Senior Housing at Planning Board-10 October 2019

At its upcoming 10 October 2019 meeting, the Planning Board will discuss proposed Senior Housing language. The draft language was distributed to Board members yesterday, and is appended below. I plan to make the following comments at Thursday’s meeting.

First some general comments:

  • The Planning Board agrees that the Lyme Zoning Ordinance must be changed to permit any sort of Senior Housing development. However, it is important to note that neither the Ordinance nor the Planning Board will actually create Senior Housing – only a builder or developer can do this. Consequently, the ordinance should focus on making it possible to do so.
  • This proposal seems to be a complex, overly prescriptive set of rules that constrain the choices for anyone who might want to develop senior housing. There is no provision for flexibility: even if a good idea were proposed, there is no mechanism whereby a developer could get a special exception or other relief from these strict rules.
  • The wording of the proposal seems to say that the Planning Board is responsible for making decisions regarding design, size, adequacy of soils, and traffic safety. It is not clear how the board could obtain the technical or financial expertise to make these decisions.
  • In this proposal, the Board retains the power to deny a project based on its suitability to “the character of the land and neighborhood” and “present character of the village,” even if it meets all other standards. The likely effect of those subjective  judgements will be to inhibit, rather than to promote senior housing developments.
  • It is my belief that no developer would consider a Senior Housing development in Lyme under these rules because of the uncertainties described above.

Questions regarding the specific wording of the proposal (original language in italics):

  • Senior Housing shall be allowed in the Lyme Common Zoning District. Why is it important to confine this kind of development to the Common District? Are there concerns about bad outcomes that might result from allowing Senior Housing elsewhere in town?
  • Furthermore, the Planning Board’s own unfinished build-out analysis casts great uncertainty on the capacity of the Lyme Common District (for example, acreage, water, septic) to support new development.
  • … to provide housing that is suitable for the needs of an aging population that will provide independent living with an emphasis on safety, accessibility, adaptability, and to provide the opportunity for a network of support from other residents. This is laudable. Does it provide any legally enforceable guidance to developers who might want to develop a senior housing project? More importantly, could this language ever be used to deny a Senior Housing development that met some, but not every one of these goals?
  • Senior housing should be consistent with the present character of the village. Per the Master Plan, the character of Lyme seems to be “Single family homes on separate parcels.” Is there some other definition of the “present character”? How and where would these characteristics be defined? Does Lyme have a history of these kinds of decisions that a developer could look to?
  • All residential units will be limited to two residents where one resident must be age 62 or older. This needs further explanation:
    • Why reject the Federal HOPA (Housing for Older Persons Act, 1995) guidance that says that housing can have age restrictions if “…at least 80 percent of the occupied units must be occupied by at least one person 55 years of age or older per unit…”?
    • What bad outcome would occur from using the younger Federal standard?
    • What happens if a qualified couple needs to take care of a parent? Do these people need to move out?
    • How will the limitation on the number of people in a unit be enforced?
  • Residential units may be no larger than 1,200 square feet. How was this size determined? What evidence exists that this size is in any way attractive or economically feasible, either for potential developers or for residents?
  • Dimensional Controls… shall be established by the Planning Board… based on the character of the land and neighborhood… How would a developer know what might or might not be permitted? What legally-binding guidance could be provided regarding “character of the land and neighborhood”? Are there any precedents or decisions to look to?
  • …the adequacy of the soils to support on-site wastewater disposal and wells; safety of access and traffic circulation… As noted above, how shall the Board obtain the expertise to assess the property’s support for wastewater and wells or for traffic safety?
  • … and other issues relating to the future use and enjoyment of the property. What subjects might this language include? What bad outcome(s) is this language intended to preclude? Are there other ways to solve those problems?
  • The maximum number of units (mixed use) shall be established by the Planning Board through Site Plan Review. In no instance shall the maximum number of residential units exceed 10. Although this number was offered as a placeholder, what objective criteria would be used to set the value? Is this number large enough be financially feasible for a developer? What bad outcomes would occur from a development with more units?
  • All residential units shall be located on the ground floor. What is the justification? There are plenty of senior housing developments on two, three, or more floors.
  • Ownership: All units shall be owned by a single owner. What is the motivation behind this restriction? What bad outcome would result from independent ownership of the units (say, as condominiums?) Is this even an appropriate planning and zoning restriction?
  • The subdivision of the lot to separate the residences is prohibited through the grant of a zoning easement to the Town of Lyme. What is the motivation behind this? Why is it ever necessary to grant the Town an interest in private property? Is the plain language of the ordinance not a strong enough guarantee?

If you have thoughts on the above, I hope you can come to the Planning Board meeting on Thursday, 10 October 2019 at 7:00pm in the Town Offices. If you have opinions, but can’t make it, please send a note to the Planning and Zoning Administrator ( and please cc: me –

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

2 thoughts on “Senior Housing at Planning Board-10 October 2019

  1. A note to the Planning Board regarding the Lyme Senior Housing Proposal:

    Unfortunately we cannot attend tonight’s Planning Board meeting as we are
    marooned on an island in a nor’easter‹no ferries or airplanes‹but we do
    have electricity!

    We’ve read both the Planning Board’s proposed changes to the Lyme Zoning
    Ordinance regarding Senior Housing and Rich Brown’s responses with great
    interest. We are in our early 70’s, have loved living in Lyme for over 25
    years, and are always thinking about how we could stay here while
    downsizing and simplifying.

    It occurs to us that 85 Dartmouth College Highway looks like an attractive
    model: a small community, historic architecture with lovely site
    lay-out (discreet parking, doesn’t look like a strip mall), and apparently
    very happy residents/condo owners. The prices there have soared over the
    years, possibly due to demand‹there’s nothing else like it in Lyme!

    We echo many of Rich’s questions such as:

    –limiting development to the Lyme Common Zoning District. Yes, living
    within the district would be great, but how many actual development sites
    are there? What about the accessible Route 10 corridor above and below
    the District?

    ‹limiting the number of people per residence to 2. We could envision the
    possibility of our needing someone to live with us at some point‹daughter,
    or caregiver‹would they be ruled out?

    ‹limiting size of units, must be all on ground floor, etc. Varying sizes
    of units would allow for a more diverse population with different needs,
    and the one-level concept sounds good for people who can’t navigate
    stairs, but what about those among us who are spry and prefer multi-level
    living? And the spectre of bungalow or apartment block sprawl seems
    really out-of character for Lyme.

    We could go on, but basically we are agreeing that while we appreciate the
    work involved in developing this proposal, there are many aspects of it
    that should be revised in order to actually ENCOURAGE the development of a
    realistic senior housing project (or in fact, several small projects in
    various locations) within our lifetime. We believe that this can be
    accomplished without sacrificing the beauty and “character” of Lyme.

    Virginia and Mike Beahan
    Baker Hill Road

    • Thanks, Virginia and Mike. Your letter was distributed at last night’s meeting. Your comments address a lot of the followup questions I pose in my “What are your plans?” posting from yesterday. Thanks again.


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