Welcome to the NHOSI planning news page! This page is intended to provide planning related news for those involved with planning in New Hampshire.
Notifications regarding updates to this page will be sent out weekly through the Plan-Link Listserv. If you are not a subscriber to the Plan-Link Listserv, please visit NH OSI's Plan-Link webpage.
Towns scramble to hold public meetings at a time when we’re all supposed to stay private
April 1, 2020
As towns around New Hampshire set up systems to hold public meetings at a time when everybody is supposed to stay away from each other, one thing seems clear: Size often matters. For cities, especially those with cable access channels that regularly record meetings, all this is an inconvenience and extra cost but probably not a huge obstacle. But for towns, which may not even have full-time town administrators let alone I.T. specialists, it’s more of a problem with communities including Chichester and Hopkinton trying to hold virtual ZOOM public meetings with mixed results. Governor Sununu signed an executive order on March 23rd releasing communities from legal requirements to hold meetings in a physical location where residents can attend, instead allowing them to meet exclusively through telephone, video, or other remote means of communication as long as people can hear or see electronically and ask questions or make comments. On April 1st the Governor signed an additional executive order that among other things suspends the requirement that planning boards “hold at least one regular meeting in each month”, pursuant to RSA 673: 10, II.
2020 Census Field Operations Further Delayed Until April 15 By COVID-19 Pandemic
March 28, 2020
While tens of millions of U.S. households continue to fill out 2020 census forms on their own, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing the U.S. Census Bureau to suspend field operations for the once-a-decade head count for two more weeks until April 15. The Census Bureau announced the change Saturday, more than a week after it said it was waiting until April 1 to resume hiring door knockers who are expected to visit unresponsive households later this year, as well as in-person counting in remote communities in Alaska, Maine, and some American Indian tribal territories. The latest schedule change also pushes back when workers will continue leaving paper forms outside of homes in some rural communities, as well as in Puerto Rico and other areas recovering from natural disasters. Reminder postcards from the Census Bureau started arriving in the mail this week for households that are expected to self-respond to the census, but have not done so yet.
Bedford's new master plan proposed to guide development
March 27, 2020
Blueprint Bedford , a new master plan for the town of Bedford has been drafted after numerous public input sessions, which highlights potential ways of “right sizing” the community. The 231-page document, which is still in its preliminary format and has not yet been adopted by town officials, aims to serve as a guide for how Bedford will grow in the next 10 years. While there are no major changes being proposed to the town’s existing zoning ordinances under the draft plan, the plan recommends capitalizing on existing commercial areas in town and maximizing tax revenues. According to the plan, residents who provided input into the master plan process expressed that existing residential neighborhoods should remain as they are now, while opportunities for redevelopment should be limited to existing centers, specifically those along the Route 3 corridor and Route 101.
Designing the Megaregion and Healing the Divided City Webinar on April 7, 2020
Much of the economic and population growth in the U.S. is happening within 12 urban megaregions. Investment in these megaregions can add stress to the environment, increase gridlock and air traffic delays, and make inequality worse, or it can help stabilize the environment, balance transportation systems, and create walkable neighborhoods with diverse housing choices. Join the Maryland Department of Planning and the Smart Growth Network at 1 p.m., Tuesday April 7, as two urban planning experts explore these choices: Jonathan Barnett, author of Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale and Alan Mallach, author of The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America. Registration is free, but required.
NHMA To Host ZBA Basics in New Hampshire Webinar on April 8, 2020
The New Hampshire Municipal Association (NHMA) will host a webinar on Zoning Board of Adjustment Basics (ZBA) in New Hampshire on April 8, 2020 from 12 to 1 PM. The webinar is designed specifically for new board members including a basic overview of the organization, powers, duties, and relevant statutory and case law authority. Legal Services Counsel Stephen Buckley and Municipal Services Counsel Natch Greyes will also share their expertise on how to keep your ZBA’s affairs in order (including rules of procedure), the do's and don'ts for conducting meetings and hearings, your board’s issuance of decisions, and its rehearing procedures. Registration is open to all NHMA members and will benefit new ZBA members, governing bodies, other land use boards, and administrators who want to better understand the different roles and responsibilities of various municipal officials in these positions.
