Bill seeks study of growth management efforts

State lawmakers are hoping to study the single issue that dominates the agendas of municipalities across the state: residential growth control.

House Bill 1529, sponsored by Rep. Betsey Patten, R-Moultonborough, sets up a committee of representatives and senators to study how towns use impact fees, capital improvement plans, building moratoriums, master plans, quotas on building permits and interim growth management ordinances.

Half a dozen lobbyists for towns and builders alike praised the goal of bringing all the players together to solve a problem that spawns much litigation. They advised turning the committee into a commission with a wide range of views, but Patten preferred a panel whose membership is at least a majority of lawmakers.

“It can be a problem if a commission has more private members, and they disagree with the lawmakers,” Patten said.

Kendall Buck, vice president of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of New Hampshire, testified that 47 towns already slow down their growth with clear results. The industry took out permits last year for 7,699 housing units, a 14 percent drop from 2004, but the estimated need was for 8,700 units.

“We all understand that when you restrict supply of a product through regulation, you affect the price of that product,” Buck said.

David Priest, director of the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission, suggested a broad membership for the study. He said eight of his 13 member towns have enacted growth control rules.

“Some are successful. All have been challenged. The majority have been upheld,” Priest said. “Some have tried to stop future development without updating their master plans and capital improvement plans or doing a comprehensive study.”

Paul Morin wears several hats in the debate: member of the home builders group, planning board member and planning commission member. “A growth management ordinance suspends property rights,” Morin said. “A lot of towns are clipping and pasting their wording from other towns instead of identifying their own problems and tailoring their solutions.”

Jane Law of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority said median home prices have climbed to $240,000, beyond the reach of many middle-income workers. Her agency allots nearly $30 million a year in state and federal funds to subsidize low-income rentals and homes.

“If a lot costs $100,000, the builder needs to put up a $300,000 or $400,000 house,” she said in an interview. “We oppose sprawl as much as anyone, but studies show those prices are costing the economy 2,800 new jobs per year.”

Senate Majority Leader Bob Clegg, R-Hudson, said towns know how to balance their competing needs for open space and affordable housing.

“The question is whether they want to,” he said. — CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS SERVICE

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