Planning charrette removed from Master Plan
Following voting in which zoning amendments nixed, board looks to the future; clerical help needed in the town office
RINDGE — Members of the Planning Board met last week for the first time since voters rejected a zoning amendment a decade in the making, which would have allowed additional commercial development at the intersection of Routes 202 and 119.
Residents also passed petition Article 29 — 1086 in favor and 321 opposed — to remove from the town’s Master Plan the “Plan NH” charrette, which details the proposed changes to that intersection.
Asked if the board had plans to reintroduce something similar to Article 2 on the 2015 warrant, Board Chair Hank Whitney said they do not. “The way I look at it right now we were proposing changes to that area and they were voted down,” said Whitney. “So nothing has changed.”
After years in which residents and the Planning Board worked to create the plans for a town center around the intersection, the subject was only discussed briefly during the board’s first meeting since voting, and only to remove the charrette from the Master Plan. The subject might not have been raised at all had voters not approved Article 29, requiring the removal of the charrette from the Master Plan.
According to residents and town officials, strategies to update the intersection were discussed as part of the Rindge 2020 Plan since 2001 and as early as 1999.
Efforts by town officials and residents to develop a plan for the intersection included public sessions to draft community input, hiring a contractor to conduct a charrette, a proposed design from SVE Engineering in 2006, the addition of the Economic Development Chapter to the Master Plan, cooperative efforts by the Select Board, the Southwest Regional Commission and N.H. Department of Transportation, and the town received approximately $8,000 from N.H. Housing Finance Authority to conduct traffic studies at the intersection.
In an interview last week, Article 29 petitioner Larry Cleveland said his motivation to start a committee in opposition to the zoning amendment in Article 2 on the ballot this year, and his proposal of the article to remove the charrette from the Master Plan, started when he first learned about the plans for the area last year. He admitted that he should have been more involved earlier on in the process, so he would have known about the issue sooner but added that from now on he will be more informed. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if an item similar to Article 2 appears on the ballot again next year, and that he is ready to oppose it again if it includes plans to accept federal grant money. Whenever you have the federal government involved, he said, there are strings attached.
In anticipation of an extended conversation about the Master Plan at the meeting on March 18, Whitney suggested tabling removal of Plan NH Charrette from the Master Plan, until the next public meeting when they would have more time. Board members continued to raise points and ask questions, though, and in a short time they had come to the conclusion that they should take a vote.
The board voted unanimously to remove the charrette from the Master Plan, meaning the information from the numerous studies, community input and plans will no longer be with the document. The information will still be available though, as it will be kept on file in the town office.
Select Board ex-officio member Roberta Oeser said that the board needs someone working in the Planning Board office who can be of clerical assistance to the board.
The position has seen several directors come and go in recent years. Jane Pitt, who is now the interim town administrator, resigned from the position in April 2011; Robyn Payson, who served for a time as interim planning director, resigned March 30, 2012; Matt Henry worked a nine-month stint before he left; and most recently Mark Smith relocated from Colorado to fill the position, which he only held for three months before resigning.
“We do need help in there. I don’t think we need someone full-time, but the board needs to consider getting someone in there on a part-time basis,” Oeser said.
In other Planning Board business, the board discussed new appointments to the Economic Development Task Force and the Capital Improvement Program Committee. Board member Charles Eicher was nominated to the task force , but declined because of scheduling conflicts that he would have while serving on another board.
Bruce Donati was nominated and said he would like to look at his current responsibilities and the requirements of the position before accepting the nomination. The board agreed to discuss those positions at the next meeting.
Whitney accepted a nomination for board chair and was subsequently elected by the board. They moved on to discuss the vice-chair position, which Phil Simeone was elected to fill. The board accepted the meeting minutes from the March 4, before moving on to discuss the board’s rules of procedure.
The discussion on rules and procedures was primarily to inform the board’s newest members, Sam Bouchie and Jonah Ketola, about meeting rules and quorum.
Whitney and Oeser both emphasized that members should keep in mind that their conversations outside of official meetings cannot be held as a group. Speaking as a group would make their discussion a legal and public meeting.
Oeser said, “We have to be careful talking to each other, emailing, or talking on the phone — we don’t want it to be a meeting because our meeting’s are supposed to be public.”