This blockbuster story was on the front page of the Union Leader this morning “Top of the fold” right side two columns. The newspaper selected other stories to feature online and does not have this available.
We reprint the story here in its entirety with the permission of the author Alec O’Mera
The buyer, Mike Kettenbach, has ties to the DeMoulas family but said the supermarket chain is not involved in the deal.
By Alec O’Meara
Union Leader Correspondent
Woodmont Orchards, the largest apple orchard in a town defined by its apple heritage, has been sold to a private Massachusetts-based real estate developer with familial ties to DeMoulas Supermarkets.
The 280-acre orchard was sold to Pillsbury Realty Development LLC for approximately $7 million, according to the deed for the property. Closing on the sale occurred Wednesday.
Massachusetts resident Mike Kettenbach is listed as a principle in Pillsbury Realty. While he is the head of real estate acquisitions for DeMoulas, Kettenbach said he is buying the land as a private venture, unrelated to his work with the Massachusetts based chain.
“It is an attractive investment,” Kettenbach said. “This is a personal project for me, with no ties to DeMoulas or Market Basket.”
The orchard was purchased by Edward Lievens in the 1930s and has been farmed by the Lievens family every year until this past summer, when current co-owners Bob and Steve Lievens quietly chose not to actively farm the land. DeMoulas has been the primary buyer of the Macintosh and Cortland apples grown on the property for a number of years.
In 2008, the Lievens family chose not to renew its lease on 200-acres of orchard the business had with the Town of Hollis. At the time, Robert Lievens said time and lack of interest in continuing the business within the family were the primary reasons he is pulling out of Hollis.
When reached yesterday, Robert Lievens declined comment on the sale of the Londonderry land.
Before last year, Woodmont had been the largest apple producer of the five farms in Londonderry, a list that includes Mack’s Apples, Elwood Orchards, Sunnycrest Farms and Merrill Farms. All other orchards except Elwood are at least partially protected by conservation easements.
Mack’s Apples patriarch Andy Mack Sr. noted the eminent sale of Woodmont in a letter to town officials last summer.
“Bordering valuable commercial areas next to I-93, Exit 4 must give its (Woodmont’s) hundreds of acres incredible value,” Mack Sr. wrote. “They will be missed, not just for the sight of their agriculture, but by their fraternity of fellow farmers.”
Negotiations for the property with the previous owners, Robert and Steve Lievens, have been ongoing for more than two years, Kettenbach said.
Knowing the brothers were looking for a seller because of his business’s relationship with Woodmont, Kettenbach said he decided to buy the land himself.
Kettenbach said no final plans have been made for the land and he is hoping to “reach out to the community” in the coming months to discuss how the town would like to see the land developed.
Kettenbach said he has been following the town’s work on creating a new type of mixed-use zoning called Planned Unit Development.
In a Planned Unit Development, a land-owner who agrees to work with the Planning Board to develop a master plan for a large scale development can use a variety of uses in a single project. The overlay has been described by Planning Board members as a means to allow for a mix of commercial, professional office and residential development in a village-like atmosphere. Councilors approved the overlay earlier this month.
Kettenbach said he has no interest in a workforce housing development.
“We are going to be approaching members of the community and be reaching out to them, and they will tell us what form they would like to see anything take,” he said.
The Lievens family will remain at the property to sell off equipment and other assets until June, Kettenbach said.
This guided aerial tour of the orchard shows just what a amazing piece of land it is.
Click HERE for a full screen slide show of Woodmont Orchards, go full screen for a incredible flight around the farm.