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Hanover Planners Respond to Outcry Over Zoning Proposals

Hanover — The Planning Board has learned a valuable lesson while trying to revamp the town’s creaky zoning ordinance: Do not put the word “final” on a document that’s actually a work in progress.

Members of the Planning Board are reshaping their focus on a residential zoning project after more than 100 residents showed opposition last month at a public forum.

The board will meet again at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Town Hall to outline its new plan, and board members hope it calms the nerves of many residents.

The board was taken aback at a mid-October work session when it saw how upset residents were about a 59-page “compendium” that outlined ideas of how to revamp a 1976 zoning ordinance that is in dire need of a cleanup.

The document, which was compiled from the minutes from 98 meetings and notes from 13 neighborhood tours, had been labeled on the town’s website as “final compendium,” according to board members.

“They didn’t see the fine print that this is a just a summary of our conversations,” said Planning Board Chairwoman Judith Esmay. “We weren’t clear about that. It’s very clear now.”

One of the main goals of a revamped ordinance would be alignment with the 2003 Master Plan, which says the town should aim for a 3-to-1 urban/rural population ratio. The document tossed around ideas like density bonuses, and allowing fraternities and sororities to expand to areas that are currently in the single-unit residential zoning district.

Residents at the mid-October meeting made it very clear that they thought the Planning Board was moving too fast with the document and it needed to lessen its focus on growth.

“I think the main message was that residents don’t see that it’s all that broken and they weren’t necessarily looking for big change,” said Hanover resident Bruce Sacerdote, who attended the mid-October meeting. “And that document made people think that change might be coming.”

The board’s new strategy, which it plans to discuss tomorrow night, includes two initial steps:

A technical revision of the zoning ordinance would edit the document for clarity, internal consistency, improved organization and conformity to law. Esmay said the revision will be mostly administrative, but said there could be policy changes that arise. The zoning ordinance has been amended more than 200 times since its 1976 conception, which has caused inconsistencies throughout the document and nonconforming residences.

The second proposed step would be to hold neighborhood meetings and implement a zon

ing revision that will conform the ordinance to existing conditions.

At the mid-October meeting, residents showed frustration that the Planning Board had toured every Hanover neighborhood, but hadn’t reached out to residents while the board was walking the streets. This time, the board wants to organize neighborhood meetings.

“What we want to do is say this is a neighborhood, this is its name and this is how we zone for that neighborhood,” Esmay said.

Sacerdote, who lives on North Park Street, has attended several Planning Board meetings since the work session last month and said he’s been impressed with how the board has responded to what residents have said.

Sacerdote added that he didn’t think the Oct. 13th meeting went well because it was run by consultants. He said he’s had good communication with board members through email.

“Interactions with the consultant didn’t make people feel like we were going to go slow,” Sacerdote said. “It was only after the board proposed to reframe it, that’s when I started to feel better about it.”

Members of the board have gone out of their way to make sure that future working papers concerning the ordinance are not misconstrued as final.

A recent document that outlines a timeline for revisions has a disclaimer at the bottom of each page that reads, “This is a working document and does not represent the view of the Planning Board.” Another document is written almost entirely in questions to emphasize where the board is in its process.

Sacerdote, however, said there is still underlying nervousness among residents.

For instance, Eric Zitzewitz, who lives on Choate Road, said he’s glad to see that the town plans to first look at technical issues, but he said he hopes the board doesn’t push an agenda of “radical expansion of housing” that he felt was behind the original document.

“I think the good news is it’s on everyone’s radar screen now and there will be people at the meetings watching what’s happening,” Zitzewitz said.

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