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Site plan for workforce housing project gets first public hearing

Board takes public comments, continues hearing to November

October 15, 2009
WOLFEBORO — The Wolfeboro Planning Board had several pieces of business to cover at its Oct. 6 meeting, but the library meeting room was packed for the main event, the formal submission of the site plan for the Harriman Hill Development on Pine Hill Road by the Eastern Lakes Region Housing Coalition (ELRHC).

At the same meeting ELRHC also requested a special use permit needed during the installation of a two step sewer system and a waiver of road construction standards for one section of the access road.

Opponents of the development have been quite vocal, with letters to the editor in opposition appearing regularly in the Granite State News for several months, most often from the abutting Birch Hill Estates, an association of 106 manufactured homes, each of which is required to have a resident 55 or over.

Town Planner Rob Houseman summarized the applications, followed by the ELRHC's attorney, Richard Uchida of Orr and Reno Associates in Concord, Chuck Lief from the Hartland group (which has been involved in the planning, financing and construction of the mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood), Chris Nadeau (the civil engineer representing Nobis Engineering, which produced the site plans), and Jonathon Halle from Warren Street Architects (designers of the single and multifamily homes).

Uchida called the development a labor of love, taking place over several years. He said that the cluster design gives a sense of community and will be professionally maintained and managed.

Nearly 60 percent of the 35-acre site will remain open permanently, exceeding the requirement of 50 percent and providing a 100-foot buffer along the property lines. Only 68 units are planned out of the 140 allowed, and the sewer system is a two-step system, suggested by public works director David Ford, that minimizes the impact to the environment and takes the topography into account.

Of the 68 units, 20 of them will be single-family homes; the remaining 48 will be multi-family units, four units per building, which will be constructed in two phases. 24 rental units will be first, followed by the remainder of rental units and 24 sale units.

When board member Christine Franson commented that "some people would be happier with starting with single unit homes" and asked for an explanation of the decision to start with rental units, Lief responded that financing is the crucial reason, and explained that the Community Block Development Grant goes toward infrastructure, and the rental tax credits help finance construction costs.

The grant finances five percent of the project, with the bulk of the cost funded by state tax credits to private investors such as banks and corporations. The rest is permanent mortgage debt.

Hartland's market study also showed that the rental market is strong and the rents would be affordable for residents earning about $27,000 a year, a figure that represents 50 percent of the area's median income. He added that there is a limited market for new homes built on speculation in Wolfeboro, but they will keep monitoring the market.

Planning Board Chairman Kathy Barnard recused herself as a member of the ELRHC board. Vice Chair Stacie Jo Pope ran the hearing.

Pope asked if the amount of the median income might change between phases, Lief replied that they do change sometimes but not dramatically and would not go beyond the required maximum.

Some letter writers have termed the ELRHC development as a Section 8 Housing and Urban Development (HUD) project for very low income residents, but Uchida stated at the outset that that is not the case. Leif said applicants have to meet income requirements and credit and background checks as well. The developers do not want to fill their units with people who can not pay the rent.

Single family homes will sell for around $180,000. Applicants for those units will need to have an income in the high $60,000 range.

Also, according to Lief, the decision to construct just 68 units, half of what is allowed, in the desire for a harmonious fit, is just enough density to make the development feasible. More units would have been more financially advantageous.

He described the traffic and circulation patterns as having a low impact on Route 109A and no measureable impact on Pine Hill Road. Deputy Fire and Safety Chief Tom Zotti reviewed the placement of fire hydrants, and his recommendations were followed. The snow plowing plan was designed in consultation with Public Works Director Dave Ford.

Pope asked if the number of parking spaces had increased since discussion at the last hearing. Lief replied, "No, but the formula changed, and we found that we have 22 more than the ordinance requires." There are 106 parking spaces reserved in the plan for residents of the multi-family homes, including five handicap spots.

