Village residents resist new zoning
Hooksett residents asked to share their vision of the future for Hooksett’s village district at a community forum April 22 were largely in agreement on questions of the preservation of historic buildings and the encouragement of some small business, but conversations on zoning revealed concerns.
The forum was the second of its kind held under the banner of the Hooksett Village Project, which is in the process of studying the potential creation of a Neighborhood Heritage District encompassing the village.
The town received a $30,000 grant from the state Housing Finance Authority through a HUD Community Planning Grant in October to develop the ordinance, which would establish such a district in the Hooksett Village area surrounding town landmarks such as Robie’s Country Store, a National Historic Landmark built in 1907 and a regular stop for presidential candidates. If and when the proposed ordinance is completed, it will appear before the voters on the 2014 town ballot.
Typically, a Neighborhood Heritage District is a zoning mechanism giving towns and their citizens the ability to preserve an area’s historic character as they understand it. It accomplishes this by crafting zoning rules in such a way that demolitions and commercial encroachment may be managed, or even prevented, and smaller businesses and development projects more in keeping with the area’s aesthetic are enabled and encouraged.
Zoning restrictions scorned
What that final action would look like, its scope and whether it should be an ordinance at all are up in the air and firmly contested, as was on display at the April 22 forum. Several residents spoke out strongly against any kind of new zoning, arguing that their decisions regarding the design and look of their homes, such as the design of windows, belonged to no one but themselves.
When participants were asked to identify the issues they felt to be most important, “no new zoning” and the preservation of historic neighborhoods scored roughly even.
Town officials attempted to assure the residents concerned over the possibility of new zoning that the heritage district as the town was now pursuing it, would carry no such regulations. Town Planner Jo Ann Duffy noted that while such regulations had been brought up as a possibility, public response had steered town officials away from the idea.
“I think we’ve heard loud and clear that residents don’t want to see that,” she said. “That will not be criteria in this document. The size of windows, types of windows, color of paint will not be in that document.”
Planning Board Vice Chairman Richard Marshall suggested that some of these points confuse a heritage district with a historic district, which are far more stringent in their regulations.
Roger Hawk of Hawk Planning Resources, the town’s consultant on the project, went so far as to note that the district need not necessarily include regulations at all.
“The idea (of a neighborhood heritage district) is that you create some level of design review for new buildings,” he said. “Whether it is a guideline or regulation is still totally up in the air, and with how far you go in terms of detail … there are whole shades of gray.”
Another point of concern was the diversity of architectural designs in the broader village area would make preserving, or even identifying, some kind of Hooksett Village aesthetic a difficult, if not impossible process. Proposals were made on this point to break the village up into five neighborhoods, or to confine the heritage district to the true core of the village by Robie’s, which is largely composed of pre-1900 architectural designs.
The place of businesses in the district was another major point of discussion. All agreed that major corporations were not welcome in the area, and that some small business presence was desirable, participants could not readily agree on the scope of that presence. There was some talk of utilizing the old town hall for something on the scale of an ice cream shop, and others proposed working with lands off of College Park Drive and around Robie’s to allow for some developments.
The room was in near complete accord on several issues: primarily, that the village is and should remain the civic core of the town, and that the preservation of the area’s historic buildings, such as the old town hall and the lilac bridge, were priorities.