Once again, I am pleased to add a “guest post” to my blog. This one comes from Rusty Keith and others supporting the petitioned Planned Development amendment, Article 2 on the ballot for vote at Town Meeting on March 10. The Q&A was handed out at the public meetings held last month.
Planned Development Zoning Amendment – Questions and Answers
In March 2020, Lyme voters will be asked to permit Planned Developments on parcels that abut NH Route 10 in the Rural District. This change addresses several concerns:
Enforcement and Fairness: When zoning was approved over thirty years ago, a few small businesses existed in the Rural District along Route 10. They continue as “non-conforming business uses” and cannot change their use (to another business) or increase their intensity more than 50% from what existed prior to 1989. This causes several problems:
- There are no records of the commercial intensity that existed 30 years ago. Consequently, it is impossible for the Planning Board, or the Select Board that must enforce the regulations, to determine what a “50% increase” might be. A year ago, Lyme experienced an expensive, time consuming, lawsuit over this very issue, resulting in a Town vote to expand the commercial district.
- It is a burden on existing businesses as well. Successful companies evolve and grow. With the current ordinance, they find their operations are constrained by the regulations and they must spend time and money to justify their success.
- It is unfair that neighboring properties must live with the impact of these non-conforming business uses while their property is restricted to residential use. Permitting business use on those properties decreases the unfairness.
Business: Current zoning only permits businesses in the small defined commercial districts of Lyme. Most property in these commercial districts is already developed, so Lyme is hampered because:
- New business can’t find anywhere to locate in an allowed district.
- Much of the Commercial District is now residential or tax exempt (for example, Crossroads Academy).
- Loss of potential tax revenue from lack of businesses in Town
- Low staffing for the fire department and other services during the business day because so few volunteers work in town.
Housing: The Master Plan recommends that Lyme “allow for a diversity of housing types suitable for people in a broad range of economic circumstances.” But the reality is that the ordinance only encourages single-family homes on separate lots. This leads to:
- Low availability of alternate types of housing, such as senior and workforce housing, which call for small units clustered together with options to age in Lyme,
- A lack of multigenerational living arrangements that benefit all their residents.
- Risk of a Workforce Housing lawsuit, since today’s ordinance doesn’t permit economically feasible workforce housing to be built as NH Law requires.
- New (expensive) homes being built farther and farther out of town, fragmenting neighborhoods, increasing transportation energy use, and encouraging sprawl.
This Planned Development amendment can help address all these problems.
Q: How does this amendment benefit Lyme?
A: The Planned Development provision of our ordinance provides greater flexibility to a landowner in the ways they may use their property, subject to site plan review approval.
Planned Developments permit multiple units in a building, and multiple buildings on a lot. This flexibility allows landowners to design small dwellings, multi-dwellings, and other options for neighbors who want to stay in Lyme when downsizing and for teachers, nurses, firefighters, and others who work here but otherwise couldn’t afford to live in town.
Planned Developments can be a mix of business, institutional, and residential uses. This permits a variety of designs, for example, retail on the first floor of a building and apartments above.
By permitting Planned Developments in more parts of town, Lyme expands the potential for tax base growth, provide an opportunity for both business and affordable, senior, and other housing, and levels the playing field for neighbors of “non-conforming” businesses.
Q: Why a change to the Planned Development definition?
A: The amendment adds “May be 100% residential or” to the beginning of the sentence to read:
PLANNED DEVELOPMENT. May be 100% residential or a mix of residential and institutional or business uses on a single lot in more than one building on a single lot.
This makes it clear that a Planned Development MAY be residential-only, in addition to being a mix of business/institutional/residential use. A business use would still require the inclusion of a 15% residential use.
Q: Where could Planned Developments be built?
A: This amendment would allow Planned Developments to be built (with Site Plan Review approval) on any property that abuts NH Route 10 in the Rural District. Planned Developments have been permitted in the Common and Commercial Districts since the adoption of zoning. In 30+ years since, no Planned Development has been built in those districts.
Q: Would this dramatically change the Route 10 corridor?
A: Probably not. There are several reasons:
- Planned Developments are already permitted in both the Lyme Common District and the Commercial District. There hasn’t been any interest in building a Planned Development in those districts.
- A large portion of the land abutting Route 10 has already been permanently conserved, and is not available for any sort of development. This amendment will not affect any of that property.
- Dimensional controls will prevent “wall to wall” development, which could only be as large as would be permitted for a single-family home with its outbuildings.
- Planned Developments must devote at least 15% of the floor area to residential use, which will cause the developer to consider the kind of business that is built.
- Route 10 offers good and safe access for vehicular traffic for businesses. Consultants have advised the town that current traffic levels would support small, local business, but would never be attractive to large box stores.
- Today, the small amount of vacant land remaining along this corridor is expensive. Buying an existing, developed property for reuse is most likely cost prohibitive.
Consequently, the facts on the ground (both economic and practical) argue against overbuilding in Lyme.
Q: Does this amendment propose any other changes?
A: Yes, there are two other changes.
The amendment removes restrictions on the kinds of businesses allowed in a Planned Development. Under the current ordinance, any type of business not specifically permitted is automatically denied. Not one of the existing seven businesses, north of the Common District, would be allowed under our current restrictions. This change permits any business that can meet the Site Plan Review requirements in a Planned Development.
The amendment removes the requirement for a permanent easement on any undeveloped land in a lot used for Planned Development. The ordinance already sets limits for dimensional controls: the maximum footprint, lot coverage, setbacks, etc. for developments. A Planned Development cannot exceed those limits. Any future change or expansion would require another approval by site plan review. There is no need to bind future generations from finding new ways to use the land due to a permanent restrictive easement.
Q: Would this amendment permit massive buildings or overbuilding on a lot?
A: No. Dimensional controls for a Planned Development follow the same rules for the district. A Planned Development can be no larger than what could be built as a single-family home with its outbuildings, garages, workshops, barns, etc.
Furthermore, Site Plan Review is a careful process run by the Planning Board that reviews an applicant’s site plan to ensure it meets state and national laws, plus conformity to our local zoning regulations. These specific requirements control every development.
Planned Developments along Route 10 will benefit Lyme.
This proposed amendment makes it clear that more businesses would be welcomed in Lyme. It may encourage new businesses to locate in Lyme and provide goods, services, and jobs that residents find attractive and useful.
New businesses in town also add to the number of volunteers for services that help Lyme residents. One member of Lyme’s volunteer fire department noted that only two members work in town. If an emergency occurs during the work day, Lyme must currently draw most of its first responders from surrounding towns.
This amendment will “allow for a diversity of housing types suitable for people in a broad range of economic circumstances” (as recommended by the Master Plan) and foster business so that Lyme can be viewed as an active and lively community.
Give this amendment some serious thought and be sure to vote March 10th. This is your town.
February 28 2020
The opinions expressed here are those of the guest poster: Rusty Keith.
Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public body, such as the Lyme Planning Board where I volunteer as an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.