Planning News – Great Resource from NH

Noah Hodgetts, Assistant Planner for NH Division of Planning publishes a weekly summary of Planning News. It summarizes and links to a handful of stories from around the state each week.  Here is this week’s list:

  • NH Supreme Court denies Northern Pass appeal
  • Plans for Laconia State School site discussed
  • Amherst plans to create safer roadways for walkers, bikers
  • Somersworth, Rochester tax breaks aim to spur growth
  • Plans still early, but vision clear for Keene downtown arts corridor
  • NH DES Soliciting Feedback about Updated Model Groundwater Protection Ordinance through July 26, 2019
  • NHMA to Host Zoning Board of Adjustment and Planning Board Basics Webinars on August 14th and September 4th
  • NH DES Accepting Applications for Local Source Water Protection Grants until November 1, 2019

Read each week’s Planning Newssummary at: https://www.nh.gov/osi/planning/planning-news.htm


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 Community Development Committee or the Lyme Planning Board, to which I may belong. By Town policy, I am not permitted to send messages on these subjects through the Listserv. However, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Vital Communities-Zoning for Great Neighborhoods Survey

Mike Kiess from Vital Communities has sent out a request for responses to a short survey set up by the VT Department of Housing and Community Development. The deadline’s short, but they’re looking for responses from both VT and NH

The VT Department of Housing and Community Development is starting a project to create templates for bylaws and zoning regulations that will allow people to do more things with their properties. Use by towns would be voluntary.

Please share your opinions in this short survey. URL is https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/23JC5XL

NH opinions matter, too! Housing is a shared regional challenge, and planners from NH will be involved.

Your response by Friday, July 5, 2019 is appreciated.


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 Community Development Committee or the Lyme Planning Board, to which I may belong. By Town policy, I am not permitted to send messages on these subjects through the Listserv. However, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

What’s this thing called “Current Use”?

The Current Use law in New Hampshire provides a tax break for certain property owners who choose not to change the “current use” of their property to a higher level of development. However it shifts the tax burden to property owners who do not have property in “current use”. Here are some details.

  • In 1973, the NH Legislature created the Current Use law to “encourage the preservation of open space” by giving property owners a break on their taxes. (NH RSA 79-A:1)
  • The NH Current Use Board sets the level of “encouragement”. Today, current use landowners receive as much as a 98% discount on their property taxes.
  • This means that the other residents in town have to pay higher property tax to make up for the taxes not collected from properties in “current use”. (It’s a zero-sum game. If the legislature mandates a discount on taxes for some properties, the taxes have to go up for other residents.)
  • Many property owners have already permanently conserved land. Consequently they do not need additional encouragement (through a tax break) to preserve open space since development is already precluded.
  • In my town of Lyme, NH, it appears that 94% of all land in Lyme is either conserved or in current use. Discounts for current-use properties total over $1.5 million and add about $5 to our $27.19 per thousand tax rate.
  • Forty-five years later, we now understand the true effect of the Current Use law: in rural towns with lots of open space, it drives up the tax rate for all residents. The law has relatively little effect in more densely-developed, urban towns, since there are few current use properties.

The NH Current Use Board has opened a public comment period (for this year) about the proposed Current Use Assessment Ranges. Comments may be submitted in writing to Tracey Russo, Paralegal Department, NH Department of Revenue Administration by mail at PO Box 457, Concord, NH 03302; by fax at (603) 230-5932; or by e-mail at Tracey.Russo@dra.nh.gov. The deadline for the submission of written comments is Thursday, June 20, 2019.

I just sent an email to Tracey.Russo@dra.nh.gov along the lines below:

To the NH Current Use Board:

I am a resident of Lyme NH. I wish to submit a public comment to the Board regarding their regulations regarding Current Use.

Sincerely,

/s/ Your name

The NH Legislature could rewrite the Current Use law to make it more equitable. This is a long term project. However, I request the Current Use Board to consider the following changes to their regulations:

1) Add the requirement that land may not qualify for current use treatment if it is already has a permanent restriction from development.

2) Decrease the base discount on Current Use property, to create meaningful incentives for creating a stewardship plan or making the land available for the public to access.

3) Set different discount rates for current use land and permanently-conserved land. Permanently conserved land can be assessed at its market rate, while current use land can receive a temporary discount for the time that the land is in its current use.

