Peterborough Planning Board does not recommend zoning change

  • Peterborough Town House STAFF FILE PHOTO BY BEN CONANT

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/15/2023 10:27:57 AM

Residents will not vote on a zoning amendment to rezone all Family District lots and lots with portions zoned as Family District to General Residence, as the Planning Board decided Monday night not to move the article to the ballot.

General residence zoning would allow property owners to build low- and moderate-income housing and multifamily units. Family zoning allows workforce, but not low- to moderate-income housing, and only allows single family homes and duplexes.

Town Planner Danica Melone explained proposed changes she recently made to the wording of the amendment.

“Between two weeks ago (when the Planning Board last discussed the amendment) and now, I had raised concerns about the amendment as written,” said Melone. “I think if we slightly amend it so every Family District lot is rescinded and replaced in kind to General Residence, it relieves the concerns I had.”

Under Melone’s proposed rewording, if a full lot was zoned Family District, the whole lot would become General Residence. If part of a lot was Family District, only that portion would become General Residence.

Select Board representative Bill Taylor said as much as he is in support of progress, he believes changes to the proposal would look like the Planning Board tried to cram it in at the last minute.

“I have a number of reservations since it’s so fluid,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve had enough time to vet all the shortfalls of making this change. Personally, I think that section should be removed completely.”

Planning Board Chair Stephanie Hurley said Peterborough’s master plan calls for increased density downtown.

“I feel like we haven’t really gotten a chance to look through other parts of the zoning ordinance,” she said. “Many Family properties are not in the town center. I don’t think this follows the master plan. I don’t think this is a way to get infill development. I think we can find another way if we have the time. It just feels like it doesn’t protect citizens. I’m really against it.”

Planning Board member Sarah Steinberg Heller said she felt frustrated that conversations about the proposed amendment have been continuously pushed back.

“This came up in October and we had adequate time. Some of the things said here are opinion and not fact,” she said. “This is not a sweeping change the way this is being characterized. I don’t want to pretend this is something that came up last-minute.”

Steinberg Heller said she thinks it’s an example of classist and elitist zoning.

“It’s a descendant of what I would say is redlining,” she said, adding that it would keep poor people out of the Family District. “This was never going to be a fix. It’s a step.”

Board member Carl Staley said the amendment seems rushed, “but I really don’t want this to go away.”

“I was certainly in favor of this. When you look at Family and you look at General Residence, the reasoning is very cloudy for me,” he said. “I seems like what was put in Family isn’t particularly rational now in 2023.”

Resident Jo Anne Carr said she was concerned about incremental spreading of water and sewer if more multifamily units were built outside of the downtown area, where some Family District lots exist.

“We need to be very careful about how we think about current infrastructure,” she said.

Carr also noted affordable housing wouldn’t be guaranteed even with more lots that could offer multifamily housing, saying, “There are even condominiums that are higher value than my house.”

Zoning Board of Adjustment member Loretta Laurenitis, who attended the public hearing, said she was opposed to the change and wanted to hear more public input.

“Hundreds of acres would get rezoned,” she said. 

The Planning Board voted 5-2 not to move forward the proposed amendment. Steinberg Heller and Lisa Stone voted against the motion.

The board did move an amendment to the definition of “abutter” to the ballot. In the proposed change, an abutter would be anyone within 100 feet of the edge of an applicant’s property line.

The change will allow applicants to create an abutter list using an automatic abutter tool on the town’s ParcelViewer. The tool will not have an additional cost, and Melone explained it is just a flick of a switch, but requires a set distance for the technology to define “abutters.” Currently the town defines an abutter as any properties on any side of the applicant’s property, including diagonally and directly across a stream or street. This definition is only for notification purposes. Anyone can claim to to be an abutter if they can prove their land would be directly affected.

 The Planning Board also decided to move forward an amendment allowing more than one building of multifamily workforce housing to be built on a single lot. Currently only one such building per lot is permitted in the Rural District. 

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