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. 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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