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Peterborough

Proposal may allow greater density

High Street resident Rod Christy, center, points to his neighborhood on a map showing the outline of the proposed Traditional Neighborhood Overlay District during Monday's public hearing held by the Planning Board.

High Street resident Rod Christy, center, points to his neighborhood on a map showing the outline of the proposed Traditional Neighborhood Overlay District during Monday's public hearing held by the Planning Board. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

PETERBOROUGH — Planning Board members voted Monday to place a Traditional Neighborhood Overlay District proposal on next May’s Town Meeting ballot, following a public hearing where a number of residents expressed concern about the possible impact of the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance is intended “to allow for the infilling of lots and additional residential housing in close proximity to the downtown area in sections of towns where there are established subdivided neighborhoods.” If approved, it would allow the Planning Board to grant conditional use permits, based on a set of guidelines intended to keep new buildings compatible with existing residences. A single family dwelling could go on a 5,000-square-foot lot in the general residence district or on a 10,000-square-foot lot in the family district. The lots involved would have to be on town water or sewer lines or be able to connect to existing water and sewer service.

The proposal would create a Traditional Neighborhood Overlay Zone in which additional development could take place. The zone would be north of Route 101, and would include the downtown area, most of the smaller residential lots along Pine Street, Concord Street, Summer Street, High Street, Union Street, Grove Street and the neighborhood between Grove Street and Elm Street.

Approval for new buildings would have to come from the Planning Board, which would follow design guidelines intended to ensure that buildings’ height, scale and orientation reflect other residences within 300 feet on either side of the street. Front setbacks would be determined by averaging the setbacks of existing lots on either side of the building and would have to be at least 15 feet but not more than 50 feet. Side setbacks would have to be at least 10 feet, but the Planning Board could require a greater side setback.

Public hearings would be required on any proposed development.

Carolyn Radisch of ORW Landscape Architects and Planners in White River Junction, Vt., who worked with the town’s Office of Community Development on the proposal, said the boundaries of the zone are intended to follow existing neighborhoods. It has the potential to allow additional development on as many as 107 separate lots, but Radisch said many of those lots have constraints such as steep slopes or wetlands.

Radisch emphasized that any development would be optional.

“I’d be surprised if it was more than a couple of units a year,” she said. “You’re not required to do anything. It’s an opportunity, if you want to take it.”

Acting Planning Board Chair Ivy Vann noted that property owners would not be taxed on having the potential for additional lots. A tax impact would only happen if an additional residence were to be built.

Radisch said the intent of the Traditional Neighborhood District is to reduce development pressure on the rural district by allowing housing options in town.

Several people in attendance, many of them residents of the proposed district, said they were opposed to the ordinance.

“I’m getting an uneasy feeling that Peterborough is taking a lot away from owners,” said Ellen Derby of High Street. “It’s making Peterborough less welcoming by making it more restrictive.”

Derby said design review should be left to property owners, not to the Planning Board. She also said much of the land within the proposed district isn’t suitable for walking to town, which Radisch had cited as a benefit of infill development.

“We already know we have a traffic problem,” Derby said. “People are not going to walk everywhere.”

Andy Dunbar said the ordinance would lead to more traffic on Summer Street, where he lives. He also objected to the 10-foot side setback.

“This will have a hard time flying if you don’t leave the setbacks alone,” Dunbar said.

Current zoning regulations call for 30-foot front setbacks and 25-foot side setbacks in the General Residence and Family districts.

David Simpson, a MacDowell Road resident, said he might not have purchased his home if he knew a neighbor might be able to build within 10 feet. He said the ordinance was arbitrary and targeted a narrow portion of the town, especially since much of the property within the proposed district is commercial.

“I urge you to determine the number of people living in this zone,” Simpson said. “I don’t see Peterborough returning to an agricultural town. I’d like to know what will happen in the Rural District.”

Vann said the Planning Board had voted last week to put Innovative Subdivision Design Ordinance on the ballot at next year’s Town Meeting. That ordinance would require clustered housing with a minimum of 50 percent of the land protected as open space on many developments in the Rural District.

After Vann closed the public hearing, board members voted to place the Traditional Neighborhood Overlay District ordinance on next year’s ballot.

On Wednesday, Community Development Director Peter Throop said no further public hearings on the ordinance are anticipated, because no substantive changes had been made at the public hearing. He said the Planning Board will hold additional public hearings on both the Innovative Subdivision Design Ordinance and a new Home Based Business ordinance on Nov. 6, because both ordinances had been significantly changed at an earlier hearing.

Throop said town officials may plan to hold additional information meetings on all the proposed zoning changes prior to next year’s voting.

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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