The two-step sewer system will be a low pressure design that avoids infiltration problems by using tanks to collect and remove solids and sending only effluent through the system. Water quality will meet state standards, and utilities will be underground. Lighting standards will go along with Wolfeboro's Dark Sky Ordinance, which requires light to be directed down and away from neighbors.

Kristi Ginter, selectmen's representative to the board, asked if the sewer system was approved by Ford. The reply was yes. The board was informed that the two-step alternative system has no leach field. The solids will be collected in an underground tank and disposed of off site. Only effluent will flow through the system's two-inch pipe into the town's sewer system for processing.

Architect Jonathon Halle spoke about the landscaping, which shows evergreens at the intersections and a mix of deciduous trees, and said that within three years, it is expected to be lush. There are plans for a communal garden, a sliding hill and a playground for residents' children in the interest of building community.

The buildings are designed to meet green building LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certifiable efficiency standards, but because the cost of acquiring the certification is anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000, the buildings will not be put through the expensive qualification process.

Halle said, in response to inquiry from planning board member Richard O'Donnell, that the process requires documentation that would have had to have begun four years ago at the start of the project. Halle assured him that the construction will meet LEED standards and will meet the latest Energy Star standards as well.

O'Donnell asked if there would be passive solar energy construction. Halle said no, but they are exploring active solar hot water and hot air heating. O'Donnell asked also if the construction would be modular or traditional stick, to which Halle said that to go with modular, the cost and time savings would have to be substantial. That has not been decided yet.

Ginter inquired whether water saving devices and low flow toilets would be installed. She was assured that they would be and was told that all the plantings will be of native and drought-tolerant varieties to obviate the need for watering.

Permit and waiver requests

A special use permit is necessary to allow the dredging and filling involved in installing the sewer lines, according to Nadeau, who said that it would temporarily impact 845 feet of wetland and 11,697 feet of the buffer. Once the line is installed, there will no further encroachment.

As for storm water management, the shallow ground water and high ledge make it necessary to build two detention ponds to take care of run off during peak flows. Nadeau said the plans have been approved by both the public works department and Wolfeboro's review engineer and described them as over-designed to take care of peak flows. He said the result is that the runoff will no deeper or longer than it is during the current pattern of peak flows.

O'Donnell asked if the three-foot depth of the ponds would pose a hazard to young children. Vincent replied that the ponds would only be possibly three feet deep at the height of the runoff and that it would drain in a day.

Nadeau also explained the waiver request to allow the right of way along 200 to 300 feet at the neck of the access road to be 50 feet rather than the standard 60 feet, taking the existing topography into account. Uchida, in his presentation earlier, said that strict compliance to a 60 foot right of way would interfere with the wetlands on one side and encroach on the Huggins Hospital Aid Society's collection barns on the other.

Planning board member Jennifer Haskell asked for and received verification that the Conservation Commission had no objection to the waiver.

Other questions by board members were answered before voting on the applications. Haskell brought up concerns expressed by the Commission earlier in the process regarding the need for an erosion control plan, but noted that three options were in the board's packet. She then asked if the environmental study showed the presence of any rare plants or animals and was told that it did not.

Franson asked if the trash receptacles would be bear proof, a request that Lief said would be granted. Pope received assurance that there would be an entrance sign and then sought information on the community center relating to cooking, square footage and parking.

Lief replied that the designs have not gotten to that level of specificity, but typically provisions are made for very modest cooking, such as using a microwave. The square footage is an estimated 1800 square feet, and the majority of visitor parking is situated in the surrounding lots or close to the community building.

With the presentation to the board complete, including answers to members' questions, the board voted for the purpose of the hearing to accept the applications, pending approval of permits submitted to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, subdivision and site specific (erosion and sediment control); a New Hampshire Department of Transportation driveway permit; and permits from the National Environmental Protection Agency for sewer discharge and time of construction phase two storm water management.

