Candidate Statements: Planning Board and Trustee of the Trust Funds

I am running for two elected positions in Lyme. Here are my candidate statements:

Rich Brown Candidate Statement:
Planning Board

I don’t believe in complaining. Instead, I think it’s important for people to offer their services to help solve town problems.

I have volunteered as an alternate member of the Planning Board for last three years. When a regular member is not present, I frequently am asked to sit in their place. This gives me an understanding of the requirements and processes of the Board.

I am now running for a full, elected seat on the Planning Board. I am pleased that the Board is considering solar panel installations, and I look forward to working on options for housing later this year.

I moved with my wife (Lin Brown, rheumatologist) to Lyme seven years ago, having lived in the Upper Valley for more than forty years. I spend time on the Those Guys tent crew, as a local business owner (Loch Lyme Lodge), as a manager of LymeFiber, and as a volunteer school crossing guard at the Lyme School.

I will bring the same energy to the Planning Board as I have brought to the Tax Fairness discussion. You can see my thoughts about planning and taxes on my blog at: richb-lyme.com

I ask for your vote on the ballot at Town Meeting, Tuesday, March 8. Thank you.

Rich Brown
795-2525


Rich Brown Candidate Statement:
Trustee of the Trust Funds

As a trustee for Lyme’s Trust Funds, I will monitor the performance of the investment advisor that the Town hires to ensure that they meet the investment guidelines. In addition, I will work to ensure the funds entrusted to those funds are properly disbursed.

For more information about me, see my Candidate Statement for Planning Board.

I ask for your vote on the ballot at Town Meeting, Tuesday, March 8. Thank you.

Rich Brown
795-2525


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 volunteer as an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

Update: How much did your property tax increase?

Sent to the Lyme Listserv on 22 February 2022:

I just filed for an abatement since our Lyme property tax bill went up 31% for no obvious reason. Although other properties went up by similar amounts, tax bills for many other properties actually decreased. You can see the changes for your street at the Tax Fairness website:  https://taxfairness.github.io/Taxes2021/

The abatement form is at: https://www.lymenh.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif4636/f/uploads/revisedabatementform.pdf

It’s long, but pretty straightforward. I attach the answers I provided on my application below – you are free to use them and modify for your situation.

IMPORTANT: The deadline for filing for an abatement is next Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Please get back to me if you have any questions. Thanks.

Rich Brown
795-2525


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 volunteer as an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.


Outline for Lyme Property Tax Abatement Form – Deadline – Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Sections A and B: Fill in your name and address

Section C: Fill in the property address to be abated

Section D – Other properties: Fill in the addresses of other properties you own (if any)

Section E: Reason for Abatement Application

In 2021, the Town of Lyme spent 4% more than in the previous year. If all property valuations increased the same amount relative to others, we all would expect our tax bills to increase by about 4% (in the absence of significant improvements or changes to the homes.)

The tax on my property increased by $4,164, that’s a 31% increase ($13,381 in 2020 to $17,545 in 2021). This is about eight times the expected increase.

This increase is disproportionate to other properties in town, especially those properties whose taxes went down this year. As examples, see the data presented to the Select Board on 10 February 2022 for Breck Hill Road, 85 Dartmouth College Highway, and Wilmott Way (attached)

Finally, this disproportionate assessment, if left to stand, will continue for the next five years, increasing the unfairness relative to other properties in town.

Section F: Taxpayer’s opinion of Market Value

As a non-professional, I do not know how to set a value on my property. Furthermore, my opinion is immaterial since the Town hired a professional assessor last year to set correct property values as part of the five-year Revaluation process.

What factors did the Assessor use to set the value of my property? What comparable properties were considered?

Finally, the question “Would you sell your property for this assessment?” is unfair and unreasonable. Not only is my property not currently for sale, but I have no recourse to this opinion. In an arms-length transaction, I can accept or reject the buyer’s offer. I have no option with the town, except to file this abatement.

If you own multiple properties, you might include this statement:

I do not agree with the statement in Section D that “[all properties] must be considered in determining … a disproportionate assessment.” If one property is incorrectly assessed, its value should be corrected, regardless of whether any other properties are correct or not. If one property is 10% too high, and another 10% too low, it doesn’t “balance out”. That’s still unfair.

Sections H and I: Signatures and certifications… Deadline is Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Tax Increases – 85 Dartmouth College Highway: https://taxfairness.github.io/Taxes2021/Tax_Increases_85_Dartmouth_College_Highway.pdf

Tax Increases – Breck Hill Road: https://taxfairness.github.io/Taxes2021/Tax_Increases_Breck_Hill_Road.pdf

Tax Increases – Wilmott Way: https://taxfairness.github.io/Taxes2021/Tax_Increases_Wilmott_Way.pdf

How much did your property tax increase?

Sent to the Lyme Listserv on 8 February 2022:

I was astonished to see a 31% increase in my property tax bill last year. So some friends and I looked into the tax records and produced a website that shows the tax change for properties in town. Go to the Tax Fairness site and enter your street name – you’ll see how you compare. It’s at: https://taxfairness.github.io/Taxes2021/

I think you’ll detect a fair amount of variation, even between neighboring properties. (The town is spending about 4% more this year, so we would expect an average 4% increase.) If you think your tax bill for last year is unfair, you can file for an abatement. I know that Michael Whitman is preparing a step-by-step guide for filling out the form.

In addition, there will be a meeting with the Select Board this coming Thursday, February 10th. The meeting begins at 9am for public comments; I believe the revaluation discussion is scheduled for 9:30am. If you can’t make it in person, it’ll be on Zoom to make it easier to attend. (Zoom link is on the Agenda at: https://www.lymenh.gov/sites/g/files/vyhlif4636/f/agendas/2022-2-10_sb_agenda.pdf)

Please get back to me if you have any questions. Thanks.

Rich Brown
795-2525


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 volunteer as an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

I couldn’t have said it better myself… (from Granite Geek via Daybreak)

I saw a summary from Daybreak that talks about housing. It said:

Current zoning laws and development requirements, writes David Brooks on his Granite Geek blog, make it so that no NH developer “can afford to build anything other than big apartment buildings or big houses spaced far apart.” But the demand for other options—duplexes and triplexes, bungalows, carriage houses—is rising. And, Brooks argues, vital not just to providing more affordable options but to stemming sprawl. But “this is one of those situations where local control often means local opposition to change,” he adds.

The most important point is, “other options… is vital not just to providing more affordable options but to stemming sprawl.” This certainly affects people in Lyme, where property values (and taxes) are rising fast, and restrictive zoning is pushing development farther and farther from the center of town.

Read David Brook’s full Granite Geek post…


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 volunteer as an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

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 volunteer as 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 a complex with about fifty apartments 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 an entry-level 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 volunteer as 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 volunteer as 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 volunteer as 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 volunteer as 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 volunteer as an alternate member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.