Below is the statement read at the 2/5/20 Deliberative Session regarding switching to an elected Planning Board.
Hello Amherst Residents:
I would like to introduce Warrant Article #37 which will be on the town ballot on March 10, 2019. This warrant article reads as follows:
“Are you in favor of changing how the Planning Board is filled from being an appointed Board to an elected Board consisting of 7 members, as currently constituted, which includes one ex officio member, with two members to be elected for a one year term, two members for a two year term, and two members for a three year term, thereafter the term of planning board members shall be for three years to be filled at the next regular town election pursuant to the provisions of RSA 673:2, II,(b)(1)?”
The impetus for this Citizens Petition came from the shocking realization of what the Integrated Innovative Housing Ordinance really is all about combined with months of trying to work together with our Planning Board to address the concerns we had. Unfortunately, we know that the folks on 122 have taken the first hit from this ordinance. Pendleton Farms was approved and being built before most in town had any idea what was going on with dense development and the bonuses given out here in Amherst. However, many neighborhoods in this town now are very aware with IIHO projects on the table, all seeking massive density bonuses including Brook Road, another one on 122, Christian Hill Road, Boston Post Road and New Boston Road. Truly, any neighborhood could be next and ALL OF THIS affects ALL OF US, no matter where we live in town! Our infrastructure needs, especially our schools, is of high concern as it relates to all of these projects.
Although many of us as residents have expressed concerns about what is going on with this dense development, and the impact it will have on our community, most of our Planning Board members do not have those same concerns. This Board does not regret what they approved and allowed to take shape on 122 and what could happen in other neighborhoods as a result of the IIHO. They stand proudly in defense of the ordinance that they created that is allowing this to happen.
Whether you have lived here 4 months or 40 years, when you talk to people about why we chose Amherst, our stories are similar. We fell in love with this town as a safe, caring community where we can raise our families, enjoy town events and cherish all of the things that this town has to offer. It’s something to be PROUD of, to CHERISH and to PRESERVE! Which brings me to why I am here tonight!
Last May, I received a certified letter about an IIHO project coming to my neighborhood. I had no idea what this was all about, but I knew that I needed to become informed. I started attending Planning Board meetings and I became increasingly concerned about what I was witnessing as I listened to the Planning Board. As I talked to people, virtual strangers from all over town, the same questions came up: Why so much development all of a sudden? What is going on in Amherst?
Well, it has become very clear WHAT is going on:
1) Large parcels of land are for sale because it is a great time to sell.
2) THE IIHO, with its massive density bonuses, is clearly a lure
3) NO IMPACT FEES are the icing on the developer’s cake!
The word is out: AMHERST is a developer’s dream!
The IIHO, crafted by several members of our current Planning Board, is a flawed, confusing, unnecessary ordinance that does not serve the best interest of this town. The language in the warrant article in 2015 never mentioned those two critical words that have the potential to change this town forever: DENSITY BONUSES! There was no mention of the 2 page schedule of density bonus offerings that we now know developers love to double and triple dip in when they can and yes, it happens. The voters were DUPED by the Planning Board in 2015!
Impact fees were voted in by residents in March of 2004 and they SHOULD HAVE BEEN IMPLEMENTED LONG AGO, but our Planning Board will tell you that they those fees are complicated and problematic and will get us sued. So here with are with no impact fees being collected - 16 years later!!!
Residents have taken notice of the actions of our Planning Board. Residents are attending Planning Board meetings in numbers never seen before. Meetings have been tabled and postponed because Town Hall fire code was exceeded. Those impact fees sure would have built an amazing community center by now, but I digress.
Residents have gone to the microphone with serious questions and concerns. The responses from our board members have included the following:
1) Well, the developer has rights, there is nothing we can do to stop this.
2) Sit back and watch how we do it here in Amherst.
3) YOU PEOPLE just do not understand.
4) YOU PEOPLE are just against development.
5) On the matter of Regional Impact, our Chairman, who has served on the board for 18 years, HAD NO IDEA that Mont Vernon students attend our schools for grades 7-12.
