We are all responsible for the decisions that take place in local government. If we as citizens are disengaged, it is difficult to be sure that our elected officials are being held accountable and upholding our values. The overlay district/The Rindge Charrette may have been the catalyst that created Save Our Town. However, SOT has evolved into a group that sees its mission as holding elected officials accountable and ensuring that they uphold the values of a small, rural town populace.
SOT began in 2013 due to our elected officials looking for “free” money in a planning grant to fund a plan (The Rindge Charrette – purported to encompass the four corners at Routes119/202). In this instance, they opened the door to unintended consequences. The Community Planning Grant funds were earmarked for the services of PlanNH, community outreach and assistance with writing zoning ordinances. The residents of Rindge didn’t seek the Charrette plan; it was a partnership between Franklin Pierce University and town planners. The Rindge Planning Board applied for the Community Planning Grant and the Rindge Selectmen accepted. Concern was where the grant funding came from.
In October, 2013, Rindge residents attended a citizens meeting seeking answers. New Hampshire state representatives Burt and Flanagan suggested caution when accepting HUD money as there are often strings attached. This meeting was recorded and can be found on YouTube under the title: Stop HUD and the Rindge Charrette. Carlota Pini, Rindge town administrator, and Kim McCummings, Planning Board member, attended. At minute 55:44 Kim McCummings insisted that the grant wasn’t the type of grant that the representatives referred to. She stated that the grant was from the Southwest Regional Planning Commission and that the SWRPC got funding from the state. At hour 1:09, when asked where the state gets its funds, neither McCummings nor Pini could say. When asked if anyone had read the contract there was no response. One week after this meeting, the Keene Sentinel reported that Pini had left her job – it was unknown if she was fired or resigned. This meeting and the departure of Pini left residents with more questions.
The SOT group uncovered information that was not brought readily to light by our elected officials. I attended many Planning Board/Select Board meetings from October to March (most video recorded). Meetings were overflowing; many residents were not familiar with the process. I was appalled at how residents were treated by the political class of Rindge as they struggled to get their questions answered. Many were dismissed, demeaned and effectively called racist for simply questioning the fact that it could be HUD money.
First, per the contract, in exchange for approximately $25,000, the town of Rindge was committed to provide Project Deliverables (Exhibit A, pg.1-8, NH Community Planning Grant Program, Round 2, Grant Agreement). The Rindge Planning Board developed the following deliverables: to reduce the 2 acre minimum building lot down to 1 acre or preferably ½ acre in all Village Districts, Gateway District and College District to encourage high density mixed use – far beyond the scope of the four corners. Second, attached to the Rindge Community Planning Grant was a Cooperative Grant from the N.H. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (Exhibit B, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Assistance Award Amendment, pg. 1-3), and attached to the Cooperative Grant was the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Office of Sustainable Housing And Communities Cooperative Agreement Provisions (Exhibit C, pgs. 1-27)(terms/conditions).
At a public hearing of SWRPC in Keene, December 2014, it was disclosed that SWRPC was funded through 90 percent grants and 10 percent membership fees. Planning commissions in New Hampshire are political subdivisions and are not subject to budgetary law (NH RSA Section 36:49a). This means that no voter represented by any regional planning commission has any vote on the origin or disposition of its budget, making the commissions unaccountable. Effectively, PlanNH and the SWRPC employees receive their paychecks from the federal government.
In review, the grant was HUD funded and did have strings attached. Through the Project Deliverables and the PlanNH’s assisted proposed zoning ordinances, the goal was to open up land stock to investors who presumably would build multi-unit dwellings. Effectively, the federal government was attempting to influence how we organize our town by changing the character and landscape of Rindge and impacting our roads, town services and schools. It has been my experience that Rindge residents are a welcoming, open people who value our rural lifestyle of a 2 acre lot size. Constitutionally speaking, the federal government has no business being involved in local land use. It does appear, however, that they have found a backdoor to do just that in said grants
In his March 9 article in the Ledger-Transcript, Mr. Handy stated that it is thought that this small group (SOT) wields a greater influence over the general populace, but last time I checked, it is one person per voting booth. I would contend, and the voting results of the last four years prove, that the majority of people in Rindge hold similar traditional values.
Cheryl McCabe-Charron lives in Rindge.