Enable Virtual Public Meetings

Change.org is hosting a petition calling on Governor Chris Sununu of NH to allow for “virtual meetings” for the normal business of towns and municipalities. I would include Select Boards as well as those listed below. As I said on the petition page:

It will be months before we are “back to normal”. Most town boards or committees might be able to “skip a meeting” because of an emergency. But real residents have real needs, and cannot realistically wait for boards that have been shut down for a protracted period of time.

Specifically, the petition requests the Governor to:

  • Allow and encourage for both state and local municipal boards to continue with standard timelines and regularly scheduled board hearings through a virtual meeting template, such as Zoom. This includes, but is not limited to, historic district commissions, conservation commissions, planning and zoning boards.
  • Allow and encourage board members, city staff, design professionals and the public to participate through an open video forum and email regardless of city or town charter.
  • Provide state guidelines on how the local municipalities should conduct meetings and insist that mandated timelines for board decisions be maintained.

If you agree, please go to the petition at: https://www.change.org/p/new-hampshire-governor-chris-sununu-enable-virtual-public-meetings-for-planning-and-zoning-boards-in-nh and pass the word to your friends. Thanks.


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Q&A re: Planned Developments

Once again, I am pleased to add a “guest post” to my blog. This one comes from Rusty Keith and others supporting the petitioned Planned Development amendment, Article 2 on the ballot for vote at Town Meeting on March 10. The Q&A was handed out at the public meetings held last month.


Planned Development Zoning Amendment – Questions and Answers

In March 2020, Lyme voters will be asked to permit Planned Developments on parcels that abut NH Route 10 in the Rural District. This change addresses several concerns:

Enforcement and Fairness: When zoning was approved over thirty years ago, a few small businesses existed in the Rural District along Route 10. They continue as “non-conforming business uses” and cannot change their use (to another business) or increase their intensity more than 50% from what existed prior to 1989. This causes several problems:

  • There are no records of the commercial intensity that existed 30 years ago. Consequently, it is impossible for the Planning Board, or the Select Board that must enforce the regulations, to determine what a “50% increase” might be. A year ago, Lyme experienced an expensive, time consuming, lawsuit over this very issue, resulting in a Town vote to expand the commercial district.
  • It is a burden on existing businesses as well. Successful companies evolve and grow. With the current ordinance, they find their operations are constrained by the regulations and they must spend time and money to justify their success.
  • It is unfair that neighboring properties must live with the impact of these non-conforming business uses while their property is restricted to residential use. Permitting business use on those properties decreases the unfairness.

Business: Current zoning only permits businesses in the small defined commercial districts of Lyme. Most property in these commercial districts is already developed, so Lyme is hampered because:

  • New business can’t find anywhere to locate in an allowed district.
  • Much of the Commercial District is now residential or tax exempt (for example, Crossroads Academy).
  • Loss of potential tax revenue from lack of businesses in Town
  • Low staffing for the fire department and other services during the business day because so few volunteers work in town.

Housing: The Master Plan recommends that Lyme “allow for a diversity of housing types suitable for people in a broad range of economic circumstances.” But the reality is that the ordinance only encourages single-family homes on separate lots. This leads to:

  • Low availability of alternate types of housing, such as senior and workforce housing, which call for small units clustered together with options to age in Lyme,
  • A lack of multigenerational living arrangements that benefit all their residents.
  • Risk of a Workforce Housing lawsuit, since today’s ordinance doesn’t permit economically feasible workforce housing to be built as NH Law requires.
  • New (expensive) homes being built farther and farther out of town, fragmenting neighborhoods, increasing transportation energy use, and encouraging sprawl.

This Planned Development amendment can help address all these problems.

Q: How does this amendment benefit Lyme?

A: The Planned Development provision of our ordinance provides greater flexibility to a landowner in the ways they may use their property, subject to site plan review approval.

Planned Developments permit multiple units in a building, and multiple buildings on a lot. This flexibility allows landowners to design small dwellings, multi-dwellings, and other options for neighbors who want to stay in Lyme when downsizing and for teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others who work here but otherwise couldn’t afford to live in town.

Planned Developments can be a mix of business, institutional, and residential uses. This permits a variety of designs, for example, retail on the first floor of a building and apartments above.

