Workforce Plan: Doesn't go far enough
During the past year the Rye Planning Board has been working to meet a mandate from the State of NH to establish minimum zoning requirements for workforce housing as well as the rezoning of land for multi-unit apartments or condominiums as required by state statute but not currently allowed anywhere in Rye. New zoning was applied to our tract of land on Breakfast Hill in addition to the zoning currently in place. The Rye Planning Board had also proposed to include the land owned by the Rand Family which is the site of Rand Lumber. Both the Rand and Ciborowski families asked to not have this zoning applied to their respective properties but for different reasons.
The Rand Family was being sensitive to concerns of their abutters. Our land, being on the west side of Route 1, has virtually no residential abutters. We have not had a single abutter object to any of the proposals we have put before the Rye Planning Board. While workforce housing was not a component of any of our previous proposals, we did not object in principle to the town’s desire to meet the state’s zoning mandate, to very large degree, on our parcel of land. The reason that we also requested that our land be omitted from the new zoning laws was due to the fact that the zoning as proposed does not allow the development of enough housing units to permit the economically viable development of our parcel of land with the workforce housing that the zoning is meant to entice. This is because the zoning as written only allows 40 units of multifamily housing on the site, with a maximum number of 8 units in any one building. The zoning allows for up to 8 units to be built per acre of suitable land up to the maximum 40 units. Therefore an owner with 5 good acres of land with this zoning can build the same number of units as we can on our 100-acre site. We are therefore penalized for having a larger tract of land. The zoning allows for one subdivision of the land for this 40-unit development, but this would make development of the remaining land significantly more difficult due to compatibility of different uses and placement on the site. The cap of a maximum of 40 units does not allow a developer to spread the cost of development and construction of roads and utilities over a large enough number of units, especially when faced with a price cap for the sales price of workforce housing.
In the end the Rye Planning Board withdrew the Rand parcel. While this is understandable due to the objections of the many residents that abut the Rand parcel, we fail to see the fairness in granting the wishes of one property owner to be exempted from this zoning while imposing it on another who also wishes to be exempted. While we understand that this zoning does not mandate this use for our land, we are concerned that as one of the few parcels in the town where this zoning is applied there will be an innate pressure that our land be used for this purpose in order to satisfy the state’s mandate for workforce housing, but not in a great enough density to realize fair value for our land.
We have already had two high quality proposals which we feel would have benefited the town of Rye rebuffed by the Planning Board. The first in particular we were very proud to have proposed, and feel that it would have been welcomed in virtually any other community. It would have brought a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) to the site. A CCRC provides a full spectrum of living options. A community village (not a strip mall) would have been built to provide convenient amenities such as restaurants, a pharmacy and a bank branch. Webster at Rye was originally to have been a partner.
The second project was a 55-plus condominium development, which proposed 9 buildings of 24 units each with a community building for residents to use for daily use or larger gatherings. Both projects would have privately maintained roads, no burden whatsoever on the school system, and have netted upwards of $750,000 annually in real estate taxes to the town. Also of significance is that these projects would have had sewer extended to this area of Rye, largely, and possibly fully, at the expense of the developer. There are several substandard and failing septic systems along Route 1 which pose environmental risk to the Berry’s Brook watershed. All of these failed or failing systems would be eliminated when tied into town sewer. This may be mandated by the state in the future, with the cost falling to the town instead of a development with the potential to pay for this improvement. In both of these proposals, almost 2/3 of the acreage was to be permanently preserved as open space with the option of hiking trails and other recreational uses on the property.
Our property is unique to Rye. It comprises most of the land in Rye located on the west side of Route 1 and is completely removed from the residential areas and thus the town center and seacoast parts of Rye that give the town its quaint charm and beautiful character; yet at the same time it is a significant piece of property with potential to yield significant real estate tax revenue for the town. The projects proposed have been of typical size and are appropriate for the area of the Route 1 corridor.
My family has roots in Rye that date back to the 1950s. My grandfather and both my sisters have lived in Rye, my parents vacation in Rye every summer, and we have had an office for our business in Rye since the 1960s. We care about the quality and character of the town and would not propose a project in the town which we did not feel was a quality development.
We support the Planning Board’s efforts to comply with the State mandate. We have attended virtually every meeting and have seen how hard the board members have worked as they struggled with this new ordinance. But the result does not go far enough to meet the goal of providing a realistic opportunity for workforce housing on our site. Given the zoning limits as proposed, a workforce housing project will never happen on this property.
I would be happy to discuss this with any resident who may still have questions. I can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or called at 603-225-7737. Many of you know my associate Carolyn Beaulieu who can also be emailed at email@example.com or called at 964-5912.
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