Public input

Tom Fergus stepped up front to the microphone first to ask if the board thinks the development is "suitable to the town as a whole," if the two-step sewer system would create a smell and to express that he thinks the project presents unfair competition to private landlords, such as himself. He also said that he is concerned about an increase in traffic on Pine Hill Road and said that he felt that the project developers were misleading when they talked about LEED certification during the early stages.

Houseman said that the sewer system (similar to the Sewall Road neighborhood system) is vented.

Fergus said noted that several permits are pending and called the development "a really bad idea" and said that he didn't want Wolfeboro to look like "anywhere USA."

David Doane of Birch Hill Estates began with a declaration that "we're not being listened to…you let all these people speak (pointing to the engineers and planners scattered in the audience), and haven't let us speak." A board member said, "It's your turn."

Doane said it is "low income housing. We should stand firm and together put it on the ballot and vote against it. These people have not been truthful. They say it's not a HUD project, and that's not true."

He went on to complain that no covenants were filed at he planning board and the two-inch effluent line "does not come close to making sense." He held up a drawing of two concentric circles, one representing Birch Hill Estates (BHE) four inch sewage line, the other representing the proposed two inch effluent-only line to be used in the development, and said that D.J.'s Septic, which he uses as manager of BHE, says the two inch line will not work.

Doane asked if there would be foundations, and if so, would they be concrete or slab, and added, "four-family homes do not fit in Wolfeboro, 'The Oldest Summer Resort in America.'"

Pointing at Edie DesMarais in the audience, who has spearheaded the project from the start and is the current chairman, he said that she was misleading people about the number of children per household with a figure of .42 children per rental unit. Houseman asked him to direct his comments to the board, and Doane continued to dispute the figure. He assumes it will be higher and warned of a potential negative impact on the town.

Franson asked him to limit his remarks, noting the large number of people in attendance who might want to speak. He said in recognition of that he wouldn't ask the individuals he had lined up to read each of the 28 letters to the editor that have been printed to read to the board.

Whitney Hayward of Clark Road asked for the cost of the project ($11.5 million) and the cost to Wolfeboro taxpayers for building and maintenance. Houseman answered that HH residents will all pay property taxes, with no exemptions, and that there are no grants or reductions from the town. The tax credits referred to in the presentation were federal income tax credits to investors, not town tax credits.

Hayward then asked, "Where are the people coming from?" and expressed concern that children would increase the burden to taxpayers. "There are no restrictions," said Houseman. "It's no different than any other development or street in town."

Another question was the impact of salt on the roads to the wetlands, echoed later by Barbara Jackson, a former planning board member who described herself as "mildly green." Houseman explained that if it's a town road, there will be salt for safety.

Regarding the on site detention basins, Hayward asked if they would filter sediment, sand, salt and fertilizers, and he wondered if mosquitoes would breed in the two shallow detention ponds.

Dr. Michael Cooper, Brewster Academy's Head of School expressed his support of the development. He said that with 150 full time and 20 to 30 part-time employees, a food service provider that employs around 35 people, and an outside cleaning contract with five people, most on hourly wages, Brewster depends on quality housing to stay in operation.

He pointed out that the school is one of the largest taxpayers in town, for it pays a bed tax on each of its on-campus residents, and he recounted that when the price of gas went up, the available work force shrank. Many potential employees could not afford the commute.

Louise Goyette, a resident of Birch Hill Estates, supported comments from her neighbors, saying she is concerned about the impact of the development on the quality of life, but called Birch Hill Estates a success story, and "if Birch Hill can do it, anyone can do it."

"Probably the same kind of comments were made then, " she said, referring to the development of Birch Hill. "You have an enormous challenge. I hope you'll keep the dialogue open."

Mary DeVries, executive director of the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of affordable, workforce housing on behalf of the chamber. "We've discussed it for years, before the ELRHC existed, it's important for our economic health and it's a response to a need identified in the master plan."

