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Fraternity Zoning Amendment Fails in Hanover

  • Dartmouth College junior Sam Gochman boards one of several chartered buses on the campus in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Turnout for Hanover Town Meeting was high among college students as buses brought undergraduates from Webster Avenue, the "fraternity row," to the polls at Hanover High. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A fraternity member who declined to identify himself, right, asks Dartmouth College students Teddy Hill-Weld, second from right; Reid, who withheld his last name, left; and Abraham, who also withheld his last name, second from left, if they have voted on Town Meeting articles yet, urging them to take one of several buses hired by supporters of the amendment to transport students to the polls from Webster Avenue in Hanover, N.H., onTuesday, May 9, 2017. Several Greek houses on Webster Avenue held cookouts providing students with food and urging them to vote in favor of Article 9, a petitioned amendment on the warrant that would give student residences that are not owned by the school independence from the college. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bill Silverman, of Hanover, right, looks up at Ian Hanselman, a Dartmouth College sophomore, left, in the neighboring voting booth before casting his ballot on Town Meeting articles in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Three zoning articles dealing with senior citizen housing and student housing were on the ballot, drawing large numbers of voters from both groups. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A Dartmouth College student poll observer, who declined to identify himself, consults attorney Carolyn Cole while using a microphone and headphones to pick up the names of voters as they check in to receive ballots at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Cole petitioned an article to the Town Meeting warrant that would give student residences that are not owned by Dartmouth independence from college supervision. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bill Mitchell, of Hanover, left, and Dwight Aspinwall, of Hanover, middle, debate Article 9 on the Town Meeting warrant. If approved, the petitioned article would remove from Dartmouth College oversight student residences not owned by the school. Colin Pogue, of Hanover, right, approaches the polls with his fellow Hanover High School graduate Owen Wohlforth, of Lyme, out of frame, on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Hanover — Dartmouth College students on Tuesday flocked to the Hanover polls to vote on a zoning amendment that would have given new autonomy to the school’s fraternities. The proposal ultimately failed, 1,993-1,471.

The measure needed a two-thirds majority for passage, but won 42.5 percent support.

So many more ballots were cast than anticipated this year — more than triple last year’s balloted voting — that it took until after 2 a.m. for election officials to finish their tallies.

Residents also approved changes to zoning for senior living facilities and a proposal to commit the town to attaining 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050.

Turnout for Town Meeting was high among Dartmouth College students as chartered buses brought undergraduates from Webster Avenue, the “fraternity row,” to the polls at Hanover High.

A few fraternities hosted barbecues, and students handed out flyers urging their peers to vote “Yes on 9.”

Article 9 on the ballot would have deleted and replaced the existing definitions of “student residence” in the campus zoning district and in residential districts, essentially removing a requirement that student residences not owned by Dartmouth be supervised by an “institution,” which the town interprets to mean the college.

The amendment was petitioned to the warrant by Carolyn Cole, an attorney who is representing former Dartmouth fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon in an ongoing zoning dispute over this section of the ordinance. Cole says she brought the amendment on behalf of other Hanover residents, not the fraternity.

Cole also represented the banned fraternity Alpha Delta in a similar case; the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled against the Greek-letter society last month.

After losing ties to Dartmouth, both fraternities found themselves mired in zoning disputes with the town over whether they could maintain their status as student residences — and thus allow students to live in the houses they own on campus — without being associated with the school.

Dartmouth officials last month issued a rare statement of opposition to the Town Meeting warrant article, saying it would undermine their ability to supervise and ensure the safety of their students.

School administrators invoked a state law that allows them, as owners of at least 20 percent of the land potentially affected by the zoning proposal, to require a two-thirds majority for passage.

Proponents of the amendment, many of them fraternity members or private landowners in Hanover, said the measure would protect private property rights and prevent Dartmouth from exerting too much control over residences it does not own.

“I don’t see how it’s Dartmouth’s business what people do with their private property,” said Sandor Farkas, a senior at the college who said he supported the amendment. “I don’t see how the town can delegate its zoning laws to Dartmouth.”

Organizers of the campus voter drive declined to comment on their initiative while working at the Hanover High voting place on Tuesday.

Also at the polls that afternoon was a rare sight: a student who had come to oppose the student residence amendment.

Veselin Nanov, a freshman from Bulgaria, said he was concerned that limiting Dartmouth’s supervision over fraternities could mean that, as a noncitizen, he would be deprived of his only means of influence over the college’s social system.

“I feel I could lose my agency in the Dartmouth community,” said Nanov, who held a hand-lettered “No on 9” sign.

Two zoning amendments intended to eliminate some restrictions on senior housing development carried handily.

One change will remove a fixed cap on housing density and a minimum lot size, allowing retirement facilities to be regulated in the same way as other types of housing development. Another opens up the downtown “residential office,” or “RO” district, to expansion of the town-owned “Summer Park” affordable senior living facility.

Proponents of the senior living zoning amendments held talks and distributed yard signs in advance of the vote, which they described as an opportunity to plan for the future by creating more housing space as New Hampshire’s population ages.

Also on the ballot were a handful of “housekeeping” changes meant to streamline regulations or put them in line with state law. Those all passed, including a change to allow accessory dwelling units that reflects a modification to New Hampshire statute.

During the floor portion of Town Meeting that night, more than 200 residents, many of them students, passed a $23.9 million operating budget and a proposal to commit the town to obtaining 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Sponsored by the Sierra Club Upper Valley Group, the renewable energy commitment is part of the national Sierra Club’s “Ready For 100” campaign.

National Executive Director Michael Brune last month visited Hanover to urge passage of the resolution, versions of which also have been endorsed by such cities as San Diego and Madison, Wis.

John Schumacher, a Hanover resident who said he drives a hybrid car and has installed 32 solar panels on his house, urged those present to vote yes.

“The only way to get there,” he said of the 100 percent renewable goal, “is to start getting there. ... If we don’t start doing it, we’re never going to get there.”

A proposal to amend the resolution to make clear that the commitment was “voluntary” failed by voice vote, and the original measure passed from the floor, also by voice vote.

At nearly $24 million, the budget is increasing by about $700,000, and, with other spending, is contributing to an anticipated 1.8 percent tax rate increase. Residents approved the budget and all other spending by voice vote.

Town officials expect that the town spending plan will result in an average increase to the municipal property tax rate of 12 cents per $1,000 of valuation. Although the exact rate would vary by fire district, the average rate translates to an extra $48 on a $400,000 home.

Two incumbent Selectboard members, Bill Geraghty and Chairman Peter Christie, ran unopposed for re-election.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

Posted online Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. Updated Wednesday at 2:45 a.m.