Dover Resident Interview

by Michelle McDonald | Feb 26th, 2016 | Leave a comment

So, we heard from the our Plan NH Member, City of Dover, but what about a resident? Meet Tina Corbett, Dover resident for the past 5 years.tina corbett

Plan NH: What have you seen change over the years? 

TC: I’ve seen a lot of improvements to downtown, a lot of restaurants and stores. It’s a really nice city. Where I live, I can walk to downtown.

Plan NH: What is your favorite thing about living in Dover?

TC: One of my favorite things is the Dover Long Hill Dog Park. I go there every day with my dog, when weather permits. If the park wasn’t there, my dog wouldn’t have anywhere to run! I have met so many great people there, too. Residents, and others from other places, love the park. Also it is great to see some residents playing Cricket games there in the summer.

Plan NH: One thing you’d like to see change? 

TC: Well… there is a lot of dog poop left on my street and the kids go to play in the park nearby! In the dog park, everyone is fine with picking up, but I wish everyone would pick up after their dogs in town. I hope they know it doesn’t go away and it’s gross!

Plan NH: What makes your community a vibrant village?

TC: The old mill downtown, the waterfall and the river with the trail. It just is a vibrant village. It’s very nice and very clean. The Children’s Museum and the Henry Law Park are great.  The whole area down there [downtown] is so nice. The Children’s Museum was a great addition to Dover.

other mill

Thanks Tina, it was so fun interviewing! Do you want to tell us about your community? contact us: [email protected]

 

Interview with Plan NH Member: The City of Dover

by Michelle McDonald | Feb 26th, 2016 | Leave a comment

Member Highlight- Interview with The City of Dover| Chris Parker is in his 19th year of working for the City of Dover. After working in various roles he was named City Planner in 2007 and serves as Assistant Manager now. But, Chris doesn’t think of Dover as is work place, it’s his home. 

Plan NH: What’s been happening in town? What’s changed over your time here? Dover_mural

CP: I have lived here for a long time. I don’t think about what has changed since 97, while working, but I look at what’s changed since I’ve been a kid. The community volunteerism and engagement have been the same [in a good way]. But, there is more opportunity and more diversity now–diverse community in economics and homes. We have the Liberty Mutuals as well as the Mom & Pop shops. We have the “McMansions” and unique apartments in the mill. And, over the past 5 years, people have embraced multi-family housing, and have embraced that housing being on top of coffee shops and businesses.

Dover has been leveraging the market and bridging the gaps, and has made decisions that took hold in 2007 chapter master plan, to embrace the downtown. We recognize the historical assets and reinforce that downtown is the way and where to build. We promote the idea that if you provide opportunity for people to live downtown, you will provide a lot of opportunity.

Some odd stats, Dover has more mass transit opportunities than anywhere in the state. Before they completed the Downeaster between Portland and Boston, Dover was the only station directly downtown surrounded by full services and attractions. I’m glad my predecessors fought for the station.

We encourage citizen leadership and civic engagement on regional and state level. We do a local engagement series in the fall to involve people with the municipality and on an economic level.

We don’t want to be Portsmouth or other neighboring communities, but looked at what they have and thought about what could happen in Dover.

Plan NH: What else makes your community dynamic and vibrant?

CP: We are unique with high quality amenities. And, there is a very strong sense of community and pride of the downtown. People like how it works. There is diversity in types of business, and there could always be more and more that are different. People like using the downtown, where you can buy a hammer and milk. We have figured out a way to have a tourism draw and a vibrant restaurant scene. And, have a reality check that you can go to the grocery store while downtown.

Plan NH: We have heard from a lot of people, Dover is transforming in a positive way. What would you say helped Dover transform from the old to the new?

CP: There is a very thoughtful, progressive demographic here. One benefit in [Dover’s] planning community is we have an open-minded constituency. People aren’t afraid of density in downtown or Accessory Dwelling Units or electric vehicle charging stations.

Plan NH: We noticed recently you tweeted, calling for opinion of transportation options from community members. What feedback did you get?

CP: We got about 150 responses with cohesive answers. A lot of drivers deal with congestion downtown and congestion at exit 7. The most outstanding aspects of the survey were the very low response on who uses the bus, but the fact people applauded having the bus and are willing to pay for it.