COVID-19 Virtual Information Session for Monadnock Region Communities and Businesses on April 8, 2020
The Southwest Region Planning Commission (SWRPC) will hold an information session for Monadnock Region communities, businesses and others who may be seeking information, resource and strategies for managing the economic impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19) on April 8, 2020 at 12 PM in conjunction with SWRPC’s Economic Development Advisory Committee. The session will provide a forum for government agencies and other organizations to share steps planned or underway to help support businesses and municipalities. It will also provide an opportunity for businesses and municipalities to describe current needs and to share tactics that they’ve found useful during the current public health emergency. Those interested in participating can join in online or call in via telephone at (646) 558-8656, and enter meeting ID 748-475-943.
The Economics of Development 202 Webinar on April 14, 2020
Few communities consider the important role that local tax systems play in planning, zoning, placemaking, and capital improvement planning. In this free webinar on April 14, 2020 at 1 PM hosted by Strong Towns, Joe Minicozzi of Urban 3 will change the way you think about the cost of development, sprawl, and the value of land. Make sure to attend this presentation if you want to develop an understanding about how land use and zoning affect a city's economic health; experience case studies from over 150 cities worldwide; and gain new perspectives on how tax policy shapes the built environment and creates unsustainable growth patterns. Registration is free, but required.
U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD transportation infrastructure grant applications due May 18, 2020
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced $1 billion in available federal funds through the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program. BUILD grants support surface transportation infrastructure projects with significant local or regional impacts, including funding for roads, bridges, transit, rail and ports, and they provide one of the most flexible direct funding sources to counties. The deadline to apply is May 18, 2020, and instructions for submitting applications can be found on the U.S. DOT’s website. Established under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, U.S. DOT awarded $900 million in BUILD grants to 55 projects in 35 states in FY 2019. In FY 2020, U.S. DOT intends to award 50 percent of BUILD grants to projects in rural areas to deliver infrastructure projects that enhance these communities, consistent with U.S. DOT’s R.O.U.T.E.S. Initiative.
Density Is Normally Good for Us. That Will Be True After Coronavirus, Too.
March 24, 2020
During the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency there has been an especially painful realization in major cities: The very thing that makes cities remarkable — the proximity of so many people to one another — is now making them susceptible in a pandemic. Density, suddenly, is bad for our health. And we are trying everything we can think of to dismantle it. However, density, in the right conditions, is good for us. It even protects against other kinds of calamities. Density makes mass transit possible. It allows for more affordable housing. It creates environments where people can walk and where children can find playgrounds. It enables us to pool risks. It supports big public hospitals and stronger safety nets. It allows us to curb climate emissions, which present a public health problem of an entirely different kind. In practical ways, density also makes possible many of the things we need when something goes wrong. That is certainly true of hospital infrastructure — emergency response times are faster, and hospitals are better staffed in denser places.
UNH Publishes New Hampshire Coastal Flood Risk Summary Part II: Guidance for Using Scientific Projections
March 24, 2020
The University of New Hampshire in partnership with the New Hampshire Coastal Flood Risk Science and Technical Advisory Panel, and the Department of Environmental Sciences has published New Hampshire Coastal Flood Risk Summary Part II: Guidance for Using Scientific Projections . This resource provides science-based and user-informed guiding principles and a seven step approach for incorporating updated coastal flood risk projections into planning, regulatory, and site-specific decisions. There will be a free hour long webinar from 5-6 PM on March 30, 2020 for the general public and on March 31, 2020 for municipal staff, boards and professionals to review the underlying science (Part I) and this new guidance document (Part II) .
Moving City Council Meetings Online in Response to COVID-19
March 23, 2020
In response to growing numbers of COVID-19 cases in states and communities across the country, municipal governments are being forced to either close their meetings to the public or operate meetings entirely remotely. However, most communities including those in New Hampshire are subject to sunshine laws, accessibility laws, or concerns about public engagement. Cities that have some practice with streaming meetings or airing them on television may wish to close council chambers to the public and add an option for public participation and comment. Some cities have augmented their existing stream with a variety of teleconferencing options. If possible, cities may wish to organize an advance sign-up for public comment to better organize unmuting speakers’ connections or encourage residents to comment in writing by email or by voice recording.
New Hampshire's 2020 Census Officials Modify Outreach as Pandemic Develops
March 20, 2020
Officials with the 2020 Census are changing outreach efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last Wednesday, the U.S. Census Bureau announced it was suspending all field operations until April 1st. Officials are also postponing the date to count homeless residents in New Hampshire. And in historically undercounted immigrant and refugee communities, groups are rethinking or postponing mobile assistance centers meant to help people without computers, phones, or internet complete the census online. But for most households, census procedures will stay largely the same. Most have already received mailers or surveys from the U.S. Census Bureau. The majority are getting mailers with a code to fill out the survey online. Households can also complete the survey by phone. In more remote towns and regions with limited internet, households should have received a paper version of the survey, which they can send back via mail.
