Town could have 100 new houses built

MERRIMACK – Two developments being proposed in Merrimack could bring as many as 100 new houses to town.

Equally notable is that these plans will be the first major housing projects seen in town this year.

“Here we are in August, and this is unusual,” said Planning Board Chairman Nelson Disco, adding that he couldn’t immediately recall significant housing developments teed up last year, either.

One of the proposals, on Old Blood Road, is scheduled to go before the planning board for a preliminary discussion tonight. The second is slated for September.

Old Blood Road Properties, LLC, a subsidiary of a Lowell, Mass.-based development company, will float plans to build 63 single-family homes on 200 acres, just south of Merrymeeting Drive and west of McQuestion Road.

John DeAngelis, principal of the project’s parent company, Earth Realty, bought the land about seven years ago, he said in a phone interview last week. He now hopes to build a “cluster” development, which trims down traditional lot sizes in order to preserve open space.

“It makes more sense to do a cluster development,” DeAngelis said. “There’s less impact on conservation land. It leaves everything in a natural state, and it gives everyone privacy around the neighborhood. It’s not building houses on top of one another.”

But cluster developments aren’t allowed in the particular residential zone where the land sits. Disco said generally that’s because water and sewer aren’t already on-site.

DeAngelis went earlier this month to the zoning board for a variance, along with plans to install water and sewer.

At the time, Chairman William Barry said DeAngelis’ request would require the board to rule on one of the largest vacant land parcels in town, according to meeting minutes. At the end of discussion, board members voted to get feedback from the planning board on why residential districts don’t allow clusters. That’s essentially what tonight’s meeting is about.

DeAngelis said in his plans, there’s no difference in number of houses between a “conventional” development and cluster; both would come down to about 60 homes, according to his calculations. The difference would be in lot size: his conventional plans call for 2.5 acres per house, whereas a cluster calls for up to two acres.

DeAngelis said he wants to preserve conservation land and bring water and sewer to the neighborhood, and he will work with town officials to come to a solution.

“We just feel we’re working with the town in the proper manner and we’re all on the same page,” DeAngelis said.

With the housing crisis and recession, new development has slowed nationwide – a fact of which DeAngelis is well aware.

But he’s seeing signs of improvement. Housing inventory is shrinking with bank-owned properties selling and first-time buyer incentives. Interest rates have also helped, DeAngelis said.

“It’s changing the market slowly, and I think we’re heading in the right direction now,” DeAngelis said.

Allan and Barbara Swenson are also proposing a cluster housing development between Wire Road and Pearson Road.

The plans call for extending the large Greenfield Farms development in Bedford with 42 houses in Merrimack, to be built on 96 acres.

That project is on the planning board’s agenda for Sept. 8.