Building Community: Peterborough’s plan to tackle zoning and affordable housing issues

  • The Peterborough Town House. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Published: 7/8/2019 6:31:44 PM

Of all the responsibilities of the Town Select Board, ensuring the strength and resilience of our community is among the top. Our ability to encourage civil discourse, address differences, and gain consensus on points of contention determine the long-term strength of the fabric that is our community.

The results of the voting in May around zoning and how we address the need for workforce and affordable housing has polarized our voters. In order to address this issue directly, the Select Board is embarking on a project that will coordinate across town boards and committees to create a community-based process, one that supports our coming together in facilitated conversation to enable us to address the big questions of what we value and how we can do better creating the community we want together.

Working with the Office of Planning and Community Development, whose responsibilities include coordination of the Town’s Master Plan and the Planning Board, the Select Board will be supporting a comprehensive and inclusive process that provides all who are interested an opportunity to participate and be heard. We are investigating a number of approaches that have proven successful in other communities facing divisive issues. One approach is found in a book by consultant Peter Block entitled “Community: the Structure of Belonging”. A number of us in town leadership are currently reading it and highly recommend it. No matter which approach we take, the overall goal will be to create an inclusive, accessible process that will compel each of us to look personally at the role we’ve played in creating the situation we find ourselves in, and ask us to identify and commit our unique gifts to the process of rebuilding our community. We expect that this process, done well, will take about 18 months to complete.

We respectfully request that those members of our community who have taken strong positions on this issue be willing to hit the pause button on taking any new actions that would seek to change or repeal existing ordinances, and instead dedicate themselves fully to this community process, which we believe will help us shape housing policy that is reflective of our whole community, and that ultimately will inform the appropriate changes in zoning that follow.

The formation of a Housing Policy Task Force will be the first step in the process. This group will be charged with helping to shape the RFP and select a professional facilitator whose skills match our needs; and will provide leadership throughout the entire community engagement process.

We encourage all who are interested to apply to be part of the Housing Policy Task Force. If you believe you have the time to dedicate and a background that would be helpful, we have created an online application that may be found on the homepage of the Peterborough Town website. Our goal is to select a diverse group of residents and stakeholders for the Task Force, so if this opportunity excites you, we hope you will apply. Applications are due by July 24.

Selections will be made by the Select Board in early August and the work will begin in September.

We appreciate your partnership and trust as we do the work you have elected us to do. If you have any questions about this process or any business of the Select Board, please reach out to us. We are happy to chat.

“Building community” was written by the Peterborough Select Board: Chairwoman Karen Hatcher, Tyler Ward and Bill Taylor.




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