Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau shows the town of Londonderry is the fastest-growing community in New Hampshire.
The town grew by 724 people between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016. That’s tops both in terms of total growth but also as a percentage of the population.
Town Manager Kevin Smith joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about what this means for the town.
What has the conversation been like in town in terms of dealing with this growth? What’s the impact?
We weren’t necessarily surprised to see this data that’s been newly released, as we’ve had a lot of building permits occur in town over the last few years, both on the residential side and the commercial/industrial side. But for the most part, we’re viewing this as a good challenge to having right now, especially when we’re in a state we know has been growing very incrementally, and a lot towns have been losing population over the last 10 years.
But what kind of stress does it put on town resources when you have that kind of growth?
Fortunately, Londonderry went through a real population boom around 15 years ago. And at that time, there were a lot of capital improvements made. There were two new fire stations that were added, there were a number of additions to the schools in town, and so from a capital standpoint, we’re in pretty good shape right now. The school population right now, believe it or not, is still 1,000 students below where it was at its peak 10 years ago, so there’s still room to grow within most of the schools. The biggest stress is on the elementary school level. And so we’re probably looking at, if this population trend continues over the next five years, having to build or add on to one of the schools for the elementary level within the next five years. That’s probably one of the biggest stressors. The other I would say is roadway improvements. There’s more traffic in town now, and people can feel that when they’re out and about.
Why Londonderry? Obviously, there’s the proximity to the Massachusetts border and to I-93, but there are other towns in that area. But why do you think Londonderry specifically has seen this kind of growth?
I think there’s a lot of contributing factors. The first would be we’ve had, as I mentioned, a lot of commercial and industrial growth. So, with new businesses means new jobs, and that’s new people working in town, and a lot of those people want to live in town, as well. The Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, 90 percent of it resides in Londonderry, so all of that industrial growth that’s going on around the airport right now is happening in Londonderry. Those are all new jobs, so we’re finding people want to live in the town, or live close to where they’re working. So that’s one factor. Number two, Londonderry has always had a very good school system, so that’s a factor when families are looking into what town they want to move into.
The other thing is that as a town in our last master plan, we really made a deliberate attempt to say we want to cover the entire spectrum, from millennials to seniors, and provide them with the housing opportunities they’re looking for. And what’s interesting about those two groups is a lot of times they’re looking for the same kind of housing. They don’t necessarily want to own; they want to be able to rent. They don’t need 2,000 square feet, and they want to be able to walk or commute close to where they were work or where they shop. So between the new Woodmont Commons development and construction starting this month, as well as the number of workforce housing developments that have either been approved or are currently under construction. We also have a brand new assisted living center, as well as some 55+ luxury apartments, those are all making it attractive for both ends of the spectrum to want to move into Londonderry, in addition to young families that are attracted to the town by the school system, and it’s a great commuter location into Boston.
Is there a danger with all this growth?
If it’s not monitored carefully, there definitely could be and again that is what happened to Londonderry in the early ‘90s. There was no plan in place on how to deal with all of the growth that was coming in and so consequently, there was pretty much as close as you can get to a moratorium on all new building at one point until the town could step back and say OK this is how we’re going to deal with all this growth going forward. I think we’re in a much better position.
There must always be that dynamic in town; people who want things to stay the way they are, and people who want to see an economic engine in town. How do you balance those two visions?
It’s just that, it’s a balance. It’s not growing too quick and too fast but at the same time, saying what do we need to do to plan for the future so that the tax rate stays stable, so that families are either staying in town or when houses become vacant, they’re being picked up fairly quickly on the market. We want to keep a steady population. There’s a lot of examples in the state where towns didn’t have that kind of forward thinking about how do we want to plan the community for the future, and as such, lost tons population, and are now left with vacant buildings in town, vacant homes in town, and in some cases vacant schools, and they don’t know what to do about it. It’s having that foresight and planning for the future and having a master plan for what you want the community to look like 10, 20 years from now.