Rindge’s PURD debate: housing vs. sprawl

  • The Town of Rindge, New Hampshire Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/14/2020 4:05:20 PM

Rindge’s controversial Planned Unit Residential Development ordinance is getting a discerning look-over, as a Planning Board sub-committee has been tasked to review the ordinance, and possibly rework it for voting in the next election cycle.

The PURD subcommittee, which has yet to officially choose its membership, met with a large group of potential committee members at the Rindge Recreation Department on Thursday to discuss the ordinance as it currently stands and where the committee should focus its efforts.

The issues raised during Thursday’s meeting were the same issues that have been brought up during recent applications which utilize the PURD ordinance: the need for housing, particularly housing that’s affordable for the local workforce, versus the dreaded “suburban sprawl” and strain on local resources.

Residents have been pushing back on several recently proposed developments that were submitted using the PURD guidelines, with some calling for the ordinance to be pulled from the books or revised, leading to the Planning Board taking on a review of the ordinance this year.

Rindge’s PURD ordinance

Rindge’s PURD ordinance is an avenue to allow development of multiple homes on large tracts of land. Towns aren’t specifically required to allow these developments, but they are required by law to provide opportunities for adequate workforce housing to be built in town, and Rindge’s PURD ordinance is one way the town accomplishes that, Planning Board member Jason Paolino explained Thursday.

Rindge’s ordinance was adopted in 1987, but has been amended multiple times, including most recently in 2017. The ordinance allows developers to design developments on tracts of land that are 10 acres or larger with one home per every two acres, or one for every 1.5 acres of developable land, whichever number is smaller. Developers are allowed to build additional units, if they fit the state’s requirements for “workforce housing,” which is based on what is considered affordable for the average family in that county. The developer can add an extra 30 percent of homes, if they comply with workforce criteria.

Rindge Planning Director Kirk Stenersen explained that the idea behind PURDs is that it allows for the maximum amount of development on a piece of land, while also clustering that development, allowing half of the parcel to be preserved as open space.

The pros and cons

However, residents who attended the meeting said the developments that result are suburban cul-de-sacs that don’t necessarily fit in with the small-town aesthetic, and add too much population, too quickly.

“I understand we need to create places where our workforce can live,” said Rindge resident Judy Unger-Clark. “But because we are proactive, what are we doing to our town because of this development perk?”

“I’m all for PURDs,” said Rindge resident Dennie Dickler. “But nothing looks more like suburban sprawl to me than these clusters on cul-de-sacs.”

Selectman Bob Hamilton said there is already housing in Rindge that falls under the price point to qualify as workforce housing, although it is not necessarily rent-controlled. Too much so, he said, for the amount of work opportunities in Rindge.

“We’re not in proximity to any major workforce,” Hamilton said. “We would be the region providing workforce for towns maybe 30 miles away.”

“We need to get back to what’s reasonable for Rindge,” said resident Jeff Dickler. Especially, he said, as Rindge relies on private wells. Large developments which require several wells in a small area puts a strain on the water supply, Dickler said. “It’s just not reasonable for our geography to be doing this. I think this PURD regulation has put us in a trap.”

But there are benefits, said Dan Aho, a Rindge resident and owner of Aho Development Corp.

“PURD development can be a great thing,” Aho said. “It can be used to protect ponds and lakes and open space. There’s really a lot of pluses.”

And while some residents said large developments could put pressure on town services and the schools, Aho pointed out that enrollment in the Jaffrey-Rindge School District is declining and has been for several years.

Also, Aho said, without an incentive like the PURD density bonus, it’s nearly “impossible” to build a house to go to market at costs that would qualify it as workforce housing.

“There’s a balance there, to be sure,” said Stenersen.

Moving forward

The main question raised on Thursday appeared to be, how much workforce housing does the town of Rindge currently have, and how much does it need?

To that end, Paolino said the next meeting will try to answer several questions brought up by residents, including Rindge’s current workforce housing stock, list of current properties either developed or being developed using Rindge’s PURD ordinance, and a comparison to the surrounding towns.

The subcommittee expects to chose membership prior to its next scheduled meeting on Sept. 24, and then to meet weekly at the Rindge Recreation Department. Meetings will be noticed on the Rindge town website.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.




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