The Planning Board directed town staff to bring forward a proposal for a town-based assessment of housing needs.
The assessment would identify where and what type of housing is still needed in regard to what Londonderry’s fair share of affordable housing is, as well as what kind of housing the Town is already providing, according to Town Planner Cynthia May, who noted an estimate of the cost of the assessment is not yet available, but would be part of the proposal.
While a regional assessment is completed every five years, the assessment proposed would be a town-based housing needs assessment from the perspective of Londonderry to reveal how the Town relates to the region in its compliance with the “fair share” requirement.
Geographic Information Systems Manager John Vogl is providing information to the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission (SNHPC) to be used in completing the assessment.
“This is good. I think we’re flying blind right now and we need to get a handle on it,” member Laura El-Azem said at the Board’s Wednesday, Jan. 7 meeting.
But member John Laferriere expressed frustration that the Town must take the lead and spend money on the assessment because the legislation doesn’t clearly define a community’s “fair share.”
“Why are we not forcing the State to provide some clarity to this?” he asked. “Why should we have to take the lead because the legislation is so vague? I just feel there are other venues to go after first.”
“I don’t think anyone else is having the same issues the Town of Londonderry is,” said Chairman Art Rugg, who attended the meeting with Planning staff, the SNHPC, and the Housing Authority at which the assessment was discussed. “We have to be in a legally defensible position to say no to workforce housing. We either pay up front or we pay when get into court.”
The assessment is about Londonderry and finding out how much workforce housing is already offered there, member Mary Soares said. “If we don’t have that number, we can’t deny someone a variance to develop more workforce housing because we already have enough,” she said.
“I am of the opinion we far exceed our fair share, but we need to prove it,” Soares added. “And the only way to prove it is through this study. The money is being spent wisely.”
Town Councilor Jim Butler asked if there’s anything the Planning Department can do to compile data during the months the assessment is being completed to help address new workforce housing projects coming forward.
“A lot can happen in four months and we can still be inundated,” he said.
“We don’t have the complete picture and it needs to be done by someone with the time and expertise to look at those numbers and compile them in a way that’s real and makes sense. It has to be done by people who do that for a living,” May said.
“That’s what we need to get – numbers that have a legal basis,” Rugg agreed.
El-Azem asked if there’s anything the Board can do to table the workforce housing ordinance until it has complete and accurate data.
“That could get us into legal difficulties,” Rugg said. “We’d rather have something done accurately that we can stand on than do something quickly and end up in court. To suspend or discontinue the ordinance, we have to have proof and rationale behind it to do so. That’s what the report will do.”
The Board authorized May to move forward with seeking a proposal from the SNHPC for the assessment, which is expected to be available for the Board to review in the next two weeks.
Members directed May to ensure the assessment includes a set of deliverables in addition to how much the assessment will cost.
Also approved was $10,000 to be paid to the Arnett Development Group to begin the process of completing the Town’s zoning audit, as well as the review process related to moving “parking and loading” from the ordinance to regulations, where May said zoning has more flexibility.
May also announced the Town’s zoning ordinance is now available online through the Planning and Zoning page on the Town’s website at londonderrynh.org.
“The beauty of the tool is we as staff can do these updates and go through the process of approvals, then implement them right away,” May said.
The cost of the workforce housing assessment and zoning ordinance audit is to be paid from the Planning Department’s budget, with no impact to the taxpayer.