Ordinance on May ballot targets rural subdivisions

Some property owners say move to protect land will limit options

PETERBOROUGH — A proposal for a new zoning ordinance intended to allow flexibility in the town’s Rural District drew some criticism from landowners at a Planning Board public hearing Monday. But the plan, known as the Innovative Subdivision Design Ordinance, will appear on the ballot at next year’s Town Meeting.

The ordinance would apply to all subdivisions of lots in the Rural District that are larger than 10 acres, except for those of three lots or fewer where no new road is proposed. It would allow the Planning Board to reduce lot sizes, frontage and setback requirements to provide flexibility in site design and “minimize impacts to the natural and cultural resources of the site.”

Houses would have to be placed in a clustered fashion. A minimum of 50 percent of the original parcel of land would be required to be held as permanently protected common land or protected open space, managed by a homeowners association.

Developers could earn a density bonus that would allow them to increase the number of approved lots by up to 25 percent by including a variety of sustainable development practices, such as providing more open space, burying power lines, using permeable materials for roads and sidewalks or sustainable energy systems.

Developers could be granted an exemption from the ordinance if they can demonstrate to the Planning Board that a conventional design provides equal or greater benefit to natural and cultural resources.

Planning Board Chair Joel Harrington said the ordinance would replace the current open space ordinance, which has rarely been used.

“This provides an opportunity,” Harrington said. “It’s a way to incentivise a developer to do things we’d like to see. I think it strikes the right balance.”

Residents Mike Salera and James Walsh disagreed.

“I think this is taking away my rights on my 100 acres,” Salera said. “You’re telling me I have to put half my land in conservation.”

“It appears that previously I could offer larger lots than I can under this ordinance,” Walsh said. “It diminishes the value.”

Harrington responded that the Planning Board is charged with following the guidance of the town’s Master Plan.

“Residents have voted that they want to encourage more open space in the rural area,” he said. “I think this provides incentives to do development that’s appropriate to the town of Peterborough.”

“Basically, it’s taking away landowner rights,” Walsh replied.

“I would disagree with that,” said Harrington.

After Harrington closed the public hearing, board members discussed the proposal. The ordinance would be optional in all residential districts except the Rural District, and Rich Clark suggested that it be made optional there as well.

“You are taking away the ability to just divide the land into three-acre lots.,” Clark said.

“Does everyone want to live in a little cluster?” Tom Weeks asked.

“That’s what the community wants,” Harrington said.

Clark said the purpose of the ordinance should be to provide incentives for developers, not requirements.

“I’m against forcing them,” he said. “Some people don’t want to do it. Some will.”

The board did not take a vote on whether to make the innovative design approach optional in the rural district.

After some discussion, the board agreed that if a developer of a large tract in the Rural District proposes to create lots of 10 acres or more with access by a private road, the development should be exempt from the ordinance.

The board approved a motion to place the proposed ordinance on next year’s ballot. Public hearings will be held prior to the vote.

Board members also approved three other proposed amendments to go on the ballot.

∎ A revised Home Based Businesses ordinance added a definition for home day care, which the board decided would fall under the professional use category rather than being exempt from the ordinance.

∎  A Workforce Housing ordinance is intended to bring the town into compliance with state law by permitting workforce housing in all residential districts, subject to the Planning Board’s subdivision and site plan regulations and the town’s zoning ordinance.

∎  A change to the nonconforming buildings regulation would provide that the height of any nonconforming portion of a building may not increase if the building is enlarged or changed.

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

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