Federal money isn’t the problem

It was with keen interest that we learned 200 people attended a ‘Save Our Town’ meeting in Rindge last month, where concerns were raised about the acceptance of grant money from the N.H. Housing Finance Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But it’s been difficult to find validity in the concerns raised.

For many years now, the Town of Rindge has grappled with its identity at the crossroads of routes 119 and 202, with some favoring the status quo and others calling for a plan to guide development at that gateway to town. The question is whether big box stores will be allowed to continue inroads down Route 202 to that intersection, or will a mixed-use ‘town center’ of sorts emerge, where pedestrians can walk, shop and congregate?

It’s part of a town economic initiative that dates back to 1999, according to former town administrator Carlotta Lilback Pini. Indeed, the Planning Board has been holding meetings and conducting surveys on this topic for years, seeking public input, and the town’s 2011 Master Plan includes a chapter on economic development goals for this area.

A community survey was done in 2010, which yielded a 27 percent response. Respondents called for more non-residential development in town, a new mixed-use town center at the intersection of Route 119 and Route 202, better Internet access, and a stronger working relationship with Franklin Pierce University. So the charge that the town didn’t communicate plans to rezone the area of routes 119 and 202, in an effort to encourage smart development there, doesn’t hold water.

The town has a $24,800 Housing Finance Authority grant to pay planning consultants to help the town rewrite the zoning in West Rindge, something voters would eventually have to approve at the polls. The third of three public input sessions on this is expected to happen this fall.

The fear, it seems, is that after rewriting the zoning, the town’s next step will be to apply for HUD money to build something. Larry Cleveland of Rindge has heard about difficulties with HUD grants in other towns. State Rep. Jack Flanagan of Brookline, for example, spoke at the October ‘Save Our Town’ about “binding language” in a grant to Brookline, which caused him worry.

But closing the door on federal grant money isn’t the answer. The key is in the planning and input residents invest in their towns’ projects. If rezoning West Rindge isn’t backed by a majority of residents, it’s something that can quickly be abandoned.

A fear of change and growth seems to be at the heart of the recent concerns raised. But change can happen anyway, even when we’re pushing against it. Isn’t it better to have a say in how it’s done? That’s the intention of the West Rindge Revitalization Project.

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