Workforce Housing Ordinance Report Points Out Flaws

A preliminary report summarizing the findings of a review of the Town’s Workforce Housing Ordinance reveals the image of workforce housing has become associated with large, multi-family projects.

Members of the Planning Board and residents alike called for an ordinance that allows for greater diversity of workforce housing that would better suit the character of Londonderry neighborhoods.

“We didn’t set grades on what we want in Agricultural-I,” member Chris Davies said. “I see the NeighborWorks workforce development on Mammoth Road where it’s 100 percent workforce and they’re building smaller, clustered townhomes. I look at that and think, that’s what we want to encourage developers to do. This ordinance encourages large, multi-family buildings. The structure of the ordinance is horribly flawed.”

“Our intention was never to allow for a large apartment complex to go into Agriculture-I,” member Lynn Wiles said.

“I don’t think anyone is opposed to workforce housing –  I think people are opposed to huge buildings in their neighborhood,” Mike Speltz of 18 Sugarplum Lane said, noting that what makes the smaller, clustered workforce housing developments, such as the town homes pictured in the report, more attractive is that they’re surrounded by open space.

“I think Londonderry is a good place for workforce housing projects,” Geographic Information System Manager John Vogl said. “What’s missing are single-family and smaller scale projects, projects that are fully compatible with one acre-lot neighborhoods. There are lots of opportunities to reduce the scale of workforce housing projects but still offer enough affordable housing.”

A specific improvement recommended by Jonathan Edwards of Arnett Development Group, who drafted the report, is allowing accessory dwelling units.

“That does two things – it allows people who have too much house to subdivide some rooms off and get income for that and have people who become caretakers on their property, and it also allows young people to rent something that is nice, but that is something they can afford,” he said. “It’s a very small scale of workforce housing, but it could be provided in many areas.”

Accessory dwelling units are allowed under specified circumstances – they must be single-family houses, the residential home must keep its appearance, and it must remain owner-occupied.

Another issue with the ordinance is that it doesn’t seem to promote feasibility, hence the high number of variances developers have requested, according to Edwards.

Most frequently, developers are seeking variances to the ordinance requiring at least 75 percent of the dwellings qualify as workforce units; the number of units per building be limited (16 units, or 20 units with a Conditional Use Permit allowance) and the production of the units be phased to a maximum of 48 per year.

“As far as we can determine, no other New Hampshire municipality requires a maximum of 75 percent of the units to qualify as workforce (the norm is between 25 percent and 50 percent), the limitation of units per building (at the rate of 16 units, not even justified by fire codes) is arbitrary, and there is no demonstrated public benefit to the phasing limit,” according to the report, which recommends “the Zoning Ordinance should feasibly provide for what it wishes to allow.”

After reviewing the findings and recommendations detailed in the report, the Board reached consensus that they wish to continue in the direction outlined.

“We will come back, hopefully, with some ordinance language at the next meeting,” May said.

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