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.

Lyme now has a choice

At their last meeting, the Planning Board continued to add restrictions to the draft Senior Housing amendment. The newest addition – making covered parking a legal requirement for senior housing – removes another bit of flexibility from a developer who might consider such a development.

Fortunately, Lyme now has an alternative. Lyme residents Rusty Keith and Peter Beaupre drafted language and collected sufficient signatures for an amendment to the ordinance that would permit senior and other types of housing. (I support this amendment.)

Briefly, the amendment would permit Planned Developments on any property that abuts Route 10 in the Rural District. “Planned Developments” are already defined in the Ordinance as “a mix of residential and institutional or business uses” on a single lot, as long as 15% of the floor area is reserved for residential use.

The important changes are that Planned Developments could be 100% residential use and that they would be permitted in a new part of town – along Route 10. The other changes take away the strict requirement for easements and remove restrictions on the types of business that would be allowed. This opens the way for many kinds of housing (including senior and workforce housing) as well as a variety of small business options.

As preparation for the vote at Town Meeting next March, the Planning Board has scheduled a public hearing for both the Senior Housing amendment and this petitioned Planned Development amendment on Thursday, 9 January 2020 at 7:00pm.


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.

Planned Development Amendment

(Can’t read the PDF above? Download it at
https://RandomNeuronsFiring.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Planned-Development-Changes-March2020.pdf
)

Senior Housing Meeting Continued

At the previous (25Nov2019) work session, the Planning Board began to come to terms with how difficult it is to design senior housing. (Link to the video…)

They spent the session setting criteria for a senior housing project: it could only be in the Lyme Common District, only 10 units, each must be less than 1,200 square feet, the total project may have only 12,000 square feet of gross floor area. They then began adding other restrictions regarding age and number of residents, whether units must be handicap-accessible, and construction techniques that would not be permitted.

Having made those decisions about what “senior housing must look like”, the Board hopes to attract a potential developer who will try to build reasonably-priced, marketable units with attractive amenities (common spaces, garages) within those constraints.

Or maybe not. It’s far simpler (and cheaper) for a developer to build in a town that doesn’t have such restrictive design parameters and rules.

Nonetheless, the Planning Board will meet again on Monday, 2 December at 7pm to continue to try to improve the current language to withstand legal scrutiny and meet their notion of what might be attractive senior housing.


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.

25 Nov Draft of Senior Housing Amendment

At its 25 November 2019 meeting, the Planning Board held a work session to discuss the language of a proposed Senior Housing amendment to the Zoning Ordinance. Although they made progress, there remain many outstanding issues. The Board decided to continue the meeting to 2 December 2019 at 7pm for further work.

Once again, this meeting has been scheduled on a date when it was known that I could not attend. Consequently, I will be posting questions on the newest language (below) with a request that the Board consider these issues at next Monday’s meeting.


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.

25Nov2019 Draft of Senior Housing Amendment

(Can’t read the PDF above? Download it at
https://RandomNeuronsFiring.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Senior-Housing-Proposal-ZA-for-2Dec2019.pdf
)