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Planning News

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.

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Current News

The Changing Demographics of America's Suburbs
November 7, 2019

A great deal of attention has been paid to the revitalization of cities and urban areas, and the decline of rural communities. In fact, the very idea of a growing divide between urban and rural America has become a defining narrative of our time. But what about the suburbs? The suburbs are in the midst of dramatic transformation, too, as they are buffeted by the very same forces—globalization, technology, deindustrialization, and the rise of the clustered knowledge economy—that are transforming urban and rural areas. This all adds up to a thorough transformation of suburbia. No longer are the suburbs homogenous bedroom communities; they are far more demographically diverse. At the same time, their economic functions are being jostled and realigned. The ongoing transformation of the suburbs, like the transformation of urban America, is multidimensional. Just as some cities are thriving as others struggle, some suburbs remain among the most successful, fastest growing, and most affluent areas in America even as others face growing poverty, mounting economic dislocation, and in some cases, even economic decline.

Laconia Planning Board gives initial OK to historic district
November 7, 2019

A new downtown Laconia historic district including the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church complex, the railroad station, Veterans Park and the library won approval Wednesday by the Laconia Planning Board, which forwarded the issue to the Laconia City Council for final action. The purpose of the district would be to protect historic buildings and regulate changes that would be out of character with the area. A commission would be appointed to administer the district. The push to turn downtown Laconia into a historic district comes after a public outcry which halted the Diocese of Manchester from selling off and demolishing the circa-1929 St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. There are more than 60 historic districts throughout the Granite State.

Bill asks taxpayers for $1 million a year for Laconia State School Redevelopment
November 5, 2019

State Representative Peter Spanos has submitted legislation that if adopted would provide $1 million annually over six years to advance the redevelopment of the former Laconia State School campus. Spanos briefly detailed House Bill 20-2412 during a Monday meeting of the Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission. The commission, on which Spanos serves, is charged with setting a course for the future use of the Laconia State School property. The Lakeshore Redevelopment Commission is the fourth such panel charged with identifying the best potential development alternatives for the 235-acre site. Legislation that would provide funding and define which entity will continue the work once the commission sunsets in July is needed to ensure this commission is the last. The phase II environmental site assessment of the land has been completed by Nobis Group of Concord, and the results were better than expected. A commission subcommittee is also working with state Division of Parks and Recreation and the Bureau of Trails to discuss future plans for Ahern State Park, which abuts the State School campus. The 128-acre park includes 3,500 feet of shoreline on Lake Winnisquam. The Commission’s next meeting will take place on December 3rd at 9 AM in Laconia.

Second Act for Shuttered Mills Revitalizes New England Towns
November 5, 2019

In many parts of New England, repurposed mills and factories are bolstering long-struggling communities. The buildings, though often in disrepair, have high ceilings, large windows and solid floors, which make them attractive for a variety of uses. Owners can also capitalize on prime locations, often in the center of town and on rivers that once helped power the machinery inside the factories. In many parts of New England, repurposed mills and factories are bolstering long-struggling communities. Another boon to these renovation projects is an array of state and federal tax credits aimed at encouraging redevelopment in communities hit hard by long-term unemployment. Near the University of New Hampshire, Chinburg Properties has turned a textile mill in Newmarket into apartments that back up onto the Lamprey River. In Keene, the first revival of the 112,000-square-foot Colony Mill in the 1980s transformed it into a mall with small retailers. In 2016, two years after Brady Sullivan, a real estate firm, acquired the property, company officials decided that retail was not sustainable. The next year, the city approved plans to convert the mill into apartments, a pattern the company has followed at several mills in New England.

Multi-town ‘communication districts’ could be part of a new push for broadband in rural N.H.
November 2, 2019

The long-stalled effort to bring fast internet to rural towns in New Hampshire is getting a new look these days. Make that a bunch of new looks. One move hoping to spur creativity is a proposed law, Senate Bill 2811, by Senator Jeanne Dietsch, that would establish “communications districts” in New Hampshire, allowing communities to band together to pay for and operate broadband networks that cross town lines. Senator Dietsch said towns would not be internet service providers, but would contract with others to operate networks. Assuming it passes into law, Carroll County Broadband, a loose network of towns in that county that are trying to improve broadband connectivity, would likely be the model. A handful of other towns including Lyme, Chesterfield, Bristol, and Sandwich are in the process of bring broadband to their communities.

