City hires consultant to study persistent housing challenges
Claremont rental housing is in rough shape
By PATRICK ADRIAN
Special to The Eagle Times
CLAREMONT — Recognizing it is important to improve Claremont’s overall housing stock, city planners renewed efforts this year to improve its housing regulations to facilitate new growth. Using $25,000 in grant funds, the city recently hired the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission to assess Claremont’s housing regulations and recommend updates.
Olivia Uyizeye, a consultant with the regional commission, met with the Claremont Planning Board Monday night to discuss the initial project work, which will gather community input about housing through public outreach and surveys.
“We really want to hit on the diverse segments of the community,” Uyizeye said, “We’ll be looking at businesses, employers, seniors, residents, employees who might work here but not live here.”
The purpose of community surveying is two-fold, Uyizeye told the board. The first is to further inform the regulatory review, in order to design regulations to people’s interests and needs. Information sought from the public includes the housing challenges they find, why people like living in Claremont, and why others choose to live outside the city.
The second purpose of outreach is to engage the community in the housing discussion, educate and inform people about housing possibilities or options, such as tiny houses or the differences between townhouses and condominiums, Uyizeye said.
“Part of our outreach strategy will have surveys but also a presentation setup,” she said.
Claremont hosted a similar public discussion about housing in June. The event drew over 40 attendees. Participants split up into small discussion groups. Several common issues identified by groups included a need for more variety in affordable housing options for young adults and families; improving the quality and appearance of the city’s existing housing stock; and easing zoning and regulations for homeowners and landlords to renovate their buildings.
Uzizeye said they will conduct surveys at their presentation booth at Claremont’s Fall Festival and Chili Cook-off on Oct. 6. She also told the board that, despite missing the registration deadline, she will contact organizers of Valley Regional Hospital’s Wellness Fair, which takes place this Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, about possible inclusion.
Planning board members, while appreciative of the community input gathering, also stressed the importance of collecting other informational data for the regulatory review, such as regulatory challenges outside the city’s jurisdiction or non-regulatory barriers to new construction projects.
Nick Koloski, city council representative to the planning board, wanted to see a study addressing financial deterrents to building houses, such as cost of a site plan, connecting to water or sewer lines, or access to lending programs.
“ I appreciate finding out what we have in the community, but I want to know why more isn’t coming into the community,” Koloski told Uyizeye.
Board member Charlene Lovett asked how this new regulatory project would incorporate priorities identified during previous initiatives, such as one in 2007 that attempted to update Claremont’s housing regulations, but which ultimately failed to be adopted.
City Planner Mike McCrory said that the group will receive all the baseline data from studies and forums completed to data, but study of past regulatory projects will depend on its practicality.
“In 2007 there were some amendments to subdivision regulations that failed to pass, and the lessons learned from that process will be useful here,” McCrory said. “The specific items that might be hidden there might not be as relevant as what we might find in more recent survey responses.”
To fund a regulatory consultant, Claremont received a New Hampshire Municipal Technical Assistance Grant of $20,000. Grant approval required a matching fund of $5,000, which Claremont received from the Thomas W. Haas Fund, which was facilitated by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation.
The city schedules the regulatory project to run through next spring, with public hearings and possible adoption of the amendments to begin in February.