I would encourage you to send your own message, using any (or all) of the points above. I would also like to know what you wrote: you can cc me at richb.lyme@gmail.com. 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 Community Development Committee or the Lyme Planning Board, to which I may belong. By Town policy, I am not permitted to send messages on these subjects through the Listserv. However, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Strong Towns “Strength Test”

I was browsing around the Strong Towns web site, and came upon their criteria for measuring the strength and resilience of a town. They point out that full technical analysis is time consuming and often not usable by non-technical people.

So they designed a ten question survey at https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2014/11/15/strong-towns-strength-test My favorite question is #3:

3. Imagine your favorite street in town didn’t exist. Could it be built today if the construction had to follow your local rules?

I would be intrigued to hear your thought/answers. Send them to me at richb.lyme@gmail.com. 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 Community Development Committee or the Lyme Planning Board, to which I may belong. By Town policy, I am not permitted to send messages on these subjects through the Listserv. However, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Strong Towns – Breaking out of the Housing Trap

On 2 April 2019, I went to a talk sponsored by New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority in Claremont, NH. The announcement stated:

What does it mean to be a “Strong Town”? In April, nationally known planner and engineer Chuck Marohn will speak at community events in Rochester, Concord, Claremont and Portsmouth to discuss the STRONG TOWNS perspective of community economic resilience, citizen involvement, and land use.

Marohn will focus on how housing affordability fits with the STRONG TOWNS philosophy during the April 1-2 events presented by New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.

Here are my notes from the talk. (Does this seem too long? Don’t want to read the whole thing? See the summary…)

The speaker was Charles Marohn from Brainerd MN. He’s the founder of StrongTowns.org, and has been working since 2008 to create models for towns to become financially strong and resilient.

High Price of Housing

He observed that cities and towns are gentrifying – housing prices are going up – and that stagnating incomes everywhere mean that people have trouble affording to live there. He is seeking improvements that will stick, and leave the municipality in a good place.

He talked about the “Agriculture Trap”. Once a civilization gets a surplus in resources (because of agriculture), people had the ability to specialize and spend time on other pursuits – to become shamans, soldiers, artists. The increased resources also meant that the population could increase.

The “trap” is that the increase in population forces the need for more food, which increases the reliance on agriculture, which allows further population growth. That civilization is “trapped by agriculture” – it can never go back to its pre-agricultural state.

The Housing Trap

Marohn traced the history of the current “housing trap” to the way  governmental and financial systems make it hard to change the way homes are funded. The Great Depression created massive deflationary pressure, and led to the Homeowners Act of 1933. Fannie Mae was created in 1938, to securitize  home mortgages. The GI Bill was a good program, but caused home prices to rise. Freddie Mac quasi-privatized all this in the 70’s.

Which means that to have a middle-income home today, almost every family must have two breadwinners.

It also means we cannot (easily) go back to lower-price housing because of the structural problems. Who benefits from high housing prices?

– Local, state, and federal government (property and other taxes)

– Baby Boomers – who rely on the high cost (value) of their homes as a significant portion of their retirement

Complex vs. Complicated

Marohn talked about the difference between “complex” and “complicated” systems.

  • Complex systems are adaptive, and adaptable. They emerge from good attributes because changes to the environment can be absorbed and adjusted to.
  • Complicated systems are predictable, but fragile. If things go badly for a complicated system, they break. He gave the example that a farm is complicated. If it’s a bad year for corn, the farmer cannot simply plant beets.

Cities/towns are the quintessential human habitat. They are also complex: they emerge from a collection of interacting objectives, they experience feedback, and adapt to those pressures. This is good – it leads to resiliency to challenges and stress.

Summary

How can a town improve and thrive? Marohn offered these strategies:

1) Allow the next increment of building style by right. If the town currently allows single family homes, allow accessory dwelling units. If your town allows duplexes/accessory dwellings, allow quads. This must be *by right* – no special permissions should be necessary. However:
– No neighborhood should experience radical change, and
– No neighborhood should be exempt from change

Towns should look toward dynamic rezoning. As the town changes over the years/decades, so too should the zoning rules adapt to what people are requesting.

2) Lower the bar to entry. To encourage people and businesses to move to town, find a way for people to “start with nothing, and end with something.”

For housing, most people can’t imagine living in a 500sf home. Yet there are countless homes in our communities that obviously started out very small, but expanded as their owners had more resources. Zoning should allow people to start with very small residences affordably.

