Keene council moves forward with rural development incentives

Oct 21 – Plans advanced at Thursday’s town council meeting for an ordinance that would create benefits for housing development projects in the rural district of Keene, days after councilors dropped a controversial part of the measure which would have reduced the minimum size of land in the district.

Mayor George Hansel held a public hearing Nov. 3 on the zoning ordinance, which would add incentives to the city’s Conservation Residential Development (CRD) regulations. According to the minutes of a joint meeting of the planning council and the PLD committee on Monday, these incentives would encourage developers to build projects that provide a public benefit in exchange for an increase in the number of units they can include. in a given development.

CRD subdivision regulations are used to promote development in the Keene Rural District while protecting environmentally sensitive areas such as wetlands and steep slopes, according to these minutes.

The Rural District is Keene’s lower density residential area, generally outside the town’s residential core, where municipal water and sewer services are not as readily available. The rural district covers over 14,000 acres divided into approximately 1,121 parcels of land.

Principal planner Mari Brunner explained at Monday’s meeting that in a CRD development, housing units are grouped together with a portion of land kept as green space. In a more classic subdivision, the entire plot can be dedicated to development. She added that developers get the same number of units, but rural land is still retained.

The proposed ordinance includes three incentive options, and the authorized total density bonus would be capped at a 30% increase in authorized housing units per acre, according to the minutes.

To benefit from the first option, on a parcel of at least 10 acres, the developer must maintain at least 65% of the area in open space for a density bonus of 10%, or he can choose to add an additional unit in place.

The second option aims to encourage the installation of solar panels. Developers should make 50% of the lots on a plot “solar oriented”, and the units on those lots should be oriented within 20 degrees of true south, which Brunner says is optimal for energy harvesting. solar. This criterion rewards a density bonus of 10% or an additional unit.

The third option – for a density bonus of 20% more development or an additional unit – would require developers to rent or sell 20% of the units at labor housing rates.

Under the proposed order, labor housing is defined as affordable housing for sale for a household of four earning up to 80% of the area median income or affordable rental housing for a household of three people earning up to 60%. of the region’s median income. Currently in Cheshire County, this equates to a $233,500 house for a family with an income of $71,280, or a rental price of $1,200 (including rent and utilities) for a family of three people with an income of $48,110, Brunner said.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, the ordinance would also have reduced the minimum lot size for parcels in the Rural District from 5 acres to 2.

Brunner told The Sentinel in August that the change could create “modest” opportunities for market-priced single-family homes.

For example, by reducing the minimum lot size, Brunner said someone with a 9-acre parcel could potentially subdivide the property into four lots, which could result in four houses.

At a public hearing on the proposal in September, many residents spoke out against it. Some shared concerns for the environment, while others complained that it could lead to rapid urban development in otherwise quiet and rural parts of Keene.

At Monday’s meeting, committee members made the decision to withhold the portion of the order that would reduce the minimum lot size, while continuing to move forward with the CRD incentives.

General Counsel and President of the PLD, Kate Bosley, told The Sentinel on Thursday that she felt there should be another opportunity for the public to have their say on this aspect of the order.

“The two issues had different effects on the rural area and deserve to be isolated,” she said.

Eloise Clark, a member of the Conservation Commission who previously spoke out against the minimum lot size amendment, said at Monday’s meeting that she was pleased with the committee’s decision to remove it from the list. arrangement.

“These are the types of areas that, if developed, you don’t know what you’ve lost until they’re gone,” she said, according to the minutes.

Pamela Russell-Slack, chair of the Planning Council, said at Monday’s meeting that she supports the minimum lot size change and that it should move through the approval process. According to the minutes of the meeting, she said it would provide more housing for those in the community who need it.

Because of the committee’s decision, changing the minimum lot size has been put back to the drawing board, Bosley said, and city staff will have to draft another order and send it to the planning committee, licensing and development.

The public hearing, which Bosley says is the last opportunity for the public to intervene, is scheduled for November 3 and the ordinance will go to the full council for final approval on November 10.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Hansel honored former police chief Steven Russo, who retired Sept. 1 after serving with the department for 23 years.

Before joining the department as a patrol officer in 1999, Russo served 21 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a sergeant major the same year he joined the police. He had been captain since 2010, before becoming chef in 2017.

Hunter Oberst can be reached at 355-8546, or [email protected]

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