By permitting Planned Developments in more parts of town, Lyme expands the potential for tax base growth, provide an opportunity for both business and affordable, senior, and other housing, and levels the playing field for neighbors of “non-conforming” businesses.

Q: Why a change to the Planned Development definition?

A: The amendment adds “May be 100% residential or” to the beginning of the sentence to read:

PLANNED DEVELOPMENT. May be 100% residential or a mix of residential and institutional or business uses on a single lot in more than one building on a single lot.

This makes it clear that a Planned Development MAY be residential-only, in addition to being a mix of business/institutional/residential use. A business use would still require the inclusion of a 15% residential use.

Q: Where could Planned Developments be built?

A: This amendment would allow Planned Developments to be built (with Site Plan Review approval) on any property that abuts NH Route 10 in the Rural District. Planned Developments have been permitted in the Common and Commercial Districts since the adoption of zoning. In 30+ years since, no Planned Development has been built in those districts.

Q: Would this dramatically change the Route 10 corridor?

A: Probably not. There are several reasons:

  • Planned Developments are already permitted in both the Lyme Common District and the Commercial District. There hasn’t been any interest in building a Planned Development in those districts.
  • A large portion of the land abutting Route 10 has already been permanently conserved, and is not available for any sort of development. This amendment will not affect any of that property.
  • Dimensional controls will prevent “wall to wall” development, which could only be as large as would be permitted for a single-family home with its outbuildings.
  • Planned Developments must devote at least 15% of the floor area to residential use, which will cause the developer to consider the kind of business that is built.
  • Route 10 offers good and safe access for vehicular traffic for businesses. Consultants have advised the town that current traffic levels would support small, local business, but would never be attractive to large box stores.
  • Today, the small amount of vacant land remaining along this corridor is expensive. Buying an existing, developed property for reuse is most likely cost prohibitive.

Consequently, the facts on the ground (both economic and practical) argue against overbuilding in Lyme.

Q: Does this amendment propose any other changes?

A: Yes, there are two other changes.

The amendment removes restrictions on the kinds of businesses allowed in a Planned Development. Under the current ordinance, any type of business not specifically permitted is automatically denied. Not one of the existing seven businesses, north of the Common District, would be allowed under our current restrictions.  This change permits any business that can meet the Site Plan Review requirements in a Planned Development.

The amendment removes the requirement for a permanent easement on any undeveloped land in a lot used for Planned Development. The ordinance already sets limits for dimensional controls: the maximum footprint, lot coverage, setbacks, etc. for developments. A Planned Development cannot exceed those limits. Any future change or expansion would require another approval by site plan review. There is no need to bind future generations from finding new ways to use the land due to a permanent restrictive easement.

Q: Would this amendment permit massive buildings or overbuilding on a lot?

A: No. Dimensional controls for a Planned Development follow the same rules for the district. A Planned Development can be no larger than what could be built as a single-family home with its outbuildings, garages, workshops, barns, etc.

Furthermore, Site Plan Review is a careful process run by the Planning Board that reviews an applicant’s site plan to ensure it meets state and national laws, plus conformity to our local zoning regulations. These specific requirements control every development.

Summary

Planned Developments along Route 10 will benefit Lyme.

This proposed amendment makes it clear that more businesses would be welcomed in Lyme. It may encourage new businesses to locate in Lyme and provide goods, services, and jobs that residents find attractive and useful.

New businesses in town also add to the number of volunteers for services that help Lyme residents. One member of Lyme’s volunteer fire department noted that only two members work in town. If an emergency occurs during the work day, Lyme must currently draw most of its first responders from surrounding towns.

This amendment will “allow for a diversity of housing types suitable for people in a broad range of economic circumstances” (as recommended by the Master Plan) and foster business so that Lyme can be viewed as an active and lively community.

Give this amendment some serious thought and be sure to vote March 10th.  This is your town.

February 28 2020

The opinions expressed here are those of the guest poster: Rusty Keith.


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

How Big Could A Planned Development Be?

On the Listserv, a neighbor asked…

If someone bought up a 10 acre parcel, could they put up 75 or 100 2-3 bedroom condos? … or a 300 room hotel?

