Workshop proposed to help set Breakfast Hill zoning

Planning Board defers decision on Ciborowski property till 2009

Jack Driscoll

The give-and-take between the Rye Planning Board and an applicant seeking to develop a 100-acre parcel on Breakfast Hill is at a point where both parties seem to agree only on what they don't want.

It boils down to two letters: SR. In zoning parlance those letters stand for Single-Household Residential districts.

Right now SR zoning is the designation for the site on the north side of Breakfast Hill Road and behind (or to the westerly side of) the commercial strip along Lafayette Road.

The Ciborowski family which owns the parcel has always wanted to sell the property for senior housing and never wanted to build houses there. Town of Rye officials have never had to take a position on single houses there.

And so, the Planning Board on Aug. 12 voted to sidestep the Ciborowski proposal until after the March, 2009, election and consider what would be the "appropriate" zoning for that section of the town.

Two weeks later a zoning subcommittee met, and Planning Administrator Kim Reed proposed holding a charrette or brainstorming session to which interested parties would be invited, representing public and private interests for the purpose of coming up with a recommendation.

At that session, also, consensus emerged in favor of the extension of the sewer line from the Portsmouth line to Breakfast Hill Road, providing a developer and/or commercial interests along Route One would foot the bill. In a recent long-range plan the City of Portsmouth expressed interest in extending its sewer line into Rye, maintaining that capacity is not an issue.

Reed suggested holding the charrette in early fall. Carolyn Beaulieu, representing the Ciborowski Trust, opposed the idea, saying she had held sessions with various town leaders previously. "We have a piece of land and this is an ideal use for it." The proposal was tabled until the next meeting due to a time limit.

Site for over-55 plan. (Google map)
At their earlier meeting Planning Board members expressed some reservations about the development plan. It calls for nine sets of condominiums for residents over age 55, with 24 units to a building, 216 units in all, three stories high. Units would cost about $375,000. The complex would be a replica of existing condominiums at Sterling Hill in Exeter, except that those buildings are four stories in height.

A new state inclusionary housing law that says local communities must not preclude affordable housing gave some board members pause. Some wondered whether mixed housing would be feasible. Others wondered whether the market had dried up for more senior housing, in light of new developments in Exeter and elsewhere.

Atty. Malcolm McNeill, representing the prospective developer Stonegate-NH Construction LLC of Portsmouth, headed by Eric Katz (pronounced kaytes), who was unable to attend, answered all the points raised. He shared a demographic study recently done for a Portsmouth project showing there is demand for over-55 housing and suggesting that mixed housing might not be economically feasible, but "we'd be willing to consider it," he said, speaking for Katz and Ciborowski.

Regarding affordable housing, Atty. Bill Tucker, representing the Ciborowskis, said that their Realty Trust owned seven acres in the location of the old Rye Dump (west of Grove Road and to the north off Garland Road) that could be a site for affordable housing. Tucker was joined at the hearing by Henry Ciborowski, principal partner for the trust, and Beaulieu who manages trust properties.

Chairman Don Cavallaro emphasized that his decision would be based on what the public wants, admitting that it would be hard to vote on such a proposal when he and others are up for re-election in March.

"I could run your campaign on this project," McNeill said with a smile.

Cavallaro recalled the controversy when the Ciborowskis, Webster at Rye and Deaconess wanted to build a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) on the site.

"This is not the CCRC plan that was here before," McNeill emphasized. In an opening description of the proposal he pointed out there was no plan for a commercial entity, no assisted care or nursing care component, just 1500 to 1800 square-foot units with underground parking. He said the full buildout would take three to five years and would return about $750,000 annually in real estate taxes to Rye.

He suggested the developer also would pay to have the sewer extended from Portsmouth (several hundred yards) for a tie-in to the condominiums, benefitting others as well.

Veteran board member Melvin Low made no bones about his opposition:

"We don't want a bunch of old bastards in this town," he said, taking the position that the town is facing the need for more inclusionary housing. "This is a great location for multi-unit, mixed housing."

Cavallaro questioned whether the proposal would exclude younger people and wondered whether there should be a commercial component.

Board member Samuel Winebaum wondered whether "this is too much of one thing." He added, "I don't buy that you can't make money and also serve the needs in Rye." Winebaum said he had not made up his mind on how he might vote on the development, "but there might be a creative way" to make it "a wonderful opportunity for all."

Board member Martin Zivic said he favored a mixed-income approach. "Take 10%, 15%, 20% and mix it in. That would be very successful."

Michael Donovan, attorney for the board, suggested a compromise first step: That the board work on a zoning amendment and hold back on a decision regarding the proposal itself until the zoning matter is resolved by the March elections. Said Donovan: "They (the developer) bear the cost, and they bear the risk."

After further discussion that didn't seem to be leading anywhere, Atty. McNeill said firmly, "You aren't telling us anything."

The board then cobbled together a motion "to consider" what should be "the appropriate zoning" for the undeveloped sector of Breakfast Hill.

That in effect put off any action on the Ciborowski proposal for another eight months.

September, 2008