More housing lots on the table
Proposals could impact downtown
PETERBOROUGH — Two complicated and lengthy proposed zoning ordinances that will appear on the May 13 ballot captured the attention of about 20 residents at an information session held by the Planning Board on Monday. One calls for adding an Innovative Subdivision Design ordinance, intended to provide developers with design flexibility by allowing smaller clustered lots, which would be mandatory on many developments of 10 acres or more in the rural district. The other, known as the Traditional Neighborhood Overlay Zone, would allow infilling of lots and additional residential housing in a clearly defined area near downtown, where neighborhoods are already established.
The informational meeting was intended to explain details of the proposals, said Community Development Director Pete Throop, because several months have passed since the Planning Board placed the zoning amendments on the ballot.
Innovative Subdivision Design
Article 2A would replace the current Open Space Residential Development section of the zoning ordinance, which allowed but did not mandate housing on reduced lot sizes with a portion of the developed area set aside as open space, with a new section, to be called the Innovative Subdivision Design ordinance.
If approved, the ordinance would require all subdivisions of lots over 10 acres in the rural district to follow guidelines calling for houses to be built on smaller lots than are allowed under conventional zoning, with 50 percent of the land to be designated as open space. Developers could earn density bonus points, which would allow a greater number of units in exchange for providing more open space or using a variety of sustainable development practices. The guidelines would be mandatory in the rural district and optional in other residential and mixed-use districts.
At the meeting, Throop said one goal of the ordinance is to create “a coherent network of connected open space” by having the developers and the Planning Board take into account the location of open space on adjacent parcels of land. A nonbinding discussion with the Planning Board and a site visit would be required before a formal application is filed and a homeowners association would be required to manage open space or commonly held land.
Throop said landowners or developers in the rural district could be exempt from the requirements of the ordinance if their subdivision was three lots or fewer and did not require a new public or private road; if all the lots in a subdivision were 10 acres or more and accessed by a new private road in the subdivision; or if the Planning Board determined that a conventional subdivision would meet the intent of the ordinance.
Real estate agent Heather Peterson asked Throop if common wells or common septic systems would be required. He said each residence could have a separate well and septic system, although septic systems could be located on common land, depending on conditions set by the Planning Board.
“Every parcel is different,” Throop said. “This asks a developer to study the resources of the land before designing a subdivision. They’ll have flexibility to design based on the characteristics of the land.”
A second proposed amendment on the ballot, Article 2N, has been submitted by petition as an alternative to the Planning Board’s proposal. It has essentially the same wording as Article 2A, but it’s known as the Voluntary Innovative Subdivision Design ordinance, because it would not require compliance with the ordinance for developments in the rural district. Instead, Article 2N calls for making the process optional in all districts.
Throop said residents should be sure to cast a vote on both Article 2A and Article 2N, voting in favor of the one they prefer and against the one they don’t. If both articles were to pass, Throop said, Town Counsel John Ratigan has advised that Article 2N, the version making compliance voluntary, would take effect. When questioned as to whether that would happen regardless of the margin of victory in each case, Throop said he would consult further with Ratigan. As of press deadline Wednesday, no additional information was available.
Traditional Neighborhood Overlay Zone
The other major zoning amendment on the ballot is an effort to provide additional opportunities for housing in close proximity to downtown Peterborough.
“What people covet is a walkable, convenient place to live,” Carolyn Radisch of ORW Landscape Architects and Planners in White River Junction, Vt., who worked with the Office of Community Development on the proposal, said at the meeting. “It offers more opportunities for small houses and is more efficient for town services.”
Radisch said many young people don’t want to drive and many adults would prefer to live in town. The ordinance is also intended to discourage development in the rural parts of town.
The ordinance would allow additional dwelling units on larger lots within a clearly defined zone, which would include Concord Street to the intersection of Sand Hill Road, the mostly residential sections of Summer Street, High Street, MacDowell Road and Union Street, Pine Street from Granite Street to near the Cheney Avenue intersection, Grove Street south to Route 202, and the residential neighborhood between Grove Street and Elm Street.
Within the overlay zone, single- or two-family dwellings could be built on a 5,000-square-foot lot in the General Residence District or a 10,000-square-foot lot in the Family District.
Radisch said approvals of development would be done on a conditional use basis by the Planning Board, meaning notice to neighbors and abutters would be required. Any development would have to be on lots with town water and sewer service.
“This is infill of lots,” Radisch said. “It is not moving into undeveloped lots.”
The ordinance has an extensive appendix of site and building design guidelines, intended “to ensure that new homes in the Traditional Neighborhood Overlay District respond to existing neighborhood patterns that residents value.” Some of those considerations, Radisch said, include maintaining consistent front setbacks, having houses oriented to the street with parking in back and incorporating recurring architectural features found in homes in the nearby community. Removing existing structures would be discouraged.
Radisch said there are 119 potential lots that could qualify for new construction, although 66 of those have constraints related to topography or other issues that would make them unlikely to be developed.
High Street resident Rod Christy said having 119 potential lots would be too much, in light of the planned additions for the Scott Farrar home, a previously approved plan for a potential subdivision off High Street and other sites in the area that are likely to be developed. He asked if any traffic studies or analyses of parking and air pollution issues had been considered.
Radisch said such studies had not been done. Based on her experience in other towns, she said, residents should not expect rapid infill growth.
“You will be lucky to get a couple of units a year,” Radisch said. “It’s not something that happens overnight.”
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.