The simple answer is No. A big condo or hotel would require an enormous parcel (something like 165 acres) due to Lyme’s strict lot coverage and gross floor area regulations for the Rural District (calculations below).

This, coupled with the lack of municipal water and sewer and the already-conserved properties along Route 10, means there is no way to acquire the land or finance such a project.

But what could be built? If the opponents of the article really think about how restrictive and exclusive the Lyme zoning ordinance is, they will agree with the following statement:

Under the proposed amendment, that 10-acre parcel could support either a small business with at least one residence, or a handful of homes. The total impact – the land covered, and the total permitted size of the buildings – would be about twice that used by the Lyme Country Store.

Here are the details. (Please bear with me: the language of our ordinance is really complicated.)

  1. Lyme Zoning requires the Lot Size within 1,000 feet of Route 10 to be at least three acres. If the lot extends even one foot over the 1,000 foot line, it must be five acres.
  2. Lyme Zoning also computes the Lot Size after subtracting conservation overlays: agricultural soils, wetlands, wetland buffers, and steep slopes. Typical land along Route 10 subtracts half the area. The rest of this analysis assumes a 10-acre parcel that would yield a Lot Size that only has 5 “buildable acres”.
  3. Lyme Zoning permits lot coverage (buildings, parking lots, etc.) of 12% of the Lot Size, or a maximum of 26,000sf. Twelve percent of a 5 acre Lot Size (217,800 sf) is slightly larger than the 26,000 sf, so that is the limit. The entire Lyme Country Store (LCS) lot is 0.31 acres, or 13,054 sf. So twice their parking lot is the entire lot coverage permitted on any single parcel.
  4. Lyme Zoning permits the maximum building footprint to be 2% of the Lot Size, or a maximum of 7,000sf. Two percent of five acres is 4,356 sf. The Lyme Country Store (LCS) footprint is about 2,688 sf – so the proposed building footprint could be about half-again as large.
  5. Lyme Zoning also permits the Gross Floor Area (the sum of all the floors of a building) of 14,000sf in the Rural District. The LCS Floor Area is 8,257 sf. Again, the proposed buildings could be about half-again as large.

How much space would a 100-unit development require?

The Lyme Zoning Ordinance permits large parcels to be subdivided to provide more Gross Floor Area, Lot Coverage, Footprint, etc. for a development. But the ordinance requires development to be spread out, so getting a large number of units requires a large amount of land. Actual subdivisions also require significant additional space to account for subdivision roads, setbacks, and other requirements. That might add another 50% to the size of the parent parcel. (As I said, it’s complicated.) Nonetheless, here’s a simple analysis:

Let’s assume 100 two-bedroom condos at 1,200 sf. The project requires 20% additional space for “circulation” (hallways, stairways, etc.) This would require (100 x 1,200 x 120%) sf or 144,000 sf of floor area. Since the maximum Gross Floor Area per lot is 14,000 sf, the condo buildings would require at least 11 “five acre” buildable lots. Given the typical conservation overlays plus the extra space for subdivision roads, setbacks, etc. a builder would need eleven 15-acre lots or 165 acres.


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Someone finally said it out loud…

After Rusty Keith’s thoughtful presentation at Little Town Meeting about Article 2 (the Planned Development amendment), another member of the public said,

… this would be the town’s worst nightmare. It would allow apartment development everywhere…

Really? Could someone state clearly why apartments would be bad for Lyme?

Professional planning experts now encourage a variety of housing options in a town. Single family homes remain important, but so is the ability to construct smaller units that are close together, for social interaction, for mutual support, for convenience, and to improve the tax base. Some thoughts:

  • The Planning Board just spent the last four months of 2019 working to specify the look of senior apartments
  • People who want to downsize (who are not always elderly) want smaller units (apartments) where someone will mow the lawn and shovel the walkway.
  • Young people: unless we want our town boards and committees, fire department, FAST squad, etc. to be populated by septuagenarians, we need to attract younger people. Singles and new couples value small, clustered homes, often called apartments.
  • People in the “work force” – teachers, nurses, first responders – all have good jobs. Can they afford to live in town with our median $400,000 home? Apartments could help.
  • Families. Yes, families. Despite the scare tactics, actual facts indicate that in both NH and Lyme’s experience, single-family homes have 0.4 school-age children per home (about one child for every two homes). Apartments with five or more units average under one child per six homes – a far lower burden on the school system.
  • Improved tax base. Six $250,000 apartments on a 10 acre lot contribute $1.5 million to the grand list, almost four times a $400,000 home.
  • Finally, the existing stringent Site Plan Review regulations – still required by Article 2 – would keep any apartments well in the check.