Plan NH: What about the renovation of the mills? How has that impacted community? There are apartment buildings and restaurants. We even noticed Dell. What was the before and after like?Dover Mills

CP: The mill life-cycle is an interesting concept. In the 1820’s it was an economic engine of one sort. In 1943, the City took control of it until the 1980’s. We looked at it from a vibrancy perspective, and thought the only way to have vibrant downtown is to have people living downtown. We looked at density and decided working parameters were needed in the downtown. There is so much character there. The mills have commercial potential, but commercial spaces don’t tend to pay for themselves. If you are a commercial business owner, landlords subsidize it. Mill owner can keep Dell there by offsetting rent cost balance using the economies of scale.

Plan NH: What challenges are faced within the City?

CP: One of the biggest is demographic shift. People who grew up here, who want the past, have different expectations of the community. Also, we face the opioid challenge in the community, like state and federal.

One challenge of being the oldest community in the state is that we don’t have much undeveloped land left. Most parcels have been through development once and will be redeveloped. Pro or con, it’s a challenge.

Also it is challenging maintaining the diversity. We don’t want all mobile homes and we don’t want all Mom & Pop shops. We want diversity, but the market drives so much. We want Dover to remain attractive and affordable.

Plan NH: What advice could you offer to other NH mill towns?

CP: Keep in mind that the shell of the building is most important part. What you see is the active mill, what’s inside is economic. You should be encouraging the adaptive reuse of the mills. There are things that prevent adaptive reuse, like safety, but you need to keep an open mind and relax density requirements. It pays off by adding more people and lowering the development cost, and it gets the tax development increase.

You need to help provide affordable housing. Someone needs to be able to go through all of the “home-changes” in one community. A lot of people in the mills are not fresh out of college they are the adults who had a house and now have downsized.

Plan NH: Is Dover planning for change over the next decades? If yes how?

CP: The biggest way is to continually update and review the Master Plan and Strategic Plan. We constantly keep our longer plan in mind. Also, we try to keep a flat infrastructure budget, keeping our roads maintained and not having financial spikes as we put out fires. Financially, the exception right now is the plan for a new high school. Continually planning long-range helps the impact because the plan is constantly being reviewed.

Plan NH: What would you recommend if someone were to visit Dover? What cultural and social assets are there to visit?

CP: I would tell people to park and go downtown. I think you’ll be able to see something you like. I would tell them to go to William Pond outside of town. More diversity in Dover: there is plenty of rural. The conservation commission does a great job protecting resources. Their work reinforces the importance in concentrating development, much of the rural portion of the community has been persevered.

What does it mean to you to be a Plan NH member? I think Plan NH is a great envoy that the built environment impacts the natural and vice versa. It offers educational opportunities and advocacy opportunities for people to learn about the value of the built environment and mix uses in the “village.” Also, the people in the group are very accessible and happy to talk about issues at hand.

What would you like to continue to see for Plan NH? Plan needs to continue to broaden its appeal. I would like to see APA partnerships or with OEP, and form partnership with other organizations. I would like to continue to see [Plan NH] forge relationships with other natural collaborators. And, be proud of what it does.

What would you like to see for the State? The state needs to invest in statewide planning activities. Due to changing demographic and volatility of the economy, we need to have strong statewide planning advocacy.

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Now, check my interview with Dover resident, Tina: HERE.

New Hampshire “Middle-Child” Towns

by Guest Blogger | Feb 16th, 2016 | Leave a comment

“New Hampshire ‘Middle-Child’ Towns” by Plan NH Board President, Rob Dapice

I recently watched a TEDX talk by UNH Rural Extension employee Geoff Sewake (watch it HERE) on the power of rural attractiveness for small communities like the one where he lives in North Haverhill. I recommend the talk. It got me thinking about my own town.

As Geoff points out, people in the North Country, particularly those in communities with populations that are aging and shrinking, could do well by welcoming young adults who are attracted to those places, or those who have an existing connection to these communities, in order to make them more likely to stay.

He repeats “hey, hello, what’s up” as a means of emphasizing how informal this welcoming approach can be. He discusses how young adults can really contribute and make a difference in these communities that have been so depleted by outmigration. And, how showing up to two meetings in a row, for just about any board or committee, will likely result in their being invited to join.

