Peterborough working on updates to master plan

  • The Peterborough Town House STAFF FILE PHOTO BY BEN CONANT

Monadnock Ledger-transcript
Published: 11/23/2022 12:13:27 PM

The Peterborough Master Plan Steering Committee held a meeting Nov. 21 to discuss the draft plan for 2022 that will ultimately help shape the town’s future. 

According to former Peterborough Planning Board member Ivy Vann, a master plan is a guide that serves to set out “the best and most appropriate future development of the area under the jurisdiction of the town’s Planning Board.” A town’s master plan, she continued, aids the Planning Board in designing a variety of ordinances and helps them fulfill their duties to the town.

“A master plan is there to help preserve and enhance the unique quality of life and culture in New Hampshire towns,” she said, explaining that the objective in crafting a master plan is to help a town “achieve the principles of smart growth, sound planning, and wise resource protection.”

While the master plan is not a legal document, it does provide the legal basis for zoning and other land-use regulations. For a town to adopt a zoning ordinance, a planning board must have adopted a master plan that contains, at a minimum, vision and land-use sections.

Towns cannot adopt workforce housing ordinances without a master plan, for instance, because this type of housing falls under New Hampshire’s mandated land use statute RSA 674:2. Also, towns may not be eligible for certain grants without an up to date master plan.

“One of the things that’s in a good master plan is a chapter on change,” Vann said, explaining that this amounts to looking closely and making recommendations regarding areas that need to be fixed in the zoning code that the town has identified, and that the town wants, “but can’t have because the code doesn’t match master plan.” 

The first version of a master plan in Peterborough was published in 1972 and many iterations and updates have followed. By 1998, Peterborough’s master plan “started to really take shape,” said Town Planner Danica Melone, adding that this plan followed more closely regulated content and timelines that had been put in place. 

Melone said the only two required chapters of the master plan by law are the vision and land-use chapters and that the goal is to update them every five years.

“The committee tackled these chapters first last year and were adopted by the Planning Board in December of 2021,” she said. “From there, the committee would like to update the remaining chapters.”

The last time some chapters in Peterborough’s master plan were updated was in 2002 and 2003, Melone said, adding that she would like to add a new chapter on sustainability, renewable energy and climate change.

This year, the steering committee tackled four chapters: Economic Vitality, Housing & Population, Cultural Resources and Historic Resources. The next chapters on the list include Open Space, Transportation, Water Resources and Regional Concerns.

Melone said the steering committee will decide at at their next meeting which chapters they want to spearhead and will start by crafting an outreach plan to gather feedback about the topics.

“My recommendation will be to hold off on the Open Space and Water Resources chapter until we have our new Natural Resources Inventory completed,” Melone said, adding that this document will help to guide much of the outreach and information in those chapters.

Melone reiterated Vann’s description of a master plan’s importance.  

“The master plan is a document which shows where the community has built consensus on certain topics – development patterns, protection of natural resources, important community assets,” Melone said. “The Planning Board and staff can then refer to those identified items and craft/revise regulations or processes that support/enhance those items.”

A boiled-down example, Melone said, might involve a community strongly identifying that their historic village green is one of its most-beloved assets. At this point, the Planning Board could consider how they might protect those historic features or promote their renovation and reuse through zoning. 

Before the master plan drafting process, Melone said gathering community feedback is crucial to the development of each chapter, and during the drafting process the public is welcome to review drafts and participate in meetings. 

“There are many other reasons the master plan is important, but one other reason that I always like to add is that they can be key in securing grant funding,” she said. “Grantors like to see that the project being proposed is one that is well-supported by the community.”

Melone said she was first introduced to planning as a tool to protect a community’s resources, strengthen its economy and promote community togetherness.

“I’ve always deeply loved the Granite State and so I found that planning was a way for me to support the New Hampshire community and places I love,” she said, adding that her first planning experience was working in a town land-use office. “I really, really enjoyed working with people/businesses one-on-one. It’s rewarding to facilitate a community’s wants and needs and see individuals projects to come to life.”

Overall, Melone said the master plan is an evolving work in progress and that in five years, “we will again be looking at starting this process over with the same chapters we just finalized [Monday].”

The Master Plan Steering Committee moved to have the draft plan presented to the Planning Board on Dec. 12 and will meet again Dec. 19.

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