$8 million development coming to Rochester
March 19, 2020
Chinburg Properties has acquired downtown Rochester’s vacant Scenic Theater and Salinger block buildings as part of a $8 million project to create 52 market-rate apartments and two commercial spaces. The project, dubbed “The Scenic Salinger,” will involve preserving and repurposing the Scenic Theater and Salinger block’s historic facades. Under the terms of the deal, the City of Rochester will combine the parcels into one and transfer them to Chinburg in exchange for Chinburg committing to invest $8 million into the project. The deal is contingent on the Rochester City Council approving Chinburg’s request for seven years of property tax relief under state RSA 79-E. RSA 79-E, also known as the Community Revitalization Tax Relief program, allows governing bodies to grant between five and 15 years of property tax relief to property owners looking to improve existing structures in historic downtown areas. Chinburg plans to begin renovation work on the project in early summer, with the project completed and ready for occupancy by summer 2021.
Social Distancing Requires More Housing
March 19, 2020
We already knew that much of the United States, including New Hampshire, faced an acute housing shortage. This is evidenced by the fact that in the early 2000s, the ratio of houses to workers rose, because housing was built even more rapidly than the growth in employment. That meant more space for everyone. Since 2010, however, the ratio of houses to workers has fallen, as new construction has not nearly kept pace with employment growth. Now, with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, building more housing takes on additional urgency. What type of housing does New Hampshire need to fight pandemics? Single-family housing is best for social distancing, but renters are more likely to take on roommates than homeowners, so we need multifamily homes as well so that more renters can get their own apartments. The pandemic is causing state governments to set aside regulations that hamper the economy and the medical response to the emergency, from occupational licensing requirements for health-care workers to bans on take-out beer and wine from restaurants. Governors could also consider using this state of emergency to ramp up housing construction this summer before the next wave of infection some experts say could happen in the fall or winter.
2020 Census Officials Urge Remote Participation Now Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
March 14, 2020
The U.S. Census Bureau is urging residents to fill out the 2020 census online, by mail and over the phone by April 1 as a way to limit person-to-person contact as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country. New Hampshire households are receiving mailers with directions to fill out the census online at my2020census.gov. The mailer includes a Census ID, but residents can still complete the survey online without one. Households can also call 1-844-330-2020 to complete the survey over the phone. The Census Bureau offers this phone option in twelve other commonly spoken languages in the U.S. Some New Hampshire residents in rural areas with limited internet will receive invitations to respond to the census by mail. If households have not responded after multiple mailers from the Census Bureau, they could see census workers at their door in May, but this could change in light of COVID-19.
New Hampshire: No Longer a Special Place to Call Home?
March 13, 2020
Keys To The Valley, a bi-state multi region initiative has been formed to not only understand at a fundamental level why housing is so difficult to develop, but also produce implementable solutions for our communities. Keys To The Valley is comprised of the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission in New Hampshire, Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission and Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission in Vermont. Together these three regional planning commissions represent 67 communities, with a combined population of over 170,000 on both sides of the Connecticut. The Initiative will undertake community engagement and participation, thorough data analysis and develop a toolbox of implementable strategies including model ordinances, case studies, and a suitability analysis for creating (or recreating) various sized homes that are needed by community members for different community types, both large and small, rural and urban.
Bill to improve broadband map accuracy goes to president’s desk
March 13, 2020
Legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Senator’s Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen aimed at expanding access to broadband in rural and under-served communities in New Hampshire by improving the accuracy of broadband maps has been approved by both houses of Congress and now heads to the president’s desk to become law. The bipartisan Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to improve its broadband coverage maps by requiring it to gather more detailed coverage data from service providers. The coverage maps determine the areas that are eligible for federal funds targeted to underserved communities that do not have access to reliable broadband service. The bill also would mandate that the FCC biannually update its broadband data maps and develop an improved and less burdensome process for stakeholders to challenge the maps’ accuracy.
Dover, Durham, Newmarket leaders wage Census challenge
March 13, 2020
Fists won’t fly, but community pride and an afternoon of fire truck cleaning are on the line in a battle between Dover, Durham and Newmarket. These communities’ top appointed officials have agreed to a high stakes challenge to see whose residents do the best job of filling out the 2020 Census before May 15. That means either Dover City Manager Mike Joyal, Newmarket Town Manager Steve Fournier or Durham Town Administrator Todd Selig will get to kick back and watch while the other two clean one of the winning community’s fire trucks. All three administrators predicted victory for their communities during a press conference last Friday at the Whittemore Center Arena at the University of New Hampshire.
