A simple argument against the Senior Housing amendment

I received a note from a resident:

… We are strongly in favor of providing senior and affordable housing in Lyme.  We cannot quite understand the stipulations [of the proposed amendment] regarding measurements, etc.   It makes our head spin, especially since we weren’t in on the ground floor…

I wrote the following response:

Please don’t be fooled by the name “Senior Housing”. I don’t believe this amendment will ever benefit Lyme. The Planning Board’s heart is in the right place – they really do want housing for seniors. But the language they have proposed is so restrictive that it’s unlikely to attract anyone to build it. Here’s why:

  • The units will be expensive. My rough numbers indicate the units would thus cost a little over $400,000, since they are confined to the Lyme Common District, and 10 units must bear the cost. If they could be built elsewhere in town (say, on Route 10 where land is cheaper) with more units (say, 20 units, like at 85 Dartmouth College Highway, or The Greens in Hanover) the price of each unit drops by nearly $100,000.

  • It requires that existing homes be torn down or remodeled. With notable exceptions, there are no vacant lots in the Lyme Common District. To create new housing, we must lose existing (historic?) housing. The exceptions, the vacant lots, could already support good senior housing under the current ordinance.

  • It will be hard to design the homes. You said all those measurements made your head hurt. But those legal requirements make it even worse for someone trying to design and build the homes. Not only must they consider all the normal questions (How big should the units be? How much should they cost? One bedroom or two? How much common space?) but the amendment further constrains the design by limiting footprint, limiting the number of homes, limiting who can live there, and more.

  • The language is prone to legal squabbles. The development must be “harmonious with … the character of the neighborhood”. Yet it permits up to 12,000 square feet of floor area (bigger than the Lyme Country Store.) Plunking a building like that in the Historic District, three times bigger than many neighboring homes, might well provoke a lawsuit.

So for all those reasons, I don’t believe anyone will bother to investigate Lyme based on this amendment. It’s too expensive, too hard to design, too much legal uncertainty. There are plenty of other towns nearby that are crying for new housing, and that don’t have a history of giving developers a hard time.

Thanks again.

Rich Brown

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, Budget Committee, or Trustees of the Trust Funds where I volunteer. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

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