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