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Pelham votes Saturday on a ban of 55-and-older housing

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 20. 2017 10:29PM
Long Pond Woods is a partially completed 55-and-over community in Pelham. Voters will decide Saturday whether to ban such communities. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/UNION LEADER)
About this series
Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday news report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire's aging population and seeking out solutions.

Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at or (603) 206-7739.

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Pelham voters will decide Saturday whether to ban 55-and-older communities and impose stricter rules on what elderly housing can be built in town.

Proponents argue it’s about keeping the quaintness of the town, while opponents say the changes will mean no future elderly housing for its aging residents.

“There won’t be any more housing stock for widows or for older people. This sickens me,” said Planning Board member Jim Bergeron. “It’s all the newbies in town who say, ‘Shut the gate behind me.’ They want to take all the old people out.”

Bergeron said this ballot question has become a battle over who should be welcomed to town — older people or young families.

Charlene Takesian, fiscal agent for the citizens group Preserve Pelham’s Rural Character, is for the zoning change and says “it’s about density.” She also says “we want to encourage younger people to move into our community, not just older people.”

“If we allow our community to age in population, we won’t have the youth and enthusiasm in our community,” Takesian said.

Saturday’s special town meeting is a re-vote on the issue. The amendment passed in March, but the vote’s legality was challenged by developers; town officials agreed to a re-vote rather than letting the issue go to court.

The zoning change

Pelham, a town of about 13,500 residents on the Massachusetts border, is confronting a demographic change that all of New Hampshire is facing — the rapid aging of its population. Senior Center Director Sara Landry said the number of residents over 50 climbed from 1,830 in 2000 to 4,542 in 2015.

Of its 4,598 housing units, 275 of them in town are designated as 55-and-over, said Town Planner Jeff Gowan.

“We have so many units that are over-55, we feel like we would like to encourage some other types of development,” Takesian. “We feel like we are saturated with them.”

Under the zoning change being voted on Saturday, future 55-plus communities would be banned, but those designated 62 and over would be allowed. Under the federal Fair Housing Act, all residents of a 62-plus unit must meet the age requirement, while only one resident needs to meet the requirement in a 55-plus unit.

Takesian points to a new 55-plus development on Sherburne Road, where the homes have two bedrooms plus bonus rooms and offices that could be used for bedrooms.

“That’s not really over-55 housing,” she said. “That’s not downsizing.”

How dense

The change also increases the minimum land size needed for such a development, doubles the buffer zone around the development to 100 feet, and mandates a clubhouse.

Takesian said the Sherburne Road development as well as another 55-plus development on Nashua Road shows “the envelope is being pushed” by developers trying to get the maximum number of units onto small pieces of land.

“It flies in the face of the character of Pelham,” Takesian said.

Planning Board member Tim Doherty said Takesian’s argument does not make sense. He said increasing the buffer zone means less land to build on; builders would have to squeeze more buildings into a smaller space. He said a 10-acre piece of land has about seven acres of buildable land, but under these rules, there will be only 4.2 to 4.5 acres to build on.

“The buffer zone actually makes it more dense,” he said. “It’s going to look even denser than it is now.”

Both Doherty and Bergeron said there are issues with some of the over-55 developments being built in town, but banning them is not the answer.

“Instead of fixing senior housing, they decided to eliminate it,” Doherty said.

Who’s cheaper?

Bergeron points to the tax benefits of older people versus younger families. He said younger families bring children into the school system, while older people pay the same taxes and use fewer services.

Takesian disagrees, calling the difference in tax impact “nil” between the generations. She said older people carry their own tax burden.

“They burden the fire station. They burden the ambulance. They burden the senior center,” she said. “So the tax impact is nil.”

The town voter’s guide on the issue says the ordinance seeks to “achieve more” elderly housing. Bergeron said it’s the opposite. “There will be no over-62s built in this town,” he said. “No one will want them.”

The special town meeting vote is Saturday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., at Sherburne Hall, Town Offices, 6 Village Green.

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