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Pelham vote banning over-55 housing hits home

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 25. 2017 8:09PM
Long Pond Woods is a partially completed 55-and-older community in Pelham. Voters decided Saturday to ban such communities. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/UNION LEADER)

PELHAM — This town just took a big step toward retaining its quaint character, according to supporters of a zoning change ballot vote, while opponents say the vote amounts to a big sign that reads “seniors not welcome.”

For the second time in four months, Pelham voters approved a zoning change to outlaw 55-and-older communities. The final outcome of Saturday’s vote was 828 for the ordinance and 326 against.

Another 115 turned out to vote, but did not choose sides. Among those who cast ballots, 72 percent were for the ban.

The outcome was similar to a vote at March town meeting. This second vote was ordered after town officials agreed that planners had failed to notify before the vote the proper number of residents who would be affected by the zoning change.

“I’m gratified that more than 1,200 people showed up to vote on a quiet Saturday, the first one of the summer. And support for this was the same as it had been in March,” said Charlene Takesian, a leader in the campaign for the ban.

The zoning issue created a raging debate in the community between advocates who said the town was losing its character due to the proliferation of over-55 developments, and opponents who maintained the town was closing off affordable living options for senior citizens.

“I guess the people of Pelham have spoken, and seniors had better start looking for another place to live,” said Planning Board member Tim Doherty, who opposed the change. “I simply have always felt that we should allow all forms of housing to occur in a community and let the free market decide which options are going to take place.”

Proponents maintained the change was needed because these developments allow too much density in housing projects, where two people could literally hold hands from their windows in adjoining houses.

A new 55-and-older community is now in construction off Nashua Road, while another was recently completed on Sherburne Road.

The zoning change restricts such cluster housing in the future to people 62-and-over. It also increases the minimum land size required for such developments from 10,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet and doubles the buffer zones around each building from 50 feet to 100 feet.

Opponents of the change claim the community is engaging in ageism, aimed at keeping elderly out of town in hopes of attracting younger families to keep school buildings filled.

They also argued the new rules would increase density in 62-and-over clustered housing because the increased buffer zones would leave less land to build on.

Doherty and fellow Planning Board member Jim Bergeron said the changes were so restrictive that no future senior housing would be built in town.

Injunction triggers vote

Voters in March overwhelmingly approved the change, but builders James W. Petersen and David A. Mendes sought an injunction to block it.

They argued — and the town agreed — that Town Planner Jeff Gowan failed to notify the proper number of residents affected by the change before the vote. Gowan said he misinterpreted a new law on notifications.

The two sides struck an agreement that allowed for the second vote Saturday, although the issue may still not be settled.

Doherty said there may be a problem with Saturday’s vote. He said the question put to voters called for “amending” the 55-and-over zoning rules on the books. He believes the change doesn’t amend the ordinance it, but repeals it. State law prohibits repealing a law “by amending it to death,” Doherty said.


Union Leader staff writer Gretchen Grosky contributed to this report.

Social issues Local and County Government Pelham

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