With all these positives, I am curious to hear how apartments would contribute to “Lyme’s worst nightmare”.


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Article Two Helps People

The hyperbole you’ve seen over the last week on the Listserv and in your postal mail regarding Article 2 has been focused on fear of losing “the way Lyme looked” years ago. Those notes bring incredible (that is, not believable) projections of traffic, development, and population increases.

But what about the PEOPLE in town? Can the opponents acknowledge that the amendment’s benefits – enabling smaller clustered homes and the opportunity for new local businesses to provide services and jobs in town – might have value? Or are they simply pulling up the drawbridge after “getting their own”?

I had hoped the Planning Board might take the lead on these issues, but some citizens decided start the ball rolling instead.

I support Article 2. It will allow us to see how business and housing opportunities might evolve if we loosen the reins a little bit. And if it appears that things are moving too quickly, we can dial things back next year.


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Linkblog

A couple interesting items from the NH OSI (Office of Strategic Insights) late February issue of Planning News:


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Why I want to be an elected member of the Planning Board

At last night’s meeting, the Planning Board discussed the statement regarding Article 2 that it would present at Little Town Meeting. Only three (of the usual five) full members present: John Stadler, Tim Cook, and Kevin Sahr. Two alternate members were present as well: David Van Wie and me (Rich Brown).

Since this was to be a formal decision of the Planning Board, I asked whether the chair wished to appoint any alternates to make up a full board for the discussion. John Stadler appointed David Van Wie to sit, but not me.

The video starts at the point I ask the question: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxyAzV7mlT0&feature=youtu.be&t=1335

I didn’t then, and still don’t understand Mr. Stadler’s reasons for not appointing me to have a full five-member board.

This is yet another reason I wish to be an elected member, so that my thoughts can always be included in Planning Board decisions. (You can read my other reasons in my earlier post.)


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Report: Meeting on February 22

A neighbor wrote to me:

I plan to come tomorrow to the meeting in the Library. In preparation, can you tell me what objections – what possible downsides – have been mentioned so far?

I responded:

Saturday’s meeting had about 22 people. Rusty Keith did a terrific job of introducing the petitioned “Planned Development” amendment and facilitating the discussion without being overly partisan toward the amendment.

Half the participants were curious about the amendment – they didn’t know much about it and wanted to learn more. Some were categorically opposed to any development in town, and there were a couple people who were skeptical, and concerned about its impacts.

You can imagine the objections – unbridled development, unchecked traffic, a parade of horribles. Junk yards and tractor trailer distribution facilities were mentioned as possibilities.

But those objections fail to use common sense. Lyme’s not going to be a hub for any big business. There isn’t enough traffic or infrastructure (water, septic, electric power) to support it. Tractor-trailers don’t willingly drive this stretch of Route 10, since it’s so far from the interstates. And nobody buys land for a junkyard (especially at $100K per lot).

And there was no acknowledgement of the good that could come from the amendment. The town could support plenty of local businesses that provide goods, services, and jobs in the town.

Rusty has focused on the fairness/enforcement aspect of the amendment: that the existence of a grandfathered business can negatively affect the property values of the neighbors. And when he was on the Select Board, he faced an impossible situation of trying to determine whether the business across the road has “increased in intensity more than 50%” from when the ordinance passed thirty years ago.

As a follow-on question: suppose the Select Board could prove in court that it had exceeded that limit. What’s the remedy? Shut the business down? How does that help Lyme?

And what signal would that send to anyone else who might be considering opening a business that provides goods, services, or jobs? “If you grow too much, we’re going to shut you down…”

It would be better simply to acknowledge that Route 10 has changed in the last 30 years. In the parlance of planning experts, it’s called “dynamic rezoning”. Allow the zoning rules to reflect the on-the-ground reality and the expressed needs of town residents.

