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Sep 19

From the Town Administrator's Desk - September 19, 2019

Posted on September 19, 2019 at 4:01 PM by Elizabeth Dukes

September 19, 2019

Managing a Balanced Approach to Change that Aligns with our Vision

The recently completed Master Plan for the community identified a series of priorities for the Town including these three:  preserving our natural resources, expanding the diversity of housing options in town and growing our tax base with a focus on the Limited Commercial District, lands to the north of Route 128.  Work is getting underway to determine specific ways to fulfill these goals and there may be unique opportunities to weave all three together in a unified approach. 

The Town is fortunate to have a number of land holdings that are already permanently held for conservation purposes.  About 30% of our lands are protected from any kind of development.  Some of this land is owned by the Town while other parcels are owned by non-profits or private individuals/families with conservation restrictions.  One area of town that remains undeveloped with very little road access is the northwest corner.  This area of town contains a large number of old “wood lots”, small narrow parcels that provided wood to homes in the village.  Many of these have reverted to town ownership as ownership was forfeited or became unknown.

The area serves as the headwaters to our drinking water supply, contains a number of wetlands and vernal pools, and is habitat to a wide variety of flora and fauna. A number of parcels are already preserved for conservation purposes. Development potential is limited due to the terrain, rock outcroppings and wetlands.  Thus, there is a strong argument to be made that this area of town should remain undeveloped and permanently set aside as conservation lands. 

Allowing for a greater diversity of housing options is seen as an important aspect of enabling new families, seniors and middle income households to continue to be a part of our community. Right now our housing stock is heavily weighted toward larger and more expensive homes.  Region-wide there is growing concern about how a lack of diverse housing can stymie community and economic vitality.  As noted elsewhere, a community discussion on the option of using the 40R zoning tool is scheduled for next Tuesday.

The Limited Commercial District, occupying most of the land area north of Route 128, was identified through the master planning process as an area that could be considered for new development.  The current LCD regulations are fairly restrictive.  Might this area be a good candidate for a 40R overlay district?  Are there other zoning changes that should be considered while still maintaining high standards that protect the natural resources in this area?  Is it possible to preserve much of the lands in the Town’s northwestern corner while allowing greater flexibility in the allowed uses in the LCD? 

The proper management of the Town and future growth requires balancing the need for preserving our natural resources, providing housing options and building a tax base that supports the infrastructure needs of the community.  As always, choices come into play in reaching a proper balance.  It is also important to recognize that nothing remains as it is – change happens.  It behooves us to manage change in ways that aligns with our vision of what we want Manchester to be.  We have a clear vision as articulated in the new Master Plan.  Now we need the policies, regulations and actions that will achieve the vision. Your guidance in developing these is welcome.