Sanbornton planners opening barn door with no fence in place

By now most of you have heard something about Workforce Housing, (WFH). The state enacted a law in 2008 that all municipalities look at their current housing and rental stock to ensure that their towns are not falling short on providing their fair share of WFH. The law states that if a municipality’s existing housing is sufficient to accommodate its fair share of the current and reasonably foreseeable regional need for such housing the municipality shall be deemed, “in compliance” with the law.

I agree that the way it’s worded could have been much better but, what do I know? I’m just a bottom feeder just as most of us are living outside of the government.

Anyway, that’s the law. It’s also asking all towns to look at there regions, (In our case, Belknap County) to see if “The Majority” of their region meets WFH, or do they need to make changes to comply.

Sanbornton’s existing housing stock is 71.60 percent per U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for Belknap County. (2014). I think we are “In Compliance” with the law and will be for several years to come.

Now, you need to also take in consideration the rest of the towns in your region as they also contribute in the equation. OK, look at them, see where they are and make adjustments accordingly, if needed, and at the end of the day if your town meets the percentage needed for regional need, 51, 52, 55 percent, etc., done.

If your housing stock is sufficient, you are in compliance with the law and need to do nothing else. Not add, change or alter your existing town’s amendments for fear of a lawsuit? Is there a fear of lawsuits? Yes. There always is. You can’t escape that. Sorry. All you can do is try to be reasonable.

Why are we here? There were a few towns in the state, mostly southern New Hampshire, that the average working family could not afford to live in resulting in long commutes for the folks that worked in the Walmarts, Home Depots, etc., the same towns the planning boards throughout the state are using to scare the townspeople of possible lawsuits. So, along came RSA 674:58-61.

Sanbornton voted to accept a Federal Grant in 2013 to look at WFH and make changes if needed, at least that’s what most folks thought when it was voted in. Turns out that was incorrect, the WFH grants were broken into two parts. One was offered in 2011, to complete the study to see if your town already complied, which we do and Sanbornton decided not to participate in. The second round of grants, offered in 2013 was to assist if your town fell short of compliance. I would think that somewhere down the road at least some members of the board became to realize this. To be compliant with the second grant, you needed to a few things, one was to hold information meetings throughout the purposed changes you would create, and Sanbornton did not. Another was to enact amendments. Our board created the amendments, accepted them, and now, in the 24th hour, had a couple of meetings to be compliant. The sad part is we really do not need them at all. We should have done the study.

Why is the Planning Board asking for the changes, because they have to for compliance with the grant, not because we need them. Do not get me wrong, I know how hard it is to be on a board in any town. It’s the most thankless job one can do. I sat on the Budget Committee and got beat up regularly. Goes with the territory, nothing personal. I respect all the members on the Planning Board. They made a mistake, we all make em. I’ve made more than I’d care to admit. It’s human.

I and a small group of neighbors were alerted of this recently and are just trying to get the word out as the ramifications of these amendments will be very costly to the taxpayers of Sanbornton if passed. An earlier article was correct, there are only two WFH amendments on the ballot, 5 & 6. Amendment 3 & 4 change the existing cluster housing? The other problem is the grant money accepted to create all the amendments was flawed. We’re asking that you consider voting all the amendments down, for now, complete the study for compliance of RSA 674:58-61, draft a letter if we comply, which we do, or, I’ll play devil’s advocate, if we do not, try a different approach. If we did need to address multifamily dwellings, not rip up the current cluster housing that is allowed in Commercial and General Residential (zones), change it from three to five units, but add a five-unit WFH dwellings constructed per the ordinance, low cost materials, etc. Allow it in commercial, General Residential and if needed, into selected areas of our Agricultural zoned areas as some towns have done, keep control, not just open up the complete zone?

Talk about lawsuits, the board is going to have fun if these pass as purposed. It’s like opening up the barn door and letting the animals out with no fences built? Anyway, just a thought.

We’ve been called a NIMBY for our concerns on this issue and all I can say is, yes I am a NIMBY & proud of it, which means, Not In My Back Yard. As is every citizen that goes to the polls, local meetings, etc. Incidentally, all of our back yards make up our town. What I truly am in this case really is a concerned citizen. I fear that as proposed, these amendments could allow our town to develop much faster than it needs. Bottom line, we do not need to change any of our zoning now to accommodate RSA 674:58-61. Let’s complete the study.

I know the reason I am being called a NIMBY is because a developer owns a 33 acre parcel next to me. Incidentally, it has only eight useable acres. I guess developers will be able to include un-useable land in the equation to squeeze in the multi-unit dwellings? Some folks think I am most worried about that. Wrong. If there was the slightest chance that he could build, he would have already had an application in with the Planning Board, especially as the board pointed out how vulnerable we are for lawsuits without the amendments to save us. He would make sure that he has it in prior to the vote.

We comply with the RSA.

Thank You for your time, and please vote “No” on Amendments 1-6 on May 13, 2014.

Jody Slack