Short-term rentals a long-term project in Portsmouth
November 2, 2019

Portsmouth city officials are taking their second shot at trying to regulate short-term rentals and home sharing. City staff spent several months working on a proposal to regulate short-term rentals through companies like Airbnb or HomeAway in 2015. But they stopped moving forward with the proposed regulations and they never moved to City Council for a vote. Planning Director Juliet Walker recently presented a draft zoning ordinance to the Planning Board for discussion on the issue. Under the draft zoning ordinance short-term rentals would split into two categories, home shares where an owner - while living in a home - could rent out rooms in the home and short-term rentals where a whole house would be for rent without owner being present. Under the draft ordinance, short-term rentals of an entire house or condo unit would have to be less than 30 days, but a home or condo owner could rent their property out for as much as 120 days a year. The Planning Board did not take a formal vote on the proposal, but decided to hold more discussions on the home-share concept and put the short term rental idea “on hold for now”. Right now, the city only enforces the zoning regulations which prohibit short-term rentals when it becomes aware of the existence of them.

2019 Coastal Climate Summit on December 4, 2019 in Greenland
The New Hampshire Coastal Adaptation Workgroup (CAW) will be hosting the 2019 Coastal Climate Summit on December 4th at the Hugh Gregg Conservation Center in Greenland. The theme of this year’s summit is “Tips, Tools, and Perspectives: Paying for Climate Adaptation and Resilience”. Participants will learn about options to fund climate adaptation and resilience; hear from communities who have successfully accessed grant funding or implemented programs to generate funding to prepare for future climate impacts; and explore new ideas for creating mechanisms to generate secure, adequate, flexible, and equitable funding for adaptation and resilience. The primary audience for the Summit is Town Administrators/Managers, Select Board members, City Councilors, Economic Development Directors, Planners, Planning Board members, and financial managers. Registration is $25 and includes lunch.

Previous News

Is zoning a useful tool or a regulatory barrier?
October 31, 2019

In the past year, a previously obscure topic has drawn new public attention: zoning. Local regulations over how land can be developed are under fire for their role in escalating housing costs. Research shows that overly restrictive zoning makes it hard for developers to build new housing, driving up rents and prices. State and federal policymakers—including Governor Sununu here in New Hampshire as well as the White House and several presidential candidates—have voiced interest in creating carrots and sticks to nudge local governments into reducing “regulatory barriers,” starting with zoning. Brookings Institute Metropolitan Policy Program Fellow Jenny Schuetz makes the case that to design policies that are effective at reducing these barriers, we need to answer several questions. How exactly does zoning drive up housing costs? How can we tell whether zoning is excessively restrictive? The answers to these questions are complicated—not unlike zoning laws themselves. In the absence of regulatory barriers or other frictions that impede the market, housing stock should adjust to changes in demand to meet all these conditions.

Conway short term rental committee seeks draft ordinance for ballot
October 31, 2019

The Conway town committee seeking to address the issue of short-term rentals will be working to suggest zoning changes that would be presented to voters on the April 2020 ballot. On Wednesday, the committee discussed that possible changes are definitions of short-term rentals and licensing requirements, and if the state law changes, perhaps fines for nuisance households. The short-term rental issue heated up August 20th after North Conway resident/planning board member Ray Shakir called on selectmen to take action about what he called a big problem in his neighborhood. The committee is advisory and will be making recommendations on regulations to the selectmen and the planning board. The challenge is to find the "unhappy medium" between the status quo, which is doing nothing, and banning all short-term rentals, which could have a negative impact on Conway’s economy.

Governor Sununu Unveils Bipartisan Plan to Address New Hampshire’s Housing Shortage
October 30, 2019

With apartment rental vacancy rates under 1 percent across New Hampshire, bipartisan legislation is being filed to address the state’s affordable housing crisis. Governor Sununu along with a task force comprised of state and local officials, and industry experts and a group of bipartisan young legislators have come up with a plan and set of recommendations to ease the problem. They spoke about the plan Wednesday at a news conference at the State House. The plan enhances local control, improves process predictability and will accelerate investment in housing. Some of the ideas will become legislative bills while others can be handled by executive action. Most of the recommendations will be in two bills being sponsored by state Reps. Joe Alexander, R-Goffstown, and Willis Griffith, D-Manchester, who along with Tom Loughman, D-Hampton, and Gates Lucas, R-Sunapee worked on the governor’s task force helping to craft legislation. The Governor’s Housing Plan pdf file and a set of FAQs about the plan pdf file is available on the Governor’s website.

