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Workforce housing project receives planning board approval

December 10, 2009
WOLFEBORO — Members of the Eastern Lakes Region Housing Coalition (ELRHC) breathed audible sighs of relief at the conclusion of the Wolfeboro Planning Board's Dec. 1 public hearing on a special use permit and site plan review of the Harriman Hill workforce housing proposal.

With the numerous required permits in order, and a long list of questions from the planning board and public answered, the planning board gave the ELRHC the green light. Edie DesMarais, who has spearheaded the cause of making Wolfeboro hospitable to its work force since 2004, declared herself to be relieved that the years of persistence have paid off.

Chris Nadeau, the civil engineer representing Nobis Engineering, addressed the punch list generated in previous meetings. The questions involved a level of detail that a typical subdivision proposal does not usually address, right down to the type of fence surrounding the garbage collection area (green vinyl covered chain link, in lieu of the previously proposed stockade fencing) and whether the residents would have mail delivery (yes).

Will there be an entrance sign? Yes. Will it be lit? No. Is the parking adequate for residents and visitors? Yes: there will be 22 spaces by the community center, which will not be rented out to the public, and there is now a designated area for the parking of Recreational Vehicles, as suggested.

And what about the foundations? They will be slab.

As for concerns about an increase in traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, the Department of Transportation says that there is no need for a turn lane on Route 109A. Foot traffic will be guided by clearly marked signs to discourage trespassing, and the Birch Hill Estates road, which is private, will only be used for emergencies.

Nadeau also said that a property manager would be on site during regular hours and that there would be 24 hour access to the management, even though it would be off site.

During public comment time, resident Louise Goyette sought and received assurance that there would be a 24-hour emergency response plan.

Someone had asked what percentage of wetlands would be affected. Nadeau supplied the percentages thus: with 12.9 percent of the lot classified as wetlands and 12.5 percent of that undergoing disruption and then reclamation, there will be less than one half a percentage point decrease.

Selectman and representative to the planning board Kristi Ginter inquired about the safety of the retention pond, to which Nadeau responded that he had discussed the matter with the town engineer and fencing was proposed as a safety precaution.

Chuck Leif, of the Hartland Group, consultants to the project, answered questions that had come up about whether residents would pay property taxes. He said they would not get any special treatment and that New Hampshire statutes would determine assessments.

David Doane, facilities manager of Birch Hill Estates, who has spent hours combing through files on the project at the town planning office, commented that most of his neighbors don't like to stay up late at night, so therefore were not at the meeting. When he said, "It seems to be arranged that way" – suggesting that the meeting schedule might be designed intentionally to deter input – planning board member Christine Franson pointed out, "It's late for us, too."

Doane went on to say that he had spent two hours at the planning office going through the files and said, "I bet none of you have gone through the complete folder in the planning office…If you haven't reviewed them, you shouldn't vote."

Franson and Ginter both noted the stacks of paper on the table in front of them and answered spontaneously, "We have reviewed them." Other members nodded in agreement.

Doane ended his comments by saying that he wanted to be positive and turned to Nadeau behind him and said that Nobis Engineering had done "a wonderful job."

The subsequent positive vote allows the development to move forward under conditions enumerated by Houseman.

DesMarais, contacted the following day, said that the ELRHC's next step is to go for funding from the New Hampshire Finance Authority, which considers proposals once they are shovel-ready. The group has kept the agency apprised over the many months of the process and is looking forward to the next phase.

With permits in place and the board's approval, the ELRHC can apply for tax credit funding and is eligible for a Community Development Block Grant and other sources of funding. The group's work is not over yet, but a major hurdle has been crossed.

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