The other argument for the amendment (that wasn’t discussed as much) is that it enables something besides “single family homes on separate lots” which is the sole form of development the Master Plan envisions for the Rural District.

I don’t need to tell you that you can’t get smaller, modest price homes if you have to start by purchasing a 5-10 acre lot for each one. And we can’t afford to continue to chop up our limited open land with more separate parcels that house one family.

I’ll be glad to see you tomorrow (Tuesday, Feb 25 at 7pm in the Lyme Library). Please let others know about this important discussion. Thanks again.


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Why I’m running for Planning Board

To the Residents of Lyme:

I have filed to become an elected member of the Planning Board. As many of you know, I have lived in Lyme for five years, been a property owner in Lyme for 14 years, and a resident of the Upper Valley for 40 years.

I believe that a lack of housing options in Lyme is the most important issue the Planning Board must address.

I have been working on housing issues for a long time, starting with my interest in developing cohousing here in Lyme. I have been going to housing conferences and workshops for many years. I have regularly attended Planning Board meetings for the last four years, and have been an Alternate for the last year.

In addition to the “normal business” of the Planning Board, these are the housing issues I want to address:

Housing for Seniors: The Planning Board recently abandoned their own amendment that might have permitted a small amount of Senior Housing in the Lyme Common District. The concern was that a pending NH bill might make similar housing to all non-seniors. That decision is disappointing because it comes after years of Aging in Place meetings, followed by two and a half years of work on senior housing language.

Housing for people who want to downsize: It is extremely difficult for long-term residents to downsize in Lyme. I believe the ordinance makes it difficult to build smaller, modestly-priced homes so those people must think about moving away.

Housing strategy: The Lyme Master Plan is unusual in NH. It does not have a chapter on Housing, despite the Board’s stated intention to work on it for the last two years.

Housing for people in the workforce: NH Law requires that towns with a zoning ordinance (like Lyme) “provide reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing…” Our ordinance is so restrictive that building workforce housing is impractical. Lyme is at serious risk of having to defend (and likely lose) a workforce housing lawsuit.

Housing that adjusts to Lyme’s needs: Best practices in planning circles are to review zoning rules regularly in the face of a town’s changing needs. The Lyme Ordinance has not had any real change since it was instituted over thirty years ago.

The Town must talk about and permit reasonable housing options to be built. I will bring my knowledge and energy to address this pressing issue.

Finally, I will welcome everyone’s thoughts, either via email, phone, face-to-face, or at scheduled Planning Board meetings.

Join me, and let’s work together to institute real change for housing options in Lyme. Please vote for me on the ballot in March. Thank you.

Rich Brown
795-2525


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

A surprising turn of events

At their meeting last Thursday, the Planning Board decided to withdraw their Senior Housing amendment from the ballot at Town Meeting in March. Here is a link to the full video of the meeting: https://youtu.be/5E2TF9-81-M

The discussion hinged on a bill (HB 1629 – see links below) working its way through the NH legislature. The primary concern at Thursday’s meeting was that a municipality that provides incentives to age-restricted developments (such as senior housing) would also be required to make those same incentives available to workforce and other types of housing.

My understanding is that the legislature is trying to address the significant housing problem everywhere in the state by providing incentives for more clustered, dense, and thus less expensive housing for all residents of NH.

In the end, the Board voted 5-0 to withdraw the senior housing amendment for this year, and wait to learn how HB 1629 will turn out. (I could not vote, because I am still an alternate on the board.)

My thoughts…

I don’t understand this decision. The bill would not have changed the town’s ability to permit senior housing. And it’s not even certain that the bill would pass.

And if that bill is re-introduced next year – does the Board intend to wait yet another year?

But most importantly, I don’t understand the Board’s concern that, if this bill passed, it would somehow “be bad for Lyme” to make similar housing available to non-seniors.

After so many years of urging from residents, followed by two and a half years more work to produce this amendment, the board’s lack of urgency is disappointing.

Updated 6 Feb 2020 to add question about re-introduced bill in 2021…


Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.