Over-regulation Drives Housing Prices

After posting about why it’s hard to build starter homes, I found further proof that zoning regulations serve to raise the price of housing. A new study from the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy and St. Anselm College’s Center for Ethics in Society states:

“Widely available measures show that New Hampshire is one of the most restrictive states in the country for residential development,” Sorens wrote. “By suppressing building, land-use regulations drive up the price of housing as demand rises.”

A summary of the research was posted in New Hampshire Bulletin this week. The summary notes:

  • New Hampshire is in the top four states with the highest housing regulation
  • This leads directly to a high cost of living, and a shortage of available homes
  • Many New Hampshire towns have “attempted to freeze themselves in time”
  • By reducing zoning restrictions, New Hampshire could substantially cut the cost of living for thousands of families.

The original report names Lyme, NH as an “especially unaffordable town.”

You can read the full report by Jason Sorens at Residential Building Regulations In New Hampshire: Causes And Consequences He’s the Director, Center for Ethics in Society, Saint Anselm College.


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 body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I am an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Why no starter homes?

College Arms Apartments, Collegeville, PA. That was our starter home. It was a basement unit in an apartment complex with about fifty units in rural Pennsylvania. Some faculty lived there, some people who worked in town, and some married students, like Lin and me. We didn’t have a lot of income (she was still a college senior), but because the rent was cheap, we could sock away a little money so we could move to a (nicer) place when she graduated.

Is there anything like this in Lyme today? No.

But there’s huge demand, from people who work in town and in the region (think Hanover, Lebanon, WRJ), and from people who want to downsize (whether they’re “seniors” or not).

All this is nicely shown in Eclogiselle’s article “Housing Supply and Demand in One Screen Shot”. It talks about how the demand for small units – most households today have one or two people – isn’t being met because of the preponderance of three or four bedroom houses that are being built.

Why can’t we build starter homes? Put simply – in Lyme, we aren’t allowed to… The web page (and accompanying video) give several reasons. Lyme’s ordinance hits them all:

  1. Single-family zoning keeps costs high. It prevents families from sharing the expense of purchasing the land and installing the septic, water, driveway, etc.
  2. Multi-family dwellings cannot be built anywhere in Lyme, according to the ordinance. This is a clear violation of NH RSA 674:58-61, the Workforce Housing Law, that requires “… reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing, including rental and multifamily housing.”
  3. The zoning ordinance requires large lots. Does a starter home need three acres? Why?
  4. The requirement for large lots creates sprawl. This spreads out homes, removes the possibility of walkability, forces people to drive (more), and increases the travel distances for services (parish nurse, police, fire, and even neighbors).
  5. Parking. The subdivision regulations use an older standard for the number of parking spaces. Best practice shows that the number of cars per dwelling is decreasing. (How many cars will a one-person household need?)
  6. The Master Plan has no Housing Chapter. It speaks vaguely about preserving the “rural character” of the town, but totally ignores the real needs and desires of residents in town.

Lyme urgently needs to revise its zoning ordinance to permit more housing options that meet the demands of the 21st century.


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 body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I am an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Rules for Solar Arrays?

Lyme already permits solar arrays as a “structure”. Any place you could build a shed or garage, you could install a similar-size solar array. But Lyme’s zoning rules are extremely restrictive, and would prohibit a shed or garage on many, many parcels in town.

The Planning Board is considering regulations for renewable energy such as solar panels. Here are a few questions about renewable energy installations that have been touched on in previous Planning Board meetings:

  • Should there be (zoning) reasons to prohibit a homeowner from installing a solar array? (Obviously, a poor southern exposure might make it impractical. But when should zoning rules prohibit or limit solar arrays?)

  • Should the zoning rules allow a homeowner to power at least 100% of their needs with solar? If not, what’s the cut-off?

  • Should the size of a lot determine how much renewable energy a homeowner can install? (Solar footings typically only touch a very small area of the ground, even for a large above-ground structure. Should this make a difference?)

  • Is the town harmed if solar panels are visible from the road or neighboring properties?

  • Should the rules prohibit solar arrays on agricultural soil? (Much of the flat land in Lyme is agricultural soils.)

  • What about wetland buffers – the 100 foot buffer that surrounds and protects wetlands? (A lot of Lyme is wetlands, so the wetland buffers are large, too.)

  • What about steep slopes?

The Public Hearing this Thursday, September 9, 7pm at the Town Offices will discuss the draft Energy Chapter of the Master Plan [1], but the Planning Board is also seeking public feedback about other energy-related rules.

I hope to see you this Thursday! If you can’t make it, your thoughts will be read at the meeting if you send them to zoning@lymenh.gov.

[1] Proposed Energy Chapter for the Lyme Master Plan – https://www.lymenh.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif4636/f/uploads/energy.chpt_.masterplan.final_.06.2.2021.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 body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I am an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Solar Installations – what’s the issue?

