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.

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.

These are some of the housing issues I want to address:

Housing: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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. I will bring my knowledge and energy to the Planning Board to address these pressing issues. 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.

A simple argument against the Senior Housing amendment

I received a note from a resident:

… We are strongly in favor of providing senior and affordable housing in Lyme.  We cannot quite understand the stipulations [of the proposed amendment] regarding measurements, etc.   It makes our head spin, especially since we weren’t in on the ground floor…

I wrote the following response:

Please don’t be fooled by the name “Senior Housing”. I don’t believe this amendment will ever benefit Lyme. The Planning Board’s heart is in the right place – they really do want housing for seniors. But the language they have proposed is so restrictive that it’s unlikely to attract anyone to build it. Here’s why:

  • The units will be expensive. My rough numbers indicate the units would thus cost a little over $400,000, since they are confined to the Lyme Common District, and 10 units must bear the cost. If they could be built elsewhere in town (say, on Route 10 where land is cheaper) with more units (say, 20 units, like at 85 Dartmouth College Highway, or The Greens in Hanover) the price of each unit drops by nearly $100,000.

  • It requires that existing homes be torn down or remodeled. With notable exceptions, there are no vacant lots in the Lyme Common District. To create new housing, we must lose existing (historic?) housing. The exceptions, the vacant lots, could already support good senior housing under the current ordinance.

  • It will be hard to design the homes. You said all those measurements made your head hurt. But those legal requirements make it even worse for someone trying to design and build the homes. Not only must they consider all the normal questions (How big should the units be? How much should they cost? One bedroom or two? How much common space?) but the amendment further constrains the design by limiting footprint, limiting the number of homes, limiting who can live there, and more.

  • The language is prone to legal squabbles. The development must be “harmonious with … the character of the neighborhood”. Yet it permits up to 12,000 square feet of floor area (bigger than the Lyme Country Store.) Plunking a building like that in the Historic District, three times bigger than many neighboring homes, might well provoke a lawsuit.

So for all those reasons, I don’t believe anyone will bother to investigate Lyme based on this amendment. It’s too expensive, too hard to design, too much legal uncertainty. There are plenty of other towns nearby that are crying for new housing, and that don’t have a history of giving developers a hard time.

Thanks again.

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.

Public Hearing for Senior Housing

The Planning Board holds a Public Hearing on the proposed Senior Housing amendment on Thursday, 30 January at 7:00pm at the Town Offices. Update: The final language is shown below.

This will be an opportunity for the residents of Lyme to ask questions (for example, Questions for the Planning Board) about the proposed amendment.

I hope to see you tomorrow night.


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.

Final Language for Senior Housing amendment

(Can’t read the PDF above? Download it at
https://RandomNeuronsFiring.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Senior-Housing-zoning-amendment-Final-March-2020.pdf
)

Linkblog

A few interesting events and articles:


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 much might a Senior Housing unit cost?

The Planning Board has proposed rules for allowing Senior Housing in the Lyme Common District. Despite the attractiveness of this plan, requiring the project be in the center of Lyme imposes significant costs on such a project.

The analysis below shows that 10 units of 900sf each, when considering the land acquisition, architect, engineering, water, septic, site, financing, and other costs will come in over $400,000 each.

A significant portion of the cost is land acquisition (average of $627,000 for the Lyme Common District) and the limit of 10 homes.

Simply changing those two variables: moving the development into a less expensive part of town (where the acquisition cost might be closer to $100,000) and allowing 20 homes to share the fixed costs drops each home to $307,000.

While these are not inexpensive homes, this simple change takes out almost $100,000 from their price.


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.

Costs of Senior Housing Development

(Can’t read the PDF above? Download it at
https://RandomNeuronsFiring.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Cost-of-a-Senior-Housing-Development.pdf
)

What is Workforce Housing?

People “in the workforce” – teachers, nurses, firefighters, police – have good and important jobs. They are an asset to the town where they live and work. The NH legislature recognizes their value and requires that towns with zoning “provide reasonable and realistic opportunities” to develop workforce housing.

