Housing proposal leads warrant for Hanover Town Meeting

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 04-11-2023 8:04 PM

HANOVER — Hanover residents are concerned about a Town Meeting warrant article seeking to transfer 5 acres of town-owned land to developers for workforce housing, which could potentially be a larger project than what town officials proposed two years ago.

At a Tuesday meeting, the Hanover Selectboard approved a warrant containing 33 total articles, including the election of town officers, for the annual Town Meeting, which is set for May 9 this year.

Among the articles approved for voter consideration, the town is seeking approval to transfer 5 acres of the former Leavitt property on Greensboro Road to a nonprofit housing developer for the creation of workforce housing.

At Town Meeting in 2020, Hanover voters authorized funding for the town’s purchase of 265 acres of woods and old farmland owned by the Leavitt family, which is called the Mink Hollow Community Forest.

The approved 2020 article, which passed with a floor vote, stated that 260 acres would be owned and maintained by the town for conservation or community recreation, 1 acre containing a farmhouse would be sold to generate revenue toward the property purchase and 4 acres would be “transferred to Twin Pines Housing Trust for future development of a small cluster of cottage homes for workforce housing, subject to future approval at Town Meeting.”

Town officials are now seeking voter approval at the upcoming Town Meeting to authorize that land transfer to either “Twin Pines Housing Trust, or another nonprofit organization.”

Selectboard Chairman Peter Christie explained on Tuesday that the intent is to offer the land to Twin Pines, a nonprofit affordable housing developer based in White River Junction. But the article’s wording leaves open the possibility of partnering with other nonprofits should Twin Pines not pursue the project.

“I think it’s going to be a difficult project to pull off, given the increase in housing prices and building costs,” Christie said. “But that’s why we turned to Twin Pines to try to make it work.”

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But several residents in attendance felt like this proposal has changed significantly from what voters approved three years ago.

Resident Margaret Bragg, who lives on Greensboro Road, noted that the original proposal in 2020 was to build “a small cluster” of approximately six to 10 homes.

“But at a Selectboard meeting on Feb. 6 this year, I heard 14 (units mentioned) and then 29,” Bragg said. “It sounded like a monstrous change from the small cluster of cottages.”

According to Town Manager Alex Torpey, zoning regulations have been amended since 2020 to increase the permitted number of workforce housing units per acre.

As a result, more units could potentially be built on the land than were previously projected.

In addition, a more recent survey of the property measured the land designated for transfer at 5 acres instead of 4.

Board members stressed that any plan by Twin Pines or another nonprofit will need to go through the process of public hearings and permit approval by the town planning and zoning boards.

“Nobody is proposing any number of units at this point in time,” Christie said. “But we felt obligated to tell the public that there was potential for more units. But I kind of doubt it will go that far.”

Kari Asmus, chairwoman of the Finance Committee, suggested postponing this proposal until a later date, to allow the Selectboard more time to discuss the project with the community and alleviate public uncertainty.

“I don’t know that I feel comfortable voting in favor of this on May 9, even though conceptually everyone gets what a great marriage of conservation and affordable housing this is,” Asmus said, who raised questions about how a housing project might impact parking or community access to the conservation area.

Torpey noted that the approved 2020 article requires a vote on the land transfer to occur at Town Meeting, which would postpone a decision by another year.

Whit Spaulding, chairman of the town Conservation Commission, said he “is absolutely in favor of this process” but wants to ensure that the housing partner is clear in its plan to ensure the project aligns to the original vision of the donors and stakeholders.

“Will they be transparent with their budget model so they understand the potential range (in development space) here? Because the range has grown,” Spaulding said. “If the site somehow restricts the number of units, will they be transparent in how to fix the model?”

In other warrant articles, voters will be asked to consider a $32 million operating budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, with $28.5 million to be raised by taxes.

The town is also seeking approval to appropriate $22 million for a new wastewater treatment plant and $7.8 million for water infrastructure upgrades.

In addition, three candidates are competing to fill two seats on the Selectboard. Christie, who is seeking reelection, is running against two challengers — Carey Callaghan, a member of the Finance Committee, and Jennie Chamberlain, who serves on the Hanover Bike Walk Committee.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216.

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