Lebanon mulls new sewer rules to help with development, generate money
October 28, 2019

Lebanon city officials say proposed sewer rules that include lifting a partial cap on new projects would spur development and provide more money to maintain and upgrade Lebanon’s wastewater system. They also would come with a set of fees for new hook-ups to the system. The City Council is mulling a new set of regulations that would do away with a partial building moratorium east of the Terri Dudley Bridge on Route 4 and replace it with a citywide permitting system. A temporary order last year limited hookups on the east side of the city after studies showed a key “interceptor” pipe carrying sewage to the wastewater treatment plant in West Lebanon was nearing 80% capacity. Under the new rules, developers would apply for sewer capacity prior to Planning Board review, potentially saving them the trouble of a costly engineering analysis. How Lebanon calculates sewer capacity also would change so that developers could plan more apartments without hitting limitations. The Lebanon City Council will hold a hearing on the proposed sewer changes at 7 p.m. on December 4th at Lebanon City Hall. If approved, the new rules would go into effect on January 1, 2020.

Could pop-up shops be the answer to empty storefronts?
October 26, 2019

While Halloween retailers temporarily opened at a closed Sears store in Newington, and a shuttered Staples in North Hampton, some wonder if the “pop-up store” model could save downtowns and byways from the blight of empty storefronts. Portsmouth City Councilor Nancy Pearson pitched the pop-up idea during a council meeting earlier this month as a way to support up-and-coming business people, while filling empty retail spaces. Rochester’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), has been activating pop-up art shows since 2013 and has invigorated vacant spaces and helped beautified Rochester’s downtown. The Rochester MFA has hosted weekend pop-up art shows, with property owners’ permission, then invited the pubic to see the art and real estate brokers to see the possibilities. In some cases, the events led to leases and sales of long-vacant spaces.

New Hampshire Housing Releases Affordable Single-Family Housing Study pdf file
October 23, 2019

New Hampshire Housing commissioned this Affordable Single-Family Housing Study in 2018 to establish the feasibility of building affordable single-family homes in the state of New Hampshire. The study, conducted by AECm focuses on construction costs of affordable (for-sale at less than $300,000) single-family homes in urban, suburban, and rural communities. With assumptions of land costs, it concludes that constructing affordable single-family homes is viable using various construction methods including conventional stick-built methods, panelized systems, and modular systems.

A makerspace is coming to Concord
October 21, 2019

Concord will soon be joining the ranks of New Hampshire cities with a community do-it-yourself center known as a makerspace. A nonprofit that has long been working on bringing a makerspace to the city has signed a lease on a portion of the former Beede Electric building in Penacook, and hopes to open the doors this coming January. Makerspaces are sometimes described as membership gyms for do-it-yourselfers. They hold a variety of tools, instruments and work spaces that can be used by members, providing both equipment and community for hobbyists and businesspeople. At least six makerspaces are operated by various non-profit groups in New Hampshire, ranging from Portsmouth to Nashua to Claremont, with more in the works. Each differs in expertise of the membership and types of equipment available. Many offer classes and sometimes act as a place for entrepreneurs to try out technologies before starting a business.

Rochester’s downtown revival making progress
October 19, 2019

Signs and optimism continue to build that Rochester’s downtown’s revitalization is finally happening, according to local business owners and leaders. Those signs include the fact a barbecue restaurant, bistro and a hair salon are all in the process of opening, on top of the fact an alterations shop and a travel agency recently opened. The new additions are independent of the major renovations that recently began within two of downtown Rochester’s longest-vacant buildings, 73-77 North Main Street and 22 South Main Street, to turn them into new, mixed-use structures. City officials continue to also market the availability of vacant, city-owned properties including the Scenic Theatre at 12-14 North Main Street, the historic Salinger block at 10 North Main Street and 12-14 North Main Street. The city is also evaluating how it could potentially amend zoning ordinances to allow residential units to be created in the rear of downtown’s first-floor commercial units.

Carroll County Broadband gets grant funding
October 18, 2019

Carroll County Broadband, a group working to bring faster and better internet to Carroll County has been awarded a federal grant to create plans to make that happen. Carroll County Broadband, through the North Country Council, along with three partner organizations were awarded a $250,000 USDA Rural Community Development Initiative grant to do feasibility studies and/or develop business plans to bring fiber-based broadband internet to six low-income rural communities in the Eastern United States including the 18 towns and one unincorporated town in Carroll County at no cost to the individual towns. This is a major step in bringing affordable, high speed, fiber optic broadband to homes, businesses and civic centers in all the towns in Carroll County.

More region towns looking to strike deals for better broadband
October 17, 2019

In March, Chesterfield voters led the state when they approved partnering with a private company to improve Internet service in town. And as another budget season approaches, communities across the Monadnock Region including Dublin, Harrisville, Rindge, and Westmoreland are looking to follow suit. Chesterfield was the first New Hampshire community to take advantage of Senate Bill 170, signed into law in 2018 which allows municipal governments to issue bonds for building broadband infrastructure in areas not served by a commercial provider. In Chesterfield’s case, the project won’t affect local taxes, as the provider the town is partnering with — Consolidated Communications — agreed to guarantee the $1.8 million bond over 20 years and contribute about $2.5 million in additional funding. The principal and interest on the bond will be paid for through an up-to-$10 monthly infrastructure fee added to subscribers’ service charges.