Chances for prosperity are uneven across state
March 13, 2020
Disparities in prosperity and opportunity in New Hampshire was the theme of the NH Fiscal Policy Institute’s (NHFPI) seventh annual conference, held February 21st at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord. The conference opened and closed with presentations by Phil Sletten, NHFPI’s policy analyst who drawing on the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, tracked the state’s demographic and economic features, highlighting the differences among the 10 counties. He concluded by turning to the major disparities between the state’s 13 cities and 221 towns, presenting the data in color-coded maps. Sletten’s main conclusion was that the demographic and economic profile of the Granite State bears the imprint of proximity to metropolitan Boston. This is evidenced by the four southeastern most counties of state seeing the greatest population, job, and wage growth between 2010 and 2018 as well as the greatest amount of new home construction and the highest home sale prices and rents throughout the state.
Graying of the valley brings golden opportunities
March 12, 2020
Buckets of positive intergenerational things are literally happening in the Mount Washington Valley (MWV) and surrounding towns under the auspices of the recently launched MWV Age-Friendly initiative, which follows the model of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities. Spearheaded by the Gibson Center for Senior Services the program’s goal is to make the region a better place to live for all ages, but with a sharpened focus on the needs of older residents. MWV Age Friendly participating towns include Albany, Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Eaton, Freedom, Hart’s Location, Jackson, Madison and Tamworth and Fryeburg, ME. So far, the initiative’s achievements include creating an award-winning Age-Friendly Community Action Plan ; completing a County Transportation Guide; enhancing the call resource of 211; promoting the “Good Morning” program of the Conway Police Department and Carroll County Sheriff’s office; creating the HomeShare service; and bringing kids from Children Unlimited to the MWV Adult Day Center for reading.
Climate Central Releases Coastal Risk Screening Online Tool
March 12, 2020
Climate Central has launched a new Coastal Risk Screening Tool. The Coastal Risk Screening Tool enables users to explore sea level rise and coastal flood risk over time, for anywhere in the world, and under multiple pollution scenarios. The maps allow users to choose between leading sea level rise models and to incorporate the most accurate elevation data available—including Climate Central’s new CoastalDEM® elevation data for areas outside the United States. In addition, this new platform will enable Climate Central to create custom maps tailored to various interests and illustrating diverse stories. The first maps released allow users to explore sea level rise and coastal flood risk by year, water level, and elevation data source.
Census Bureau site goes live as counting begins in earnest
March 12, 2020
The 2020 census is off and running for much of America now. The U.S. Census Bureau earlier this week launched the 2020 census self-response website making its questionnaire available online at my2020census.gov. On Thursday, households across the country began receiving invitation letters in the mail to fill out the census. The notices mailed out starting this week will include a census ID that matches addresses. People filling out the form via the internet are encouraged to use the ID, but those who answer the questions online before getting their IDs still will be counted. About 80% of households receiving mailings will get notices about how to answer the questions online, and about 20% of households automatically will receive a paper ballot if there are large numbers of seniors in their neighborhood or levels of internet connectivity are low. Census workers won’t begin going door-to-door in earnest until May, when they’ll approach homes that haven’t responded and ask the questions in person.
NH Supreme Court rules in favor of Portsmouth Housing Authority’s 64-unit workforce housing project
March 9, 2020
The New Hampshire Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of the City of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Housing Authority, ending an appeal process over a proposed $11 million, 64-unit workforce housing project at 160 Court St. The ruling will essentially act as a green light for the project to move forward, after 19 months of litigation delays. In Monday’s Supreme Court decision, the justices wrote that the votes of two non-resident voting Planning Board members were “harmless,” as a sufficient number of Planning Board members voted for the housing project. The project when complete will include 48 one-bedroom units and 16 two-bedroom units, all 64 of which are reserved for households at or below 80% of the area median income for a period of not less than 30 years.
