Residents air concerns over  accepting federal money

Meeting held to urge town to stay away from grants leading to development

Rep. John Burt, left, puts on a demonstrative skit with helpers meant to illustrate the perceived dangers of accepting U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority grant money during a meeting Tuesday night led by town residents.

Rep. John Burt, left, puts on a demonstrative skit with helpers meant to illustrate the perceived dangers of accepting U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority grant money during a meeting Tuesday night led by town residents. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

RINDGE — A group of approximately 200 Rindge residents met at the Rindge Recreation Building on Tuesday night to hear Save Our Town Director Larry Cleveland, State Rep. Jack Flanagan of Brookline and State Rep. John Burt of Goffstown speak about their concerns with accepting N.H. Housing Finance Authority and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants.

Cleveland began the non-town-sponsored meeting by sharing with the audience what he found out in January: The town of Rindge had plans to change the zoning regulations for the area at the intersection of Routes 119 and 202, and the town would be using $24,800 in grant money from the NHHFA and associated with HUD to help with these zoning regulation changes. The suggestions for these new regulations were outlined in the Rindge Charrette, a compilation of ideas created over a two-day intensive and open-to-the-public session in January 2012 with help from the Plan NH non-profit.

In the Rindge Charrette, drawings show suggestions for zoning that would create a distinct economic and town center at the Routes 202 and 119 intersection. This, Cleveland said, was “a dangerous road.”

Cleveland, who felt he and other residents had been deceived by town officials by not hearing about the Charrette and grant money sooner, warned on Tuesday against allowing zone changes that would allow more stores, housing and people come into Rindge. “This adds up to disaster,” he said. “We want our town to stay the way it is.”

Flanagan of District 26 and Burt of District 6 spoke about their own experiences with HUD grants in their hometowns. Flanagan told the audience to be cautious of binding language, which he spotted at the last minute in a grant for the town of Brookline. “When you accept money, you are agreeing to be compliant with local, state and federal laws and regulations,” he said. Flanagan, who was a selectman at the time, didn’t like this language for his own town. “Why would we want to jeopardize the town’s assets into something we don’t know the answers to?” he asked.

Burt warned against the strings attached to grant money from HUD with a skit. With two volunteers to aid him, Burt demonstrated how the rules and regulations of the federal government passed from HUD to the NHHFA to towns that receive grant money. “This is what you don’t want in Rindge,” he said. “HUD makes up the rules as it goes.” He later added, “I don’t like any grants, personally.”

As the floor was opened up to questions, Rindge residents wanted to know what they could do to stop NHHFA and HUD money from coming into Rindge. While Flanagan said that “mixed zoning workforce housing can be a reasonable concept,” he suggested that unhappy residents ask the town to send the grant money back.

Not too long into the question session, town officials came forward to clarify what was happening with the grant money. “There are concerns with kids graduating and not being able to afford living here,” said Kim McCummings, Vice Chair of the Rindge Planning Board. “We have held public meetings in the past to hear feedback from residents about these plans for zoning changes, and I think we do a fairly good job listening to what people have to say.”

Town Administrator Carlotta Pini, who lives in Fitzwilliam, pointed out that there had been a public hearing before the Board of Selectmen where residents came and voiced their opinions. When the crowd became riled up over not knowing about this and other public meetings, Flanagan stepped in.

“These are your neighbors and friends. Let’s keep this friendly,” he said. “Furthermore,” Flanagan added, “it is each of you’s responsibility to find out about these meetings. They’re posted in the post office, the town hall, and probably in some local newspapers.”

Pini let everyone know at the end of the meeting, “We do want your input.” Pini mentioned in a phone conversation on Wednesday that the Rindge Charrette is part of a town economic development initiative that dates back to 1999. After years of public forums, surveys sent to all residents, and contracting consultants for recommendations, the town developed a vision, goals and action plan that can be found in the fifth part of the Economic Development Chapter-Master Plan July 2011 Rindge Economic Development Initiative Report. This action plan, which was formed through town input and professional recommendations, is what called for the Rindge Charrette.

“A number of people showed up to the charrette last January and helped with the conceptual design of West Rindge Village,” Pini said. “After that, the Planning Board adopted the design as part of the Master Plan.” She added, “However, we currently don’t have zoning regulations that allow for that design.”

On Wednesday, McCummings said in a phone interview that she and the Planning Board are currently selecting a date and location for an early autumn public input session on the subject of this particular grant for changing zoning regulations at the Routes 119 and 202 intersection. They already had two at the Methodist Church, one in January and one in June.

“We want to continue this dialogue,” McCummings said. The session will be advertised at the town offices building, the post office, in a local newspaper, on Facebook, on the town website, and through posters and flyers.

The goal, according to McCummings, is to determine zoning regulations or recommendations to put on the 2014 ballot. “No housing is being funded by this grant,” she clarified. “We are just getting help with recommendations and regulations.”

In regards to HUD, Pini was not concerned. “The reality is, the town has been involved with HUD for many years. They do some really positive work in economic development and housing needs,” she said. Pini mentioned that Rindge successfully built Payson Village to meet a need for senior housing, which couldn’t have been done without a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant for the infrastructure of the project. Throughout the completion of the project, no issues appeared from HUD, according to Pini.

In reflecting on the meeting on Tuesday, Cleveland distilled quite a bit of information into an overall goal: “I want people to know about the Rindge Charette and the dangers of accepting money associated with HUD,” he said. “I’ve never been involved in politics before this, but this directly affects my life. And after seeing the support we had on Tuesday night, I want to use that momentum to stop all future HUD grants in Rindge,” Cleveland added. “I would like things to stay the way they are.”

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