped this wasn’t a “stall tactic,” adding that Cavanagh doesn’t get to “dictate what happens with this process.”

And at the May 13 meeting, Brown asked those attending how they had found out about the meeting. One person responded that he had received a text message. Cavanagh said he had texted some people, to which Brown said, “You’re making this into a witchhunt … texting people underhandedly … it’s childish.”

As this past Monday’s meeting got underway, Board chair Cavanagh read aloud Brown’s letter of resignation and, after the board accepted the resignation, it discussed the mechanism for replacing her. The board had the choice of making an appointment or setting a special town meeting for an election. Board member Jim Fleming thought that town residents should elect their own representative, while Dale asked if the board gets to “qualify the candidates that go on the ballot.”

Town Clerk Kelly Pajala said it would be just like a “regular election.” Londonderry nominates and votes on town offices from the floor of its meeting.

The board discussed signing a warning at its Monday, June 3 meeting to hold a town meeting on Saturday, July 13 to elect a replacement for Brown. It was unclear what time the meeting would be held, but holding the meeting at Town Hall on Middletown Road was mentioned.

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  1. Tony Boston says:

    I appreciate the telegraph being honest/pointing out that Martha and Melissa are the ones who chose to set that “disrespectful, malicious and personal” tone that they were so quick to complain about, and that Melissa was the first person to throw an insult out, as well as Martha wanting to vet potential select board members. I do wish that this article mentioned the part where Martha Dale tried to have my comments disregarded by the head chair of the board insisting that I don’t live in Londonderry. That is not true, I do and, regardless, anyone can speak at a select board meeting, even non-residents.