For business, don’t require an entrepreneur to meet every strict requirement. (If a building needs $300K of improvements to open, it will never happen.) Instead, correct the imminent health threats, and then give a provisional occupancy permit. (Maybe even put a sticker on the front window stating the provisions of the code that aren’t currently met.) Then after six months of operation, rank things. Require the owner to put 3% of their revenue annually into an account for property upgrades. When all the conditions are cleared, everyone can have a celebration. In the meantime, the property is providing services, on the tax rolls, and getting better.

3) Respond to how people use and live the city/town. Marohn advocated this public investment process for a strong town:

  • Humbly observe where people are struggling
  • Ask “What is the smallest thing we can do to address that struggle?”
  • Do it. Right now.
  • Repeat

Marohn closed by noting there is a lot more information on the Strong Towns (https://strongtowns.org) website.


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 Community Development Committee or the Lyme Planning Board, to which I may belong. By Town policy, I am not permitted to send messages on these subjects through the Listserv. However, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Can Accessory Dwelling Units Help Meet Our Region’s Housing Needs?

On 4 October 2018, PlanNH and Vital Communities sponsored a talk titled, Can Accessory Dwelling Units Help Meet Our Region’s Housing Needs? at the Kilton Library, in West Lebanon NH.

The primary speaker was Kol Peterson from Portland Oregon. He has published many books/resources on the subject of Accessory Dwelling Units: http://BuildingAnADU.com, https://accessorydwellings.org, and Backdoor Revolution.

His answer is a strong, YES. Primary drivers for people to create an ADU:

  • Rental income
  • Flexible space for intergenerational use
  • Age in place

Why are ADUs valuable for a municipality?

  • 75% of 2018 households have 1-2 people
  • In major cities, 35-45% of households have a single person
  • But they have no option but to purchase a large single family home
  • Average home: 1950 – ~950sf; 2018 – ~2600 sf
  • Small homes cost less to build, and have HUGE energy savings
  • A huge benefit of additional housing using existing homes with minimal impact to the town/streetscape.

Parking: In Portland OR, the US city with greatest penetration (1%), ADUs have no observable effect on parking. (A municipality only needs to find space for one additional car per hundred homes.)

The Finances: ADUs (like all construction projects) are expensive to build, therefore, breakeven has multi-year payback:

  • 250sf => $100K
  • 600sf => $200K
  • 750sf => $150K to $300K

ADU Construction is not financially viable for ordinary developers who want to “build-and-flip”:

  • Doesn’t improve the value of the property enough to make up for the $100k-300K construction cost.
  • But… rental income breaks even over 5-10 years (depending on construction cost and market)
  • Attractive for people who plan to stay in the neighborhood for 20-30 years

Financing is hard: must rely on home equity line of credit, savings, cash out of liquid assets, family, sweat equity (often 50% of cost)

Takeaway: Given the difficulties of building anything (brainstorming, finding an architect, talking with the neighbors, schematics and design, etc) and the modest financial returns, ANY limits of permitting and zoning regulations discourage people from developing ADUs. There is a good discussion in the slides. Another example of a disincentive, the State of NH requires an attached ADU to have a connecting door.

Furthermore, many laws/ordinance/regulations require owner-occupied ADUs. This is also a disincentive, for the following reasons:

  • Appraisers will undervalue because of deed restriction, therefore may not be able to refinance
  • Lenders cannot (by definition) owner-occupy, so may choose not lend
  • Affordable housing NGOs cannot occupy, so may not fund either
  • The requirement places a significant restriction if the owner needs to move
  • Why wouldn’t owner simply build an un-permitted ADU?
  • No cities have seen large number of ADUs, so it’s not a practical problem
  • Finally, what other property type in the US has this requirement?

However, certain restrictions are not unreasonable:

  • Regulations limiting ADU to 750-800sf are not an important restriction because ADUs are designed for secondary home/smaller unit
  • Regulations preventing ADU from being subdivided is not important restriction

What about people who use ADUs as Short Term Rentals?

  • There’s no data on the trends
  • If it is becoming a problem, decouple ADU reg’s from ST rental reg’s – they’re not the same thing.

Slides: https://vitalcommunities.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Kol-Peterson-Slides-Lebanon-NH-Oct-2018.pdf

Video: https://www.facebook.com/bmlgreenguy/videos/vb.1523616449/10217649924829603/

Sponsors: Vital Communities – Workforce Housing and PlanNH


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 Community Development Committee or the Lyme Planning Board, to which I may belong. By Town policy, I am not permitted to send messages on these subjects through the Listserv. However, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Jetpack Publicize: Setting the image and text shown on Twitter and Facebook

I use Jetpack Publicize to share my posts on Facebook and Twitter. This makes it easy to create a single WordPress post and have it show up on social media sites. Those services automatically use the Featured Image of the WordPress post, plus an excerpt of the title/text.