I have lived for five years in Hopkinton, a town of 5,600 just west of Concord. Hopkinton is somewhere near the middle (demographically and geographically) of state trends. Hopkinton and many other communities in New Hampshire are expected to have approximately stagnant populations. I liken our situation to that of the middle child: not as outstanding as the first born and not as one might think. No explosive growth. No ominous decline. A stable population should make everyone happy. No problem, right?

hopkintonbridge
photo: wikimedia commons

In middle child communities like this one, the question is not so much “will we disappear” or “will we be overwhelmed” but the more complicated and touchy “who are we and who do we want to be?”. This is something that Plan NH Executive Director Robin Leblanc touches on when she says frequently “Communities in our state are so used to planning for growth; they need to start planning for change.”

To illustrate this, observe that certain communities in our state’s southern tier seem to still be booming. For example, Stratham has grown 14% between 2000 and 2010. Then, consider the population of Coos County that has remained virtually unchanged during that same time period and is predicted by the OEP to shrink over the next 30 years. The overall feeling of impending growth or decline makes up an essential backdrop that informs how many citizens are inclined to think about their communities. This shapes discussions and decisions on school budgets, zoning, and economic development.

Hopkintonsdsign
photo: www.hopkintonschools.org

Hopkinton has the seventh highest property tax rate in the state and has historically had higher taxes than neighboring towns which mostly seem to either have a stronger commercial tax base, a less costly school system, or both. Combined with the reality of declining school enrollments over the past decade, this has made the annual school budget rather contentious.

There are lots of good people involved in the perennial debate over school spending in Hopkinton and the details of what might be cut and what should be cut are not important here. I find the ways in which debaters on both sides seem to bypass each other with arguments interesting. They find their personal arguments compelling, but their reasoning can ring hollow among those whom they are trying to convince.

One frequently cited consequence of a high tax rate is that it will result in more people moving out of town. Assuming the high tax rate is the result of an expensive and well-regarded school system, as is the case in my town, it will also attract in-migration among families who move to town for the school system. This group of new residents who are attracted by the schools certainly includes, but is not limited to, families led by wealthy professionals.

Those who favor a higher school budget often invoke the testimony of other young families who have chosen Hopkinton because of the good school system. My family constitutes a data point in that argument. Those who favor a lower school budget in order to reduce taxes prefer to cite examples of people they have known who have left town because of the taxes. I know a few of the people; they are not imaginary. In some cases, they vacate homes that are then occupied by young-professional families whose stories will be used to justify our current approach to budgeting.

Should town policy favor longtime residents on fixed incomes to ensure that the community retains its character? Or should it be crafted to draw enough younger and wealthier people to town so that our town can buck the demographic trends of stagnation/decline? Of course, there is no easy answer.

I grew up in a town that has been so overwhelmed by rich people that I feel like it has become unrecognizable in the two decades since I left; it is not an accident that I chose not to return to it when I moved back to New England. If we continue down the road of high-performance, high-cost schools without restraint, we will become another Concord, Massachusetts in a decade or two; people will come for the schools and will be seen hammering the “For Sale” signs into their front yard the day after high school graduation.

However, the schools are a real attraction for Hopkinton. Like every New Hampshire town that depends on volunteers to keep the machinery working, Hopkinton is a better town for its tireless volunteers. Many of these volunteers were attracted to Hopkinton because of the school system. The School Board and the Superintendent deserve credit, in my opinion, for presenting a conservative and responsible school budget.

But the school budget is not the point here. The point is we all need to listen to each other. If you are preparing to make an argument that is incredibly resonant with you—about how you and your friends all moved to town because of the great schools, stop for a moment. Consider how your argument might sound to someone whose longtime friend and neighbor just moved out. And, to be fair to my demographic peers, if you are getting ready to stand up at a public meeting and tell those of us who want to improve their school system that they should move to Massachusetts, be respectful of the fact that not everyone who loves New Hampshire shares an identical philosophy.

Of course, school funding is an incredibly contentious issue in New Hampshire, especially its middle-child towns; I think that listing the lawsuits over state funding of education in the past 20 years would make for a longer document than this essay. But that is a topic for another day.

HopkintonNH_TownHall