Toward Feasible Senior Housing

Can Lyme ever get Senior Housing? I hope so. I want to be clear that I strongly support the development of senior (and other kinds of) housing in Lyme. My concern about the current draft Senior Housing amendment is that it imposes so many restrictions and constraints on a possible senior housing development that a project might never be feasible, and therefore would never be built.

The current draft confines senior housing development to the (expensive) Lyme Common District. Existing homes or businesses would have to be torn down or renovated, either of which is costly. The language stipulates small apartment sizes with scant market justification for those unit sizes. In the name of preserving “the character of the neighborhood”, the language introduces enormous regulatory uncertainty about what might or might not be permitted in the district.

Finally, the Board’s professed plan to “create the rules, and relax them if they seem to be too strict” is a recipe for inaction. I am told it can take one to two years for a developer to pull a plan together: if several years elapse without receiving any proposals to build senior housing, how will we determine whether the rules are too restrictive, or if we “just need a little more time”?

To sum up my opposition, this language is unnecessarily restrictive. It may not ever be feasible to build under the proposed rules. (You can read my specific concerns here and here.)

Then what could be feasible?

But it’s not fair for me simply to point out flaws. The town is far better served by constructive proposals that can be implemented in a timely way. I advocate that we:

  • Permit senior housing elsewhere in town. Instead of forcing the development into expensive and crowded “downtown Lyme”, allow senior housing on any property with frontage on Route 10. This permits good and safe access without constraining the development by the size and shape of available parcels. It also avoids the acknowledged concern about limited septic capacity in our current Lyme Common District.
  • Use the existing language of the ordinance in a new situation. The ordinance already defines a Planned Development that allows multiple homes in a building, and multiple buildings on a lot. These principles are an ideal foundation for developing senior housing. And Planned Developments are already subject to exactly the same dimensional controls (footprint, lot coverage, gross floor area, setbacks, etc.) as any other type of building in that district, so we don’t need to draft new language.
  • Allow people in Lyme to envision the need, the design, and the price point of senior housing. An ordinance that provides flexibility to construct a variety of senior housing options will attract partners who wish to make it happen. Remember: the ordinance doesn’t “create” senior housing. Its rules can only enable (or inhibit). New housing in Lyme will require people to invest their time and money to create a plan. Regulations that introduce hurdles or uncertainty will cause interested parties to look elsewhere to towns that are more welcoming.

My earlier posts set out 10 Goals for Senior Housing and an alternative draft amendment for Senior Housing that provide additional details. I encourage the Planning Board to consider those thoughts while they seek new avenues to improve housing in Lyme.

The Lyme Planning Board meets again at 7pm on Monday, 25 November to discuss Senior Housing. Please attend if you have thoughts or questions.


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, to which I may belong. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

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