Peterborough zoning changes head to ballot despite mixed reviews

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A zoning proposal to implement “form-based” zoning and streamline zoning districts received mixed reactions from a packed room during a public hearing on Monday. 

Despite multiple residents asking for more time for public feedback and review, the Planning Board originally ruled that the multiple information sessions already held on the matter had been sufficient, moving the measure to ballot for voter consideration in May.

“People have had countless opportunities to talk to this,” said Planning Board member Rich Clark. “Some people are going to have a different point of view, and that’s fine, we’re not going to make everyone happy. But I think we’ve given plenty of information.”

However, according to Planning Chair Ivy Vann on Wednesday, the board has been notified by the town attorney that it needs to notify property owners affected by the zoning change, and the board will be holding a second hearing after all, on March 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the Town House. The board, she said, will take the opportunity of the extra hearing to adjust a definition, and will separate a section of the ordinance that makes a change to accessory dwelling unit regulations into its own ordinance. The ADU amendment drew criticism from several town residents during Monday’s meeting. 

The intent of the board is to keep the remainder of the proposed changes as they are currently written, said Vann. 

While the changes shift the districts a bit, most of the rules are pre-existing within the town’s current ordinance, Vann outlined during Monday’s meeting.

“T-5, Town Center” for example, will include the town center and two plazas, and incorporate the existing rules for what is now known as the “downtown commercial district.”

“T-4, Village” includes West Peterborough, the Shaw’s plaza, the 202 South sand pit and Concord Street and be subject to the same rules as West Peterborough Currently.

Overlay districts remain the same, except Traditional Neighborhood I and II, whose rules will be incorporated into village edge and residential districts, based on whether or not the lot has town sewer and water. 

The zoning changes would also take all lots that have “split” zoning, with a portion of the lot in two separate districts, and rectify that issue. 

This change also implements “form-based” zoning. The ordinance would outline basic building outlines for various uses, and new buildings would have to reflect those shapes. The forms dictate things such as building size and height and exterior visual elements such as porches or windows. 

The goal, said Vann, is to emulate the kinds of buildings which already exist in Peterborough, which resident say are an asset to the town’s look and feel.

Several residents had concerns with the ordinance.

“My feeling is this ought to be put on hold to meet with the family districts, to talk about how this will really affect them,” said resident Loretta Laurenitis. She voiced concerns that the changes would increase density, traffic, and the restrictions on the forms, among other issues.

Resident Jim Walsh said he was more concerned about the message that the changes might send to commercial interests who might see it as a roadblock to development, saying strict form regulations could be seen as a “stop sign” for potential developers.

Other residents said they were whole-sale in favor of the ordinance changes.

“I went to I don’t know how many sessions on this. With all due respect to people who feel they haven’t gotten enough information, I think the board has gone above and beyond,” said Steve Graves, a Concord Street resident who said he was in favor of the ordinance.

Sarah Steinberg said she was also in favor, saying she doubted the measure would bring immediate, sweeping changes to the town as some residents seemed to feer. 

“Some of the criticism of this seems a bit pointed and classist, and kind of a ‘not in my backyard’ feeling,” she said. 


The question of Accessory  Dwelling Units

Coupled with the changes to the districts and the form-based developments, was a change that most residents who spoke at Monday’s meeting voiced qualms about: The removal of a restriction on accessory dwelling units that required one of the residents to be occupied by the homeowner.

Several residents said they were uninterested in having rental properties without a landlord present.

The Planning Board pointed out, however, that there were issues with that, mainly being that the town already allows similar arrangements – with no requirement for ownership residence – for duplexes.

It becomes problematic, said Vann, to allow a use in one part of the ordinance but not another. 

Also, added Code Enforcement Officer Dario Carrara, if he has to knock on a door to ask for proof of ownership in order to determine if a use is in compliance with the zoning code or not, it’s not ideal.

Ed Juengst, an ex-officio member of the Planning Board and Select Board member, said that originally, he had been against the measure as well, but had been convinced by the Planning Board’s arguments.

During the second public hearing on the proposed ordinance changes on March 12, the adjustment to the ADU ordinance will be separated into its own zoning amendment. 


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertrancript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.