A friend wrote:

What’s the issue here? Are  Lyme people aware that there is an issue (if there is)?

Thanks for writing, and helping me clarify my point: The Energy Committee recently wrote a chapter for the Master Plan. Recommendation #2 is that the Planning Board should make rules more permissive for renewable energy sources.

The very next meeting, the Planning Board set about to think about zoning rules for solar.

  1. None of us really knew what a solar installation would look like, especially one that supplies 100%+ of a home’s requirements. That led me to do the research I published on my blog.
  2. I had a concern that the new rules might allow a neighbor’s opinions to limit, or possibly even trump, a resident’s right to install renewable energy on their own land. It would feel incongruous to “make more rules” in the guise of “being more permissive.”
  3. I certainly don’t have a clear idea of what the town residents would accept, pro or con regarding solar installations.

I am encouraging everyone to send their thoughts to the board so that we can create rules that actually match the sense of the town. This will be discussed at the Planning Board meeting on Thursday, 9 September at 7:00pm in the Town Offices. If you cannot attend, you can send your thoughts to zoning@lymenh.gov  (Note: An earlier version of this posted the wrong date.)


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 body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I am an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Hopes for Solar Energy Installations

I am sending the following information to the Planning Board members as they consider revisions to the Lyme Zoning Ordinance to regulate renewable energy such as solar panels. It is also posted to my blog: https://richb-lyme.com

In light of the Town’s overwhelming approval at Town Meeting 2020 for the goal of 100% reliance on renewable energy by 2030, with heating and transportation by 2050, and the urgency expressed in the proposed Energy Chapter for the Master Plan [1], I want to ensure that any rules we create actually solve problems for Lyme residents.

In particular, I want to avoid the situation where rules limit the size of solar arrays to the point that they don’t meet the needs of the families who wish to install them. Consequently, I advocate that any rules regarding “residential solar energy”:

  • Acknowledge that climate change is an emergency
  • Ensure that zoning rules become “more permissive for the use of renewable energy sources” as cited in Recommendation #2 of the Energy Chapter.
  • Permit an installation of solar panels that meet at least 100% of needs of a residence
  • Encourage roof-mount systems but permit ground-mount arrays as a matter of right
  • With an eye toward the practical characteristics of typical solar arrays (below)…
  • Modify dimensional controls such as lot coverage, footprint, and other constraints to allow this use
  • Enable those parcels with a wide southern exposure to install solar arrays. Some parcels may not work, but the zoning rules should not be the limiting factor
  • Ensure that other requirements, such as conservation overlays, screening, or visual impact do not trump a homeowner’s right to install solar panels

I look forward to discussing this at the upcoming Public Hearing for the Energy Chapter, 9 September 2021. The meeting is at 7:00pm in the Town Offices. (Note: an earlier version posted the wrong date.)

Rich Brown
richb.lyme@gmail.com

Practical Characteristics of Solar Panels

In previous meetings, I didn’t feel I had a good grasp of what a realistic solar installation might “look like”. I collected the information below from the Model Solar Zoning Ordinance for NH [2] and discussions with a regional solar installation company [3].

  • Average homes today are installing 6-7 kW arrays. These panels may fit on a roof, or may need a ground mount. If the latter, they would occupy roughly 350 square feet, with a height of 7-9 feet.
  • Solar installers currently see a demand for larger (10-15kW) arrays for homes that require additional capacity for heat pumps and electric vehicles. Those solar panels will almost certainly not fit on a roof, so the footprint to accommodate these could be two or three times (700 to 1,000 square feet, again about 7-9 feet tall.)
  • Solar arrays today cost roughly $3/Watt fully installed. A 7kW array would cost $21,000; a 15kW array would cost $45,000.
  • The payback period for solar arrays is about 8-10 years. There is little financial incentive for anyone to massively overbuild residential solar panels.
  • For scale, two parking spaces for cars (usually 10×20 feet for each car, or 400 square feet total) is a little larger than an “average home solar array”
  • A typical two-car garage is 400sf (20×20 feet), and about 15-20 feet tall, larger than a typical 6-7 kW ground-mount array.

[1] Proposed Energy Chapter for the Lyme Master Plan – https://www.lymenh.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif4636/f/uploads/energy.chpt_.masterplan.final_.06.2.2021.pdf

[2] Model Solar Zoning Ordinance for NH: https://2aea07fd-ae17-4f19-8c1e-aa11bccfcdc2.filesusr.com/ugd/c6c29c_c3f6d0279dfe4037bfb95bfa28b041e5.pdf

[3] Personal correspondence, Kim Quirk, ReVision Energy, Enfield


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 body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I am an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Building Smart for Stronger Communities

The Keys to the Valley project hosts a (Zoom) event to talk about Building Smart for Stronger Communities today at noon. You can still register for the session at https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJAkc-2qrzktEtVY3rtgsh2fPeiI2pzUn05Y or sign up for their other events from their home page.