There’s another cool feature: Facebook and Twitter will include a photo and text summary for your site whenever someone types your URL into their post on Facebook and Twitter.

But… It can be tricky to figure out how Facebook/Twitter retrieve the image and the text. (I started this quest because Facebook was choosing the wrong image for the thumbnail. I found my first clue by reading WP Beginner’s article How to fix Facebook Incorrect Thumbnails.) This led to the debugging techniques below.

Both Facebook and Twitter use Open Graph metatags to find the desired image, text, title, etc.  Jetpack automatically sets these OpenGraph meta-tags: og:image tag, og:title, and og:description. It also automatically inserts tags for Twitter: twitter:text:title and twitter:description.

To see what those services will display, each has a Debugger/Validator. To use them, go to the page below and type in your URL.

Facebook Validator: https://developers.facebook.com/tools/debug/sharing/
Twitter Card Validator: https://cards-dev.twitter.com/validator

Problem:  Jetpack automatically sets the OpenGraph tags, but sometimes it chooses values that are not useful, and they cannot be modified within Jetpack. (At least, Jetpack support could not tell me how to set them.)

Update: Using Jetpack 7.3.1 and Yoast 11.3, the conflict between these two plugins appears to have gone away. But this note still describes useful debugging techniques for Facebook and Twitter. (31May2019)

Solution – Part 1: The Yoast SEO plugin – I use the free version – also lets you set the Open Graph tags for both Facebook and Twitter. (In addition, I really like how it helps to optimize my text for search engines.) However, Yoast and Jetpack’s Open Graph tags interfere with each other.

Solution – Part 2: This is a little bit yucky, but you can disable Jetpack’s OpenGraph tags with a bit of code in your child theme’s functions.php file, as described in Remove Jetpack’s Open Graph meta tags This is no longer required – see Update above.

TL;DR: (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

 

RandomNeuronsFiring.com – now live!

I have reworked my blog so that the primary domain name is “Random Neurons Firing” (instead of the pedestrian richb-hanover.com). Same content, but a better name.

I’m also adding a new topic to those I’ve previously covered (“Software, Networking, Life”). Over the last two years, I have gone to many planning and zoning conferences to learn more about how to provide attractive housing within communities. I’ll post my notes from those conferences and workshops here. I need to note that these will be my own opinions, and not those of any public boards to which I might belong.


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 Community Development Committee or the Lyme Planning Board, to which I may belong. By Town policy, I am not permitted to send messages on these subjects through the Listserv. However, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Spring 2019 Business Leaders Housing Breakfast

On May 3, 2019, I attended the Spring 2019 Business Leaders Housing Breakfast sponsored jointly by Vital Communities  and Twin Pines Housing. Twice a year, these groups bring together a group of speakers to address questions about housing. I have included links to the three presentations. Here are my takeaways:

Bennington Healthy Homes 

Kevin Dailey of Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) described how potential employees have trouble finding housing close to the hospital and consequently endure a long commute. SVHC established a program to acquire abandoned homes that are not economically viable as a commercial renovation. They then upgrade the homes so that there will be no major expense for 10 years, then pay the closing costs for an employee to purchase. They expect to spend about $25,000 per home. They have done four homes so far.

Woodstock Housing Initiative

Jill Davies spoke about how Woodstock Community Trust established a program to help moderate income people live in Woodstock, Vermont. They point out the need by asking these questions:

  • Who’s saving your life?
  • Who’s teaching your kids?
  • Who’s cooking your food?
  • Can they live in your community?
The Housing Initiative is about to sell their first home, working with Twin Pines Housing to help home buyers using a model developed on Martha’s Vineyard:
  • A buydown program, where the initiative puts up the down-payment, mortgage insurance, closing costs, to help a person who can afford the monthly payments, but doesn’t have the cash for up-front costs
  • They make structural repairs and fix major appliances, to avoid big bills in the first three years

