Ossipee–April 24, 2016–While the Ossipee Board of Selectmen is working diligently on many aspects of the town’s future, one subject they want no part of is a built-out survey. Last fall the Ossipee Conservation Commission presented an opportunity to the town to undertake the survey in 2016 at a substantially reduced rate that was supported through a N.H. Department of Environmental Services grant. At the time the selectmen said they would not support it because Green Mountain Conservation Group was connected to the project.
Subsequently the conservation commission went on to raise a petitioned warrant article to see if the town would support the funding. With no endorsement for the article by either the selectmen or the budget committee, the article failed to pass at March Town Meeting.
A built-out survey identifies all open land in town that has the potential to be built on considering current zoning laws and environmental constraints. Using data from the past, the analysis then predicts through a timeline when a town will run out of buildable land, and how densely various areas will be populated. This in turn helps to anticipate the needs for services, provides time to introduce or amend ordinances and laws, and budget accordingly.
As the town prepares for rewriting its Master Plan and zoning ordinances, taking over the water and sewer services, creating a first-ever long term capital improvement plan, and initiating an economic development committee, you may think this survey would be a useful a tool. As Conservation Commission Chairman Ron Adams said, “Land that can be developed, eventually will be. So the whole point of the built-out study is to prepare and plan for needs such as roads, utilities, fire and other services, schools, equipment, vehicles and town employees.”
At its inaugural meeting the Ossipee Economic Development Committee identified the need for an inventory of developable properties so it can begin the process of attracting more business to town. Planning board members have also expressed a need for it A requirement of the Master Plan is to conduct such a survey. One way or another, in some form or other, it seems the survey will be done. The only question is, what will the taxpayers of Ossipee have to pay for it?
Hearing of needs beyond its own, the conservation commission is still pursuing ways in which to finance the survey. Understanding that the selectmen would not support or sign off on a grant-funded solution, they are now looking at other options including a joint contract with another organization.
At this week’s selectmen’s meeting Rick Morgan questioned the legality of the conservation commission’s plans to continue to find a way to do the survey. Did the town’s vote not to fund the built-out survey simply imply taxpayers said no to funding, or were they also saying no to undertaking the survey he wondered. People in the audience suggested it was the former.
Morgan was not so easily persuaded and called for a meeting between the selectmen, conservation commission, planning board and perhaps the state Department of Revenue Administration, before any money was spent towards the survey or any commitments made that couldn’t be backed up.
Ash Fischbein asked the selectmen why they were against doing the built-out survey, to which they responded: bad timing, no need, and dubious intention.
The request for funding and support for the project was brought to the selectmen late last year when the budgeting process had already been completed.
They see no need for a built-out survey, believing that the town’s zoning ordinances provide a way to protect resources and that they don’t want to see too many control measures restricting potential economic growth.
Lastly, they do not trust that the results of the survey will be used in the best interests of the town, nor will they have anything to do with projects associated with the Green Mountain Conservation Group. The selectmen believe GMC was instrumental in obstructing plans for a town beach on the Long Sands area of Lake Ossipee.
Morgan said he read the built-out survey that was done for the town of Freedom. Ultimately he said, it’s all about the concern over phosphorous levels in Lake Ossipee, and how to prevent them through building code restrictions for example. Because Ossipee is built in the hills and all its run off ends up in the lake, he predicted detrimental restrictions could be forthcoming for the town.
Ron Adams responded to that by saying: “Fifty two percent of the town’s taxes are raised from lakeshore properties. If the water quality deteriorates, as could happen without forward planning, then those property values decline. However, the cost of running the town will most likely continue to rise. So the whole town would be required to make up those dollars if that happened. It’s therefore in the town’s economic interest to plan for the future and keep the lake water quality high among other things.”
Selectman Bob Freeman said he feels the same way Morgan does, adding that he doesn’t think the town needs the survey.
Chairman Frank Riley agreed the project was presented to the selectmen too late in the budget cycle. He believes the town’s subdivision regulations are sufficient to guide people on what they can and can’t do with their properties without impacting the lake. He does not want to see any more controls in place than necessary. He queried the benefit of conducting the survey as part of the Master Plan. He recommended looking at the Master Plan first and finding out how the survey would fit into it, rather than conducting the built-out survey and then figuring out how the Master Plan would work with it.
Adams responded that: “The zoning and planning decisions come from our town boards and are then approved, or not, by voters. Furthermore, it is the planning board and ZBA who have the ability to attach requirements to development permits. The Conservation Commission cannot.” All committees need this information to go forward with things the town needs and wants to do. While the town may have ordinances in place that are relative now, they still need to plan long term and for that they need data, historical and projected. That’s what the built-out study would provide, Adams said.