Pat Jones, a resident of Birch Hill Estates, said she would like to know if there is going to blasting. "We do not have foundations, we're on tie-downs, " she explained, but her biggest concern is that the shortest distance on foot between the HH neighborhood and The Nick Recreation Park is through Birch Hill. "People have told me that they'll leave if kids are going through," she said. Her recommendation is that the development erect a fence around the property. She also commented that they enjoy the wild life that comes through, including moose.

Another abutter, Chris Dumont, said that his property abuts the sewer line and wondered if there is another example of such a long sewer line in Wolfeboro. Houseman said that the rapid infiltration system is 3.5 miles long, and added that the pipe will only carry water, not solids. No action will be taken until the state permits are in hand.

Jan Brooks, principal of Carpenter Elementary School, read a statement from the Governor Wentworth Regional School District superintendent Jack Robertson, stating the school system's "whole-hearted" support for the work force housing project on behalf of its 500 employees, many of whom make from $25,000 to 30,000 a year and can not afford to live in the area." The statement said it is difficult to attract and retain employees at a time when real estate values are high, and said that the district has lost good potential employees to the high cost of commuting.

Brooks, a school district employee for 34 years, spoke passionately for her own staff and the parents and students of Carpenter. "Many teachers like to have their children attend the same school in which they teach," she said, so when they find themselves priced out of the market, they teach elsewhere. She said also that some families live in seasonal rentals and then have to move when the season changes, which creates instability for their children. Brooks said that some of her former students, now parents, are not able to afford to live in the community in which they grew up or attend their school. For her, its sad when the generational link is broken.

Rev. Jim Christiansen, speaking personally and not for the First Congregational Church, where he is the pastor, said that the salaries a non-profit can offer do not compete with those offered by for-profit organizations, and residency in this area "is placed in jeopardy by the lack of affordable housing."

Jane Milligan, a retired businesswoman and volunteer in many organizations, warned that "the services we need may disappear…We have an elderly community and its getting older." She wondered who will work at the hospital, take care of children, and sustain necessary services.

John Simms, a member of the ELRHC noting that the rents of residents in the HH neighborhood will be tied to income, not the market. He described the development as an asset.

Resident James Collins, in reference to the salt pile at the public works garage, wondered if the site would be considered a hazard to pedestrians walking along Bay and Elm Streets on their way to the Bridge Falls Path. Houseman explained that salt piles are described by DES as potential hazards, but the site itself is not classified as a hazardous site.

Landlord Suki Fawcett said that there is a currently a 30 to 40 percent vacancy in rentals, and shared concerns about density, which she worries will create noise. She also asked where people would park snowmobiles and boats and suggested that a storage area is needed. She wondered if property managers would be on site, what the rules will be on residents having pets, and how mail delivery will be managed.

Bob Simoneau, past chairman of ELRHC and now its treasurer, addressed the question of noise. he emphasized that the site is 35 acres and wooded with 32 per cent open space. He said the wildlife corridor and the vernal pools on the site will be maintained, trees taken down for construction will be replaced, and easements are in process to protect areas of the development. He said that as an employer for over 25 years as Brewster Academy's business manager, people have been turned away when the worker can't get to work, and "we depend on them." He pointed out that the residents will be taxpayers and the endeavor will generate income within the community.

"Let's not have the attitude, 'You got yours. now close the barn door,'" said Simoneau.

Abutter Mike Stoff offered the opinion that he didn't want it to turn into the Hatfields vs. the McCoys, but stressed the need "to let people know the boundaries." He was against the idea of erecting a fence.

DesMarais read a statement from David Tower, president of Huggins Hospital, who said that the hospital is "especially interested in this important project," to help retain and recruit capable staff.

Houseman closed the meeting at 11:15 p.m. with the suggestion that the public hearing be continued to Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. in the Wolfeboro Public Library to hear a response from the developers to some of the concerns raised in the course of the evening and to continue public comment. The board agreed.

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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