I plan to attend all the sessions. I hope to see you there!


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 body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I am an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Planning Board Election Results-2021

First off, I want to thank everyone for their support of my run for a Planning Board seat. This morning, I sent a note of congratulations to John Stadler on the election.

As the Planning Board works through their promises for action on housing, may I call on you for help to provide public input for their process?

Best regards,

Rich Brown
795-2525
www.richb-lyme.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 body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I am an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Note for the Lyme Town Candidate’s Page

I have asked to have the following message to be posted on the Lyme Town Website page for candidate statements

Looking for my thoughts on the Senior Housing amendment? See my previous post

Position on Planning Board: Rich Brown

My name is Rich Brown, and I am running for Planning Board. I moved with my wife (Lin Brown, a rheumatologist at DHMC) to Lyme six years ago, having lived for over forty years in the Upper Valley. In my time in Lyme, I have been involved with Those Guys, as an alternate on the Planning Board, as a local business owner (Loch Lyme Lodge), as a manager for LymeFiber, and for fun, I’m a beekeeper and The Juggler Man!

The Planning Board is the body that writes the rules for where and how people can build housing in Lyme. As part of educating myself about the issues, I have attended national, state, and local housing conferences. I have learned:

  • Housing is expensive: modestly-priced homes are scarce
  • Restrictive zoning rules are a major cause of high cost and limited supply
  • To downsize, or simply to live more lightly on the land, people usually must look outside Lyme

I feel a sense of urgency about our housing problems in Lyme. In 2016, the informal “Aging in Place” group proved the need for senior housing. Regrettably, it has taken the Planning Board five years to bring forward a Senior Housing amendment. The Board envisions another year of study before considering whether to expand it to other parts of town. This is not solving problems for Lyme.

I feel the same urgency for other kinds of housing. I know of at least five Lyme families who are seeking smaller homes who probably will not be able to remain in town. This Board has consistently voted against at multiple proposals over the years that could have been helpful to these families.

If elected, I will advocate for a variety of housing types to enhance the community and to live up to the Master Plan’s recommendation to “… allow a diversity of housing types suitable for people in a broad range of economic circumstances.”

I would appreciate your vote for the Planning Board position. You can read more at www.richb-lyme.com or contact me at richb.lyme@gmail.com Thank you.


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 body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I am an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

What about Senior Housing – Article 2?

Despite its flaws, I had initially considered supporting the Senior Housing amendment. But when I thought about what would be required to make amendment into a workable proposal, it was clear the current language is simply a bad starting point.

I have already detailed the problems with its age restrictions, location, and the poison pill. Those could be fixed.

But the Board’s focus on the Lyme Common District meant that any development was constrained to “fit into the neighborhood” and not be “too big”. Specifically:

  • The footprint and floor area restrictions mean that common areas, such as dining and living rooms, libraries, space for support staff, etc. all take floor space away from the (already small) homes.
  • Only 10 units are allowed, which translates to expensive units. The cost of land purchase, infrastructure (septic, water), utilities, common areas, and developer profit (yes – a developer will want to make money) must be spread across a small number of homes, increasing their price.
  • The language contains other provisions that deter a developer who might want to develop senior housing.
  • Despite the desire to limit the total footprint, the permitted structures (up to 12,000 sf) are a lawsuit waiting to happen. Would neighbors object to such a large building? Quite possibly. And developers avoid towns where lawsuits are likely.
That’s why I recommend we vote down Article 2, and ask the Planning Board to come up with a proposal that will actually give someone the incentive to build 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 body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I am an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Running for Planning Board

Dear Lyme Neighbor,

I have filed to become a candidate for Planning Board. As you probably know, the Planning Board sets the rules (through the zoning ordinance) for where and what kind of housing can be built in town.

In my six years in Lyme, my 15 years of working for housing options, and from attending national, state, and local conferences, I have learned:

  • Housing remains expensive. Reasonably-priced units are scarce
  • Long-time residents end up looking outside Lyme if they want a smaller place – to downsize or simply to live lighter on the planet
  • Restrictive zoning rules are a major cause of high cost and limited supply

Regrettably, the issues today are the same as in my previous campaign. You can read what I wrote last year at https://richb-lyme.com/why-im-running-for-planning-board/

The Planning Board has spent the past year arguing for the limitations of the senior housing amendment that they had produced – and pulled from consideration – before last year’s town meeting. None of the public comments were incorporated – to permit senior housing in other parts of town or to lower the age requirement. It remains a restrictive plan for expensive senior apartments in a limited district.

If elected, I will advocate for a variety of housing options that meet the needs of Lyme residents. If these issues are important to you, please vote for me on the paper ballot (absentee ballots are available now!) or in-person on Tuesday, March 9. Thank you!

Rich Brown

Where can you learn more? Visit my blog at www.richb-lyme.com, e-mail me at richb.lyme@gmail.com or call me: 795-2525. I’d love to chat!


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 body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I am an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.