Transportation issues for young people in the area gaining attention
March 9, 2020
Monadnock area service organizations are kicking off a discussion about shortcomings in local transportation services and how they affect area youth. The groups held two forums in the past week, including one in Jaffrey Monday, where nine area youths came out to discuss their concerns about access to transportation. Their primary concern was about feeling safe when traveling. Some had negative experiences using public buses. Others said the sidewalks weren’t a great option either. On the other hand, participants in that conversation were more comfortable with a service like Uber or Lyft. On Friday, 30 representatives of Monadnock Region service organizations attended a second youth transportation forum in Keene. The forum attendees discussed their concerns about local youth transportation, as well as possible solutions. Most participants agreed that after-school programming for students and extracurricular activities would be better attended if students knew they’d have a reliable way to get there, or more specifically, if they had a ride home.
City Council approves temporary 5G ban in Keene
March 6, 2020
Keene city councilors voted 10-2 Thursday evening to block, until January 2021, applications from service providers hoping to launch 5G until a state panel releases its findings. The council unanimously approved a separate motion, instructing staff to proceed with drafting an ordinance that would create location and design standards for small wireless facilities installed in public rights-of-way. Also known as small cells, these facilities can be used to roll out 5G, the next generation of mobile networks that boasts faster download and upload speeds, as well as previous generations. If the ordinance is successfully drafted and adopted, the council’s vote directs the city manager to accept only applications for 4G and below. Passage of a bill in the Legislature last year made New Hampshire the first state to create a commission to study the environmental and health effects of 5G.
Nashua leading the way for municipal clean energy with three public solar projects now in operation
March 6, 2020
With three public solar projects now complete in Nashua, the city has become a leader for clean energy in New Hampshire, according to an expert in the field. In an effort to reduce Nashua’s carbon footprint, Nashua city officials previously entered into a power purchase agreement with ReVision Energy to place solar arrays on three buildings: the Lake Street fire station, the city’s transit garage and the Conway Ice arena. The solar arrays consist of a total of 2,027 individual solar panels and have a combined generating capacity of 640 kilowatts, enough to offset nearly 350 tons of carbon pollution each year, according to Weeks. With all solar panels now in operation, the projects will help Nashua achieve its goal of 100% clean energy by 2050.
Could Small Scale Infill Development Solve New Hampshire’s Housing Shortage?
March 4, 2020
More than 200 real estate agents, developers, and housing advocates gathered on March 3rd at the Manchester Country Club for New Hampshire Housing’s 2020 Homeownership Conference. At the top of everyone’s mind was the critically low inventory of homes for sale in the state. New Hampshire Housing’s March 2020 Housing Market Report indicates that the median sale price of a house in NH has reached $300,000, the inventory of houses for sale is critically low, and permits for new construction lag behind national rates. John Anderson of the Incremental Development Alliance spoke of one potential solution, about how small scale infill development provides opportunities to build the kind of smaller, more affordable units, in walkable areas that people are looking for. Anderson demonstrated how building smaller 1-4 unit apartment buildings as infill projects makes economic sense. NH Housing will be holding a workshop and boot camp with Anderson in the coming months for people interested in learning more about becoming small scale developers.
22 accessory dwelling units approved in Portsmouth since 2017
March 3, 2020
According to the Portsmouth Planning Department, since the City of Portsmouth adopted a new accessory dwelling unit zoning ordinance in January 2017, a total of 22 ADU applications have been approved, three were denied, one was postponed indefinitely, and one was withdrawn by the applicant. Of the 22 approvals, seven have been completed and received their annual certificate of use. The remaining are either under construction or have not yet applied for a building permit. All ADUs must receive a conditional use permit from the Planning Board. Upon completion, applicants are required to receive an annual certificate of use from the Planning Department that certifies the unit complies with all requirements and standards of the zoning ordinance, as well as any additional requirements set forth by the Planning Board. The three types of ADUs currently permitted by city zoning include attached, detached and garden cottage.
Dover’s options to expand commercial base are limited
March 2, 2020
The City of Dover’s planning staff has proposed a series of zoning amendments aimed at encouraging commercial and industrial development in the city. The amendments as proposed would result in an increase of a grand total of 217 acres being rezoned from residential to commercial out of 18,592 acres in Dover. Still, 83 percent or about 15,410 acres in Dover are zoned residential. If the zoning amendments are passed, the number of residentially zoned acres would drop to 15,193 acres or 82 percent. In addition to encouraging more commercial development, the zoning amendments are aimed at trying to modernize the styles of commercial and industrial development Dover is seeing. Toward that end, the proposed amendments include the creation of standalone gateway districts near Exit 7 of the Spaulding Turnpike and off Old Rochester Road. According to Christopher Parker, Dover’s Assistant City Manager and Director of Planning and Strategic Initiatives, creating the gateway districts is a way to “make the entrances into Dover memorable”.