Keeping control as times change
It’s election season in New Hampshire. You never know what issue is going to prompt fiery debate, sign wars or lengthy battles at public meetings. This year, one of the most contentious issues is whether Dublin should allow the new owners of the gas station and convenience store at Bond’s Corner to have a drive-though lane to make it easier for drivers to pick up their coffee and doughnuts. It’s one of those questions that would be easily resolved in many parts of the country, including much of New Hampshire. Businesses in commercial districts, which is how the relatively small portion of Dublin near the intersection of Routes 101 and 137 is zoned, generally have more leeway and fewer restrictions than those in village or rural districts. That’s what zoning is for.
But around here, drive-throughs are a hot-button topic, raising fears that they will open the door to an eventual loss of the quality of life that makes the Monadnock region unique. It’s interesting that little of the debate in Dublin has been over whether or not to change the zoning to allow for more gas pumps. That’s on the ballot too, but the fighting’s been over drive-throughs. It’s a battle that’s gone on in Peterborough and other area towns in the past as well.
Our editors and reporters had quite a debate on this during our discussion of possible editorial topics. Some of us see no reason to prohibit a drive-through at the Dublin site, which has been a gas station and grocery store for years. It’s a main intersection, with plenty of room. The town’s Planning Board would review the plan and set necessary restrictions; just because something is a permitted use doesn’t mean there’s no local control. A thriving business would benefit both the town, through taxes and employment opportunities, and the residents (and commuters and tourists) who shop there. For others of us, allowing a drive-through would fundamentally alter the landscape of one of the most attractive towns in the region. It would set an unfortunate precedent that could make it more difficult to resist future efforts to change the town.
Dublin’s not alone in this debate. Greenfield voters will be looking at whether to establish a Heritage District downtown. Antrim is weighing the pros and cons of zoning that could allow a fairly large wind farm. Rindge will decide whether to allow greater commercial development at the intersection of routes 202 and 119.
In each case, the issue boils down to what types of change do we allow. There’s no easy answer; the best we can hope is that voters will send a clear signal this voting season.