6) After patiently listening to the developers and the Board for hours, concerned citizens are told to hurry up, given time limits and given false information in response to their questions or statements. Here are some examples:
**The town will be at risk of litigation if we get rid of the IIHO.
**If not for the IIHO, NONE of a rattled off list of communities that exist today would be here. And I quote, “MANY OF YOU PEOPLE WOULD NOT BE HERE!”. NOT TRUE! Those Planned Residential Developments were all pre-IIHO and have nothing to do with this ordinance. And, by the way, other towns do not have an IIHO. There is nothing in the law that says Amherst has to give density bonuses as per the two page worksheet that is negotiated with developers with bonuses given out like candy! WE ARE NOT GOING TO BE SUED IF WE don’t give out these generous density bonuses. We don’t have to give out 285% or 175% or even 50% density bonuses, BUT WE DO HERE IN AMHERST because our PLANNING BOARD WANTS TO! And lastly our Planning Board likes to claim this:
7) This is all about AFFORDABLE HOUSING! NOT TRUE! - Not a single application that has come in under the IIHO is for AFFORDABLE HOUSING! NOT ONE UNIT IN ONE APPLICATION.
We have other issues on the Planning Board. We have Planning Board members falling asleep on and off throughout the meeting.
We have PB members getting up at certain points in the meeting, putting their coat on and walking out.
We have Planning Board members yelling at and talking over other PB members who express a different opinion than them. When a PB member spoke up echoing the concerns brought forth by citizens, he was asked on the record by a fellow board member WHY HE WAS EVEN on the board if he agreed with or had those concerns. So, if you don’t fall in line with the Board, you are ostracized or are not welcome to serve on the board? That is very troubling!
As was said in the Planning Board meeting just last week by a Board Member who was suggesting that they schedule a meeting for the Board to further discuss the issues with the IIHO, he said that meeting should include no input from the public and I quote, “I’ve heard all I need to hear from the PUBLIC!”
Especially concerning, and one of the KEY reasons why this Citizens Petition came to be, is that we have multiple planning board members that have been appointed and re-appointed for close to 20, 30 and 40 years. And guess what? There is NO ACCOUNTABILITY for any of them. It doesn’t matter if the taxpayers are happy or not with the job that they are doing! It doesn’t matter if they decided they don’t want to listen to public concerns. It doesn’t matter if they give out 285% density bonuses even though residents are urging them to enforce zoning more appropriately for RESPONSIBLE development! When their term ends, they just get reappointed!
So, frustration has built about all of this! Concerns have been expressed to our Board of Selectmen, Town Administrator and Community Development Director. What it came down to was the fact that CITIZENS PETITIONS were OUR ONLY HOPE of getting the change we need. Our concerns and requests to address the issues with the ordinance fell on deaf ears! Residents of Amherst are NOT ANTI-DEVELOPMENT. We are not against affordable or elderly housing. Residents understand that there are laws to outline how Planned Residential Developments and other types of housing work and we support that. Many residents have spoken up in meetings to insist that our Board follow the laws and RSA’s. We are not trying to get the town sued at our own expense. We just want our newneighbors to build under the same zoning laws that we had to.
What it boils down to is this: WE WANT AND NEED ACCOUNTABILITY FOR MEMBERS OF OUR PLANNING BOARD!!! The taxpayers deserve a say in who serves on this powerful board. We elect our Board of Selectmen, our Zoning Board, our Library Trustees, our Cemetery Trustees, our Town Moderator, and our Town Clerk. But we appoint a board that makes major decisions about development and the future of this town?
If this Warrant Article passes and we move to an elected board, every current board member can run for the board! We are not looking to exclude anyone! We just want a TRUE process of ACCOUNTABILITY and input, via a town election at the end of every three-year term.
Doing some quick research, I found 9 towns in NH that currently elect their Planning Board, some of which moved to do so after concerns similar to what we are facing here in Amherst. Those towns are: Wilton, Pelham, Windham, Peterborough, North Hampton, Henniker, Greenland, Auburn and Madison.
I have been told that this was tried many years ago and didn’t work. Well, it’s now 2020 and we are on the cusp of losing this town to dense development if we do not address these issues. Residents are attending meetings in record numbers to fight for their homes and the community they love. Civic Engagement in Amherst is on the rise and while I understand current Board members like things just the way they are, many residents do not and therefore, we believe that it’s time to try this again!
In summary, our Planning Board, as a whole, has made their position on all of this quite clear. At the meeting on January 15th, when the IIHO related petitions were presented, they voted 6-0 against and 5-1 against. They will not support the removal of the IIHO and they will not support the reduction to a 35% density bonus cap. At their meeting last Wednesday, this topic was brought up and the CHAIRMAN made his stance very clear and I quote, “NO CAPS ON DENSITY BONUSES”. We know where they stand. Now, let’s make it clear WHERE WE STAND!
Please vote YES on Warrant Article 37 on March 10th! The FUTURE OF AMHERST NEEDS YOU! Thank you!