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Hanover Voters Reject Effort To Reduce 2014-15 Budget

Hanover — For the second year in a row, an amendment was made at Town Meeting by a town Finance Committee member to lower the municipal budget, and for the second year in a row, the amendment failed and the proposed spending plan easily passed.

Finance Committee member John Ruth made a motion to increase the tax rate no more than the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index, or CPI, which would be 0.8 percent.

Selectboard Chairman Peter Christie explained that would require cutting the proposed budget by $185,000.

He said the board had initially proposed a budget that fit within Ruth’s request, but members decided to add money for capital reserve funds, the paving budget, a sustainability program and the Mascoma Valley Health Initiative.

Voters sided with the Selectboard and rejected Ruth’s amendment.

“I think the finance committee is tying us to an index that does not reflect the growing needs and demand of Hanover citizens,” said resident Bill Fischel, an economics professor at Dartmouth College. “To put a rule like this into effect would really hogtie and not give us the services we pay our public officials to give us.”

Ultimately, the $22.1 million operating budget was approved on a voice vote with only a few audible nays.

Residents are expected to see a 2.5 percent tax rate increase from the current year’s to $4.55 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The owner of a $400,000 home would see the municipal portion of her tax bill increase by about $44 annually for a total of $1,820. Hanover residents also pay a fire district tax.

Voters easily approved two zoning amendments that increase residential setbacks and decrease the allowable building footprint for residential homes in the downtown area in an effort to preserve the character of the town’s neighborhoods.

The amendments were initially proposed by residents who live near Ledyard Lane, where a property owner plans to build a nearly 10,000-square-foot home on a 15,000-square-foot property. Neighbors on Ledyard Lane and nearby streets said last week that they helped develop the amendment, which was later supported by the Planning Board, because they were seeing homes on small lots being torn down and replaced by much larger homes. They want to make sure that new homes fit the character of their neighborhoods, as described in the town’s master plan.

Article 4 will increase side and rear setbacks for accessory buildings from 7 feet to 10 feet, which supporters said provides protection from adjacent properties and allows access for emergency vehicles. The article passed 328 to 120.

Article 5 will reduce the maximum building footprint to 25 percent of the total lot and the maximum lot coverage will be reduced by 50 percent in both single and general residence zones. There is an exception for lots fronting West Wheelock Street and South Park Street and lots in the general residence district that are greater than 30,000 square feet. Those lots can have a maximum building footprint of 35 percent and total lot coverage of not more than 65 percent.

That article passed 338 to 108.

Mary Brown said she voted for all the zoning amendments, citing that she thought the increased setbacks were a “good thing,” although she said she’s not sure the change will make a significant difference.

“I feel as if any more space around housing allows for more green space and more grace in the community,” Brown said.

But not everyone felt the same way.

Matt Huyck said he voted against the amendment that would increase the setbacks from 7 feet to 10 feet, adding that it was unclear what issue would be solved.

“In our own case with our own neighbors it hasn’t been an issue and it seemed to me with our neighbors it would add more restrictions than it needed,” Huyck said.

Huyck added that the town should instead be encouraging good relationships among neighbors. If Huyck and his neighbors want to build a shed to share, the town shouldn’t be able to legislate that, he said.

“You can’t legislate a good relationship with your neighbor,” Huyck said.

But he voted in favor of the amendment that would decrease maximum building footprints and lot coverage because he said it would help prevent the problem of oversized houses being built in existing neighborhoods.

He said he personally hasn’t seen those type of overgrown houses in Hanover, but said it’s a trend around the country that is “not appealing.”

Tuesday night’s Town Meeting was the first for moderator Steve Fowler, who has taken over for Willy Black, who was moderator for 10 years and served as a member of the Selectboard for two decades.

The meeting was moving quickly along and after moving through 12 articles in 45 minutes, Fowler made the comment, “The planned half time show by Beyonce has been canceled, so we’re going to move right along.” His comment was followed by a number of chuckles, but the meeting soon slowed down.

After getting through the budget and all remaining warrant articles, which all passed, voters reached the final article, which was to transact any other business that may legally be brought before Town Meeting.

Robert Chambers, cofounder of Project VetCare, Inc. — a Hanover-based nonprofit — stood up and made a motion that the town contribute $20,000 to Project VetCare’s capital campaign to purchase and operate a house for Dartmouth College veterans to meet and reside.

The nonprofit received an anonymous pledge of $375,000 about six weeks ago to purchase a house on Lebanon Street that would provide a home for Dartmouth College student veterans. Project VetCare has until May 31 to raise an additional $75,000 so it can close on the home.

The nonprofit is about $30,000 away from its goal, Chambers said, and while the group wanted to place a warrant article on the Town Meeting warrant, they missed the deadline.

After Chambers made the motion, Fowler called it out of order. A motion was made to then overrule the moderator’s ruling, but that did not go forward. And while numerous people showed support for Project VetCare, several people said during the meeting that they didn’t think it was fair to give money to the organization because it hadn’t been properly warned and the Selectboard needed to look at it in more detail.

But Chambers remained positive, and at the end of the meeting, three people asked Chambers for his business card and said they were planning to donate money.

“We’re going to make it if I have to pull teeth out of everybody,” Chambers joked after the meeting.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.