New Neighborhood Overlay Zone is not quite ready

Published: 5/2/2017 7:15:28 AM

The town of Peterborough received a grant last summer for municipal assistance to draft a zoning ordinance in response to the need for additional types of housing, especially workforce housing. The goal was to create new village nodes and write a form based code that would encourage new housing development. The committee charged with this task worked over the summer and fall to present the draft ordinance “Traditional Neighborhood Overlay Zone II” to be voted on at the ballot session on May 9.

I agree in principle to the goal of the TNOZ. However, I have reservations on its implementation. Before moving forward with an expansion of the TNOZ, I ask how has the first overlay performed? Have we gained a mix of housing types in the new development? Market price for these homes in the TNOZ I start at $300,000, median household income in Peterborough is $61,2011 – hardly an affordable home for our working families.

This second overlay, TNOZ II, creates an overlay district extending along all the water and sewer lines in town. It’s sensible to create high density where we have infrastructure. But, this includes Route 101 east to Lookout Hill Road, the section of Old Dublin Road west of the 101/202 intersection, the entirety of Union Street, High Street to MacDowell Colony, Summer Street to where the rail trail starts, Pine Street, Cheney Avenue, access to Old Street Road, and sections of Route 202 north to Southfield Lane, among other areas.

This is no way a modest proposal. The draft lacks design requirements that would reflect a form based-code, as stated in the purpose of the grant. There are no guidelines for energy efficiency or affordability. This proposal will promote high density isolated developments on the fringes of the community, not connected by pedestrian friendly amenities such as sidewalks, bike lanes or trails.

This leads me to the question “How is this a benefit to Peterborough?” There are no requirements of a developer to guarantee affordability or walkability in exchange for the benefit of relaxation of our density rules. In addition, the ordinance allows for non-residential uses, such as small shops, repair services, or home businesses intended to serve the neighborhood. The number of non-residential uses can equal the number of dwelling units providing they are accessory to the primary residential use. So, if there are 25 dwellings there could be as many as 25 small businesses associated with the development.

I applaud the work done to date and recognize the challenges in bringing zoning changes forward. Change takes time. However, I recommend a full evaluation of the current overlay, how it has worked and what hasn’t worked and then amend our existing Traditional Neighborhood Overlay Zone. This new Overlay Zone is open ended, with no performance standards or clear design requirements.

Please vote no on TNOZ II.

Jo Anne Carr lives in Peterborough.

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