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Alton residents drafted language for workforce housing ordinance

  • Published in Letters

To The Daily Sun,
The Town of Alton continues to work on implementing the recommendations outlined in the 2005 Alton Master Plan. This year the Planning Board is bringing forward new zoning language related to workforce housing.

Workforce housing is designed to meet the needs of many of our local citizens and many professionals that work in Alton and would like to live here. The purpose of this amendment is to assure local control of how workforce housing is managed in Alton. In the absence of this ordinance, developers can control and determine where and how workforce housing occurs in Town. The goal is to plan ahead and be proactive in protecting the community by establishing local regulations on workforce housing that would identify where and how workforce housing would be permitted rather than leaving that determination up to developers.

The Planning Board decided early on that rather than borrow language from a nearby community, the town should do some research into the current housing situation in Alton, understand how it is impacted by changes in the real estate market, and identify what is required under state law. A competitive grant process was announced in 2012 for projects like this and Alton submitted an application. Early in 2013 the Town of Alton received funding to conduct the inventory and analysis of the community's housing stock and compliance with the state's workforce housing law. The funding was made available through New Hampshire Housing, and the consulting firm Jeffrey H. Taylor and Associates was hired by the town to assist with the inventory, analysis, and the drafting of any regulatory language.

The study was completed under the supervision of the Zoning Amendment Committee and the Town Planner, and included a great deal of community participation from the start. The Planning Board was involved in the entire process and then worked with the consultant to finalize the language being presented to the voters at Town Meeting. What we discovered is that Alton does not always provide an adequate number of single family homes within the income range of a working household. This is often when the housing market is at its strongest, and in rural portions of the community where the minimum lot size increases the cost of development. When these conditions exist a developer can invoke the existing state housing law and receive relief from the courts. This scenario excludes local input and does not implement the Alton Master Plan.

The language being presented to the voters at Town Meeting provides a voluntary process for a developer interested in creating workforce housing units, but it keeps the entire process before the Alton Planning Board and places the burden of proof on the developer. Any developer hoping to make use of this regulatory process will need to show that Alton is not providing its fair share of workforce housing in the county, and that the land use regulations in Alton are making it impossible to create new units that are affordable to working families. The Planning Board has created a fairly high bar for an interested developer so that Alton only creates additional units when they are truly needed.

This process required an incredible number of volunteer hours from board members and the many citizens who participated in the public meetings. Their effort helped Alton create regulatory language that speaks to the needs of this community into the future. Please take the time to read the proposed regulatory language drafted by your fellow Alton residents, and if you have questions please contact Town Planner Ken McWilliams.
Alton Planning Board