Wetlands, other concerns slow pace of massive Hudson project

As two separate groups have joined forces in their effort to stop what is proposed to be the largest shopping center in New England, the Hudson Planning Board dealt the developer a setback in its plans.

The project, planned by W/S Development of Chestnut Hill, Mass., for the 375-acre Green Meadow Golf Club site, is being opposed by two informal groups. One, formerly called Friends of Green Meadow, is made up of people who live near the golf club in the south end of Hudson. The second is the newly formed Hudson Grassroots Central, a network of more than 70 people who communicate through e-mail but have yet to meet in person. Earlier this month, the group launched the Stop Riverplace Web site.

Representatives from both groups say they’re interested in keeping an eye on all development in Hudson, not just Riverplace. However, both were formed as a result of the proposal to turn the 375 acres into a mixed-use development.

At full build-out, Riverplace would have more than twice the retail space of New Hampshire’s largest mall, The Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester. Also planned are a hotel and conference center, a riverwalk, big-box retailers such as Barnes & Noble, 600 units of housing, parks and office buildings are also part of the plan. The first phase would be a 1.1 million-square-foot “lifestyle center.”

Lifestyle centers are open-air shopping plazas that are modeled after American downtowns.

Members of the two watchdog groups have said the development is too large for Hudson and will clog up already congested local roads. Several also expressed concerns about traffic from Nottingham Square, a 20-store strip mall under construction down the street, and a second strip mall that could go in across the street from Green Meadow but has yet to be proposed.

Meanwhile, because the Riverplace project has an impact on wetlands, W/S Development is required to get a special exception from the town zoning board of adjustment before the planning board can begin its review.

Thus the planning board decided Feb. 8 to send plans for the project back to the developer.

“It’s an unfortunate situation for the developer, but they really have to follow the process, the zoning regulations,” town planner John Cashell said.

The decision is likely just a setback for W/S, Hudson Zoning Board Chairman Brad Seabury told the Nashua Telegraph. If W/S acts quickly, it could be as little as a month before the zoning board is ready to issue a decision on the exception.

The town asked W/S to come to a planning board meeting in March to discuss the site plan process, Riverplace project manager Ed Vydra told the newspaper. “And that’s what we’re going to do,” Vydra said. “We’re going to do what the planning board directs us to do.”

W/S also needs to seek input from the conservation commission and planning board on whether the zoning board should grant the wetlands special exception. Vydra said the company has already filed paperwork for both.

According to Seabury, the zoning board will consider input from both local boards, as well as larger agencies such as the state Department of Environmental Services, before issuing a decision.

Cashell said there are between 10 and 12 areas of impact that need to be reviewed. The proposed interchange system to and from the Sagamore Bridge crosses over a wetland area and some of the proposed parking lots are within wetland buffer areas, Cashell said.

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