Upper Valley Real Estate Update

In their semi-annual review of real estate housing trends, Buff McLaughry of Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty and Lynne LaBombard of LaBombard Peterson Real Estate LLC gave these highlights:
  • They consider the Upper Valley to have 69 towns, about 187,000 population, and 87,000 jobs.
  • Affordable housing is a core component of community health. If housing isn’t readily available, the community is suffers.
  • Rental property across the Upper Valley have less than 3% vacancy (very low), this is down about 10% from a year ago.
  • The commute to jobs has not changed much in the last year, but remains high at about 45 minutes.
  • Number of home sales has remained roughly constant over the last year, but inventory has changed:
    • Homes below $300K: inventory is strongly down – hardly any are available
    • Homes between $300K and $600K: down, less available
    • Homes above $600K: about the same, or slightly higher inventory


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 Community Development Committee or the Lyme Planning Board, to which I may belong. By Town policy, I am not permitted to send messages on these subjects through the Listserv. However, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

2019 Homeownership Conference – NHHFA

On March 19, 2019, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority held its 2019 Homeownership Conference. Agenda is at: https://www.nhhfa.org/assets/pdf/HO_Conf_3-19_Agenda.pdf

How can we get more homes built? How can we keep pace with the demand?

Dean Christon – Executive Director of NHHFA pointed to several initiatives:

St. Anselms College Center for Ethics in Business & Governance

  • Need more funding
  • Need a state-wide housing board
  • Need a legislative study on housing density

There are three interesting bills in the legislature and their sponsors:
SB 306 – Housing Appeals Board – Giuda
SB 15 – Affordable Housing Fund – Bradley
SB 43 – Density Study – Fuller-Clark

Finally, he introduced the NHHFA 2019 Housing Market Report  Read it at https://www.nhhfa.org/assets/pdf/NHHFA_HMR_3-19_final.pdf

Improving Housing Affordability

Elliot Eisenberg (the “Bowtie Economist”, Econ70.com) gave an entertaining and insightful review of housing issues. His major points:

  • The yield curve has inverted. This is a symptom of a non-zero chance of recession but at least 12 months out
  • There is a slowing economy, both in the US and the world. This is leading to slow growth
  • Regulatory costs add about $20,000 to $30,000 to the typical home. Mostly these are costs of complying with zoning
  • There are labor supply problems – builders cannot attract qualified builders, driving up labor costs
  • Land costs are high, making it more expensive to build
  • Builders have stopped building homes below $250,000
  • Rent growth has slowed recently
  • Municipalities should practice dynamic zoning. We regularly rezone commercial and industrial properties, but rarely do we allow changes to the density of residential districts
  • We must get housing density up, to decrease the cost of homes

He gave a similar presentation to the Greater Houston Builders Association Conference two weeks prior. That video is at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jv1do15Yx_Q

New Hampshire’s Housing Needs

Russ Thibault, Applied Economic Research, gave a talk about the New Hampshire housing needs. High demand for rental housing – “If the paint is dry, it’s occupied.” There is a shortage of 15,000 to 20,000 units in NH, with a demand for about 3,500 new units per year.

However, new construction is lagging because of high prices for construction materials (especially lumber), high labor costs (2.5% unemployment makes it hard to find qualified carpenters), and high land prices mean that existing housing is a relative bargain, driving up those prices.

He also gave a lesson in the history of zoning: In the 1980s, there was a sense of unease that the entire state would become overrun because of development pressure from Massachusetts. Ordinances were put in place to create a regulatory framework to prevent towns (especially in the southern part of NH) from being overwhelmed. These laws succeeded, but are now too restrictive and keep towns and municipalities from developing reasonable housing alternatives.

Engaging Stakeholders to Find Solutions

A panel discussion with the following people:

Builder: KEVIN LACASSE, New England Family Housing
Realtor: MATT MERCIER, Jill & Co. Realty Group
Architect/Engineer: TIM NICHOLS, AECm
Banker:PETER RAYNO, Enterprise Bank
Local Government: STEPHEN BUCKLEY, NHMunicipal Association
Moderator: BEN FROST, New Hampshire Housing

I took a few notes:

  • Mixed use development is good: Single family or rental above office or retail on the first floor.
  • Modular/pre-engineered construction helps improve labor cost/schedule/quality, with less waste, environmental impact, and bigger (annual) energy savings.
  • Riggins Rules – a good framework for being an effective land use board.

Summary of the Day’s Discussion

Ignatius Maclellan, Managing Director, Homeownership Division of NHHFA offered these thoughts:

  • Fully fund the State of NH Sewer Expansion work.
  • There are planning grants that can mitigate developer risk
  • To get market-price homes, streamline approval processes


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 Community Development Committee or the Lyme Planning Board, to which I may belong. By Town policy, I am not permitted to send messages on these subjects through the Listserv. However, I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.