Big-picture issue emerges in senior-housing hearings
Does Rye's zoning ordinance encompass all-affordable approach?
The cart has been running ahead of the horse since last April when the public process began on a proposal to build Rye's first Retirement Community Development (RCD).
Detail after detail has been considered by The Planning Board at seven long hearings, but it wasn't until mid-November that the board questioned the very basis of The plan put forward by The Housing Partnership (THP): That all 22 rental units conform to federally-defined affordable housing guidelines.
What that means, as explained by THP's Marty Chapman back in April, is that an occupant's income can not exceed a range of between $24,000 and $38,000. Non-income generating assets are not part of the mix.
What that also means on the flip side is that those with higher income levels would be prohibited.
But at no point was the question raised as to whether the 2006 Rye RCD ordinance permits all-affordable housing until a letter was received in October from one of the authors of the ordinance language. And even then it was a detail in that letter having to do with garages — not the thrust of the letter — that was discussed by the board.
The letter from Bill Veazey, former Rye housing committee chairman, said, "The primary intent and desire of the entire committee was to provide an option for any and all Rye seniors..."
That point didn't seem to register with the Planning Board in October.
But then in November Victor Azzi, who also worked on the housing committee, wrote an Opinion article in Rye Reflections that was later published in The Portsmouth Herald. Azzi accused THP of having "hijacked" the ordinance.
"In the vote to adopt the RCD provision, Rye voters decided that they wanted no more than two percent (2%) of housing units to be RCD housing for seniors," Azzi wrote. "If now, The Housing Partnership, or others for that matter, is allowed to squander that small number of permitted units (46 units) in the guise of affordable housing masquerading as RCD Senior Housing, then the whole process and outcome will have been prostituted."
The first focus on the issue at the Planning Board occurred halfway through the Nov. 13 meeting, when chairman Don Cavallaro stated, "I have a concern about the way this is working."
The lid was off. Animated discussion ensued among board members, the applicant and members of the public.
Through the months THP had repeatedly stated that the proposal called for all-affordable units and no market-value units.
A survey of Planning Board minutes and Rye Reflections articles since April showed the following:
APRIL--THP said all the units would be rental and conform to affordable guidelines, which would probably mean income no higher than between $24,000 and $38,000 depending on unit size. Board member Mel Low suggested that a few units might be alloted for those exceeding the income limits, but later he recussed himself from board discussions and votes because of his active role in promoting senior housing in Rye the past few years.
JUNE, JULY, AUGUST--No discussion of affordable issue.
SEPTEMBER--Alternate board member Robert Brown, formerly chairman, said he would like the project to have some fair market value units. Priscilla Jenness, who represents the Board of Selectmen, requested information as to what the applicant deems as "affordable".
OCTOBER--Jenness questioned if all the units would be of the same quality. THP's Chapman said all units proposed as affordable and would be "of the same high quality."
It was at the October meeting that Veazey's letter was read in its entirety, but Cavallaro used the letter to buttress his argument that units should have garages with doors rather than carports. Not discussed was Veazey's main point:
"There was no intention on the part of the (housing) committee that a RCD would be simply, and only, affordable rental housing. If that had been the intent, the proposed amendment would have been named, 'Affordable Housing Zoning Amendment.' We would have allowed a much higher density on the site as well as numerous other design criteria...It is an extreme waste of 'land assets' to place only 22 units on a 10-acre site."
Affordable housing was referred to in only one section of the RCD ordinance (whose full text may be found at by clicking on "Rye Zoning Ordinance" at http://www.town.rye.nh.us/codes.htm. Section 401.4 - F reads in its entirety:
"F. Bonus for Affordable Housing. At its discretion, the Planning Board may approve a maximum number of dwelling units up to twenty-two (22) and a density not to exceed eight (8) dwelling units per contiguous uplands acre, provided that at least 15% of the total dwelling units are affordable housing units. To be considered as an affordable housing unit, a dwelling shall meet the following requirements. 1. Occupancy by a person(s) who would meet the income and asset limitations established by the Town for the elderly property-tax exemption program. 2. If owned, the principal, interest, taxes and condominium association fees shall not be more than 40% of the income of the occupants. The planning board may enact such regulations as are necessary to administer the affordable housing bonus provision and the continuing compliance with it."
Dick Ingram, president of THP, does not fault the Planning Board for not coming to grips with this key issue earlier. "It's particularly difficult when working with a new ordinance," Ingram said last week. "The board is working its way through, taking things in sequence. We've addressed all the issues."
THP meanwhile awaits the results of a variance request before the Board of Adjustment on Dec. 12 "to allow frontage on a private roadway (Airfield Drive) where the Planning Board has determined that Article IV, Section 401.4( C) of the Retirement Community Ordinance requires frontage on a publicly maintained roadway." The request is being brought by the Rickert Real Estate entity, present owner of the land behind the Skate Board Park. The ordinance language states that an RCD must have 150 feet of frontage "on a town road or street". THP argues that the language allows frontage on a private street. A turndown by the BOA could mean that the Rye voters might receive a warrant next March to determine whether Airfield Drive should be designated as an approved town road.
December should be a pivotal month in the RCD deliberations, because the Planning Board at its Dec. 11 meeting is expected to take on the big-picture question: Can all 22 units be classified as affordable? If not, the shoe will be on THP's foot: Can financial backing be obtained for a project that is part affordable and part market-rate?
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