To The Daily Sun,
I read with interest the proposed bill and its intended objective. Representative Jane Cormier seems to be representing a pressure group instead of the towns she represents. A close examination of the intent of the bill reveals the intent of its proposer. It indulges in legislation by deletion. The reaction of the Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) was predictable. The Department of Environmental Services (DES) reported that it would negatively impact them in a number of areas. For those that did not read the article in Tuesday's Sun, the proposed bill would do away with the Regional Planning Commissions and transfer the responsibilities they have to the OEP.
Before I go further into this discussion, let me state that I served on the planning board of Northfield for several years. Therefore, I speak from years of experience of associating with the Lakes Region Planning Commission. Planning boards are citizen groups given the authority to examine and either approve or reject the proposals brought before them. While it is true that some of the material they have render judgment on is complicated, it is their responsibility to sift through the plans and reach a conclusion. To that end, when requested, the planning commission is available to advise, not dictate, what action should be taken. On questions of legality, the town attorney is available. Both those sources of advice charge a fee so the town uses them judiciously. Another function of the local planning boards is to create ordinances and make the town's master plan is up to date. The regional planning commission is a resource for the board in creating clear language for the ordinances. The emphasis, once again, is that they are a resource for the boards use as needed.
Many times the commissions try to bring communities together for a common goal. One example occurred during my tenure on the Northfield board. The towns of Northfield, Tilton and Belmont share under their land surface a large aquifer. The planning board secured funds from the State of NH-DES to do a study of that resource. The objectives of the committee of representatives, board members from each town, were to identify potential threats to the aquifer, map its extent, and create a best management practices booklet for use by the towns and the businesses residing therein. While there was usually a regional planner in attendance, the committee members conducted the meetings and approved the decisions reached.
Now, a few words about Smart Growth and local control of land use decisions. I submit that no one wants dumb growth. That is why towns have a master plan. If properly constructed, the master plan serves as a guide to land owners who want to subdivide their land for development. It serves notice to developers that the town wants them to follow the rules contained in the town's ordinances. Orderly processes require interested citizen boards, whether they are appointed or elected, to be "hands on" managers. During the so called building boom a few years ago, smart growth was a challenge. The Office of Energy and Planning chose to deal with the state and regional concerns and leave local responsibilities to the towns, with regional planners being available. The Department of Environmental Services, because of its permitting processes, works closely with towns and developers so that the environment is protected from improper activities such as filling wetlands development to close to streams and lakes. The subject of regional cooperation is a whole other discussion so I won't get into it in this letter.
In closing, I must say that I am not a "stalking horse" for those advocating regional planning nor am I a believer in "bloated bureaucracy." I am, however, committed to orderly planning that protects not just the land owners but all our citizens.