Large mixed-use development eyed along Merrimack River in Concord after zoning change is approved
October 16, 2019

What could be the largest mixed-use development in Concord is being eyed along the Merrimack River near Exit 13 on a 82-acre site along the east bank of the Merrimack River, south of Manchester Street (Route 3), between Garvin Falls Road and the river. On Tuesday, the city council unanimously approved a request to rezone 27 acres of the land, the portion closest to Manchester Street. The change from Open Space Residential to Gateway Performance would allow a mixed-use development. The proposal includes 168 apartments or condominiums in five large buildings, as well as assisted-living housing, large and small retail buildings, medical offices, a hotel, a “brew pub” and several restaurants. About half the property would be left untouched, much of it under conservation easements, and a riverside walking trail would be included, along with canoe access. Now that the zoning has been changed, engineering and other work can proceed and it’s possible that the owners will come forward with a site plan by next spring.

Harvard study spotlights growing housing challenges and income inequality among older Americans
October 16, 2019

Housing inequality is becoming increasingly evident among older Americans as the number of older households climbs to unprecedented levels, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies Housing America’s Older Adults 2019 report, which was released on Wednesday. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of households headed by someone 65 or older jumped from 27 million to 31 million and will continue to grow. At the same time, the number of older adults facing housing cost burdens reached an all-time high of 10 million and income disparities are widening. The problem is likely to worsen in the coming decade when the bulk of the baby boomer generation moves into its 80s and many seek to downsize in markets where senior housing is expensive and there’s a shortage of affordable options.

Business leaders look to Asheville, N.C., as a model for Manchester revitalization
October 16, 2019

For the past year, Jeremy and Liz Hitchcock have looked at ways to elevate the Queen City’s vitality and they’ve using Asheville, North Carolina as an example. Through their company Pinwheel Properties, the Hitchcocks hired Urban3 in Asheville to use economic data to visualize the impact of tax policy on community design. Asheville — which has a population of approximately 92,000 compared to Manchester’s 111,000 — boasts about 40 breweries and 150 restaurants downtown, according to Joe Minicozzi of Urban3. Asheville’s “Central Business District” was able to increase tax revenue from $104 million in 1991 to $552 million in 2007, he said. Most of the growth came from revitalizing existing multi-story properties. Using 3D models, Minicozzi showed value per acre mapping of development patterns, like a Big Box store vs. a downtown mixed-use building. Density, reduced parking requirements and economic development initiatives can improve property values, according to the presentation. The work is being done as the city develops its own 10-year master plan.

Judge’s ruling clears way for Seacoast powerline project
October 14, 2019

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante has denied the Conservation Law Foundation’s motion seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the controversial Seacoast Reliability Project. Project attorneys said at last week’s hearing in federal court that construction was planned to go forward Wednesday. CLF sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and project developer Eversource trying to halt the $84 million, 13-mile transmission line from Madbury to Portsmouth. CLF sought the preliminary injunction arguing the Corps didn’t conduct alternative analysis of two other possible routes. CLF also argued last week that the Corps should have conducted an Environmental Impact Statement and done its own research rather than relying on records from other state and federal agencies. The state Site Evaluation Committee granted the project a certificate to build on December 10, 2018.

The 2020 Census is coming to a laptop near you
October 14, 2019

For the first time ever, the decennial Census will be conducted online next year. But if you are not computer savvy — or don’t have internet access — there’s no cause for concern as residents can still fill out a paper form, and there also will be a toll-free number you can call to fill out the Census over the phone. The New Hampshire Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI) has also assembled what’s called a Complete Count Committee (CCC) with members from planning commissions, libraries, nonprofit organizations and education. The statewide committee’s mission is to plan campaigns and outreach materials to make sure everyone in New Hampshire gets counted. The committee is considering developing mobile centers to bring laptops or tablets to locations across the state, where residents could come to fill out the Census online. Some communities, including Manchester, Nashua, Claremont and Berlin, are also forming their own CCCs to find ways to encourage their residents to participate. The Census Bureau recently announced that 595,130 housing units in New Hampshire will receive the “internet-first” letter, inviting them to fill out the 2020 Census online. An additional 65,936 housing units will receive Census questionnaires, hand-delivered by census workers.

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NH Office of Strategic Initiatives
Governor Hugh J. Gallen State Office Park
Johnson Hall, 3rd Floor  |  107 Pleasant Street  |  Concord, NH 03301
(603) 271-2155  |  fax: (603) 271-2615