Workforce Housing is not “cheap” or undesirable housing. Under the law, home prices must be affordable for a family of four earning 100% of the county’s median income, or for renters earning 60% of the median. In Grafton County, those caps are $292,000 for homes, or a rent of $1,210 per month.

Doesn’t Lyme already meet the Workforce Housing law?

No. Our town’s Regional Planning Commission (UVLSRPC) reports that the region has a shortage of between 3,000 and 5,000 housing units just to serve its current needs for workers, let alone any future growth in demand. By law, Lyme must “accommodate its fair share of the current and reasonably foreseeable regional need for such housing.” Based on its fraction of the regional population (1.9%), we would need to add 55 to 90 units of housing immediately.

A couple years ago, a Planning Board study concluded that about a quarter of the roughly 750 homes in town fall under the Workforce Housing price threshold. But that report fails to recognize that hardly any of those units are actually available – vacancy rates throughout Lyme and the Upper Valley are very low, in the 1-2% range. Because of the lack of homes in that price range, Lyme does not meet its fair share of housing, as required by state law (RSA 674:59).

Furthermore, that law goes on to require that an ordinance “provide reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing, including rental multi-family housing” and “opportunities to develop economically viable workforce housing.”

Land in Lyme is expensive: a buildable lot costs $100,000 or more. And Lyme’s ordinance requires single-family homes everywhere except a small portion of town. These two facts make it difficult to build homes for less than the workforce housing caps.

How could Lyme solve this?

A good way to decrease the cost of housing is to permit multiple homes, and thus multiple families, to share the cost of the land and the improvements. A change like this has notable advantages:

  • It decreases the housing costs by splitting the up-front costs between the units.
  • It helps Senior Housing to be economically feasible, since those living arrangements call for homes clustered together with shared amenities and support services.
  • It decreases the risk (and and potential expense) to the Town for defending against a Workforce Housing lawsuit

Permitting multiple smaller, affordable units on a single lot is a start toward making Workforce Housing feasible.


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.

Would these benefit Lyme?

As I drive around the Upper Valley, I have been collecting a list of services that exist in other towns. Would they be interesting or helpful in Lyme? Should any these below be prohibited? (and look for the extra credit question at the end…)

  • Appliance repair shop
  • Art gallery
  • Art studio
  • Auto repair shop
  • Ballet studio
  • Barber shop
  • Bike shop
  • Co-working space
  • Coffee shop
  • Daycare
  • Dentist office
  • Excavation pit
  • Food store
  • Food truck
  • Funeral home
  • Garden store
  • Gravel pit
  • Gym/workout space
  • Hair salon
  • Health clinic
  • Hotel/Inn
  • House of worship
  • Ice cream shop
  • Jewelry shop
  • Laundromat
  • Makerspace
  • Meeting space
  • Office building (new)
  • Office building (converting an existing home)
  • Office building (physician/clinic)
  • Pharmacy/drug store
  • Restaurant
  • Retail with Lyme, NH & VT goods
  • Retail with maple syrup produced on-site
  • Retail with maple syrup made elsewhere
  • Sandwich shop
  • School
  • Sculpture studio
  • Ski facilities
  • Ski shop
  • Tennis courts
  • Tennis shop
  • Walking trails
  • Yoga studio

There may never be a demand for some of these services. But what should determine whether they come to town? The Zoning Ordinance? Or should we allow the property owner to figure out whether a particular use is viable?

Extra credit: The current ordinance permits some of these uses in the Rural District; some are prohibited (and for some, it’s hard to tell). Can you guess which is which? (Hint: see Table 4.1 of the Lyme Zoning Ordinance) I would love to hear your answers: richb.lyme@gmail.com


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.

Senior Housing Working Session-January 9

The Planning Board will hold a public working session for a Senior Housing amendment on 9 January 2020. The text of the current draft is below.

The plan is to use this working session to finalize the wording for presentation at a Public Hearing on 30 January 2020.

25Nov2019 Draft of Senior Housing Amendment

(Can’t read the PDF above? Download it at
https://RandomNeuronsFiring.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Senior-Housing-Proposal-ZA-for-9Jan2020.pdf
)


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.