Zoning Amendment 15 fails, petition that made it fail by requiring two-thirds of the vote to pass ‘stands’ town administrator says

  • Peterborough's zoning repeal was voted down on Tuesday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Voting in Peterborough on Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Voting in Peterborough on Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/15/2019 1:21:39 PM

Zoning Amendment 15 gained majority favor at the polls, but fell short of the 2/3 margin needed to pass, after a protest petition filed last week.

Amendment 15, submitted by petition by a group of residents, would have repealed the Traditional Neighborhood Overlay Zone II, and amended the Traditional Overlay Zone I to require larger lot sizes, road frontages and setbacks in the general residence portion of the zone.

Normally, the amendment would have required a simple majority to pass – meaning the 778 yes votes would have been enough to overcome the 719 no votes at the polls. However, last week, a petition was submitted by landowners in Traditional Neighborhood Zone I and abutting properties which legally raised the bar from a majority to a 2/3 majority needed to pass.

Kate Coon, who assisted in gathering the signatures for the protest petition, said there was a better way to go about changing the zoning.

“If you don’t like [Traditional Neighborhood Overlay Zone II], fine, let’s improve it. But you need to do it through the proper channels,” she said.

Coon said when the Planning Board submits amendments, it’s done through a public process with public input – which she said is a better option than a single person or small group submitting a petition.

Ivy Vann, the vice-chair of the Planning Board, who submitted the protest petition, agreed with the sentiment.

“We don’t make comprehensive zoning decisions based on a petition signed by 25 people. That’s not good planning,” Vann said. “That’s exactly why we submitted the protest petition.”

Vann said the Planning Board intends to continue to do work on zoning changes this year, including hiring a consultant and arranging meetings in specific neighborhoods, as part of an overhaul of a zoning simplification amendment which failed at the polls in 2018. Vann said the 2018 amendment could have answered a lot of the concerns people have about the Traditional Neighborhood Zones while still allowing for in-fill and higher density development.

“I’d be the first to say they’re not perfect,” Vann said of the overlay zones. “Which is why we spent a year trying to present something that was better. And it was better – but not better enough.”

“I’m glad that there’s a solid base left to work from,” Coon said. 

Coon wasn’t surprised by the fact the amendment got majority support, and said she knew it would be a close call, which prompted her to assist with the petition in the first place.

“I felt it was really important to push the bar higher for an amendment that is so radical and undoes so much hard work done over such a long period of time,” Coon said.

Members of the group which originally submitted Amendment 15 aren’t ready to give up quite yet, Libby Reihnhardt, one of the group, said Monday.

The group has challenged whether the protest petition has met all of the requirements needed to trigger the 2/3 majority requirement. Through their attorney, Mark Fernald, the group has argued the petition only addressed landowners in and around the Traditional Neighborhood Zone I, while the zoning amendment includes changes to both Traditional Neighborhood Zones I and II, and alleges some of the signatures don’t match property owners on assessment records, among other issues.

In a letter to the town, Fernald outlined the group’s arguments and asked the town’s attorney to review the protest petition.

According to Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett, Peterborough officials did ask the town’s counsel to review the petition, and expected to hear the results of the review on Wednesday. 

In an email Wednesday, Bartlett said the result of the review would not be made public at this time, because it is subject to attorney-client privilege. However, as of Monday morning, he said the town is still considering the protest petition valid, meaning Amendment 15 did not pass. 

Reinhardt said she was heartened to see majority support for the proposed amendment.

“It shows that there are a lot of questions about this high-density zoning,” she said. “We prevailed.”

Reinhardt said she and other supporters of Amendment 15 attempted to schedule a meeting with town officials on Wednesday to receive a response to the concerns submitted to the town through Fernald.

“We want to hear their rationale, because we just don’t get it,” she said. “That’s today’s step.”

However, Bartlett declined to meet with the group. 

“What they’re asking for is the town to reconsider its decision to consider it as a valid protest petition. Our position is the petition stands, and there’s an appeal process associated with appealing a decision of the legislative body. We advised them to follow that process,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett said the appeal would go through the court system, as the protest petition is governed by a process detailed in the state’s RSAs.

Reinhardt said the group would make a decision on its next steps based on the outcome of that meeting and the ruling of Peterborough’s town counsel on whether or not the  protest petition is valid. 

“We don’t want to go to court, no one wants to go to court, it’s expensive. But we do think there are real problems with the protest petition as presented,” she said.

Amendment 15 was the only proposed zoning amendment to fail at the polls on Tuesday, and was by far the closest vote. All other proposed amendments passed by wide margins, including the only other article to be submit ted by citizen petition. 


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