Proposed moratorium to aid town planners

MILFORD – Getting some breathing space from development so Milford can look at the big picture is the idea behind a proposal to halt big new projects for a year.

“(The Planning Board) has been struggling with this for a year and a half, two years. They just don’t have time to get it done,” said Town Planner Bill Parker.

The board is proposing a one-year moratorium on all but the smallest developments so that officials can update the town’s master plan and prepare a long-term response, perhaps incorporating such things as mandatory phase-in of subdivisions or a yearly cap on building permits.

“A temporary moratorium is a real standard tool in planning, when you’re considering something that changes the playing field,” said Roger Hunt, senior land use planner with the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, who has worked with government planners in four states. It has two purposes, he said: It prevents developments from being thrown together to beat a deadline, and it reduces local officials’ day-to-day workload so they can put together long-term plans.

“It can give time to make sure you don’t make things worse. You don’t want unintended consequences,” Hunt said.

About five towns in the state have such moratoriums in place at the moment, according to the state Office of Energy and Planning.

The moratorium is officially called an Interim Growth Management Regulation, allowed under state law (RSA 674:23).

Like most towns in the region, Milford has been seeing more residential growth than many people here would like. The number of single-family building permits issued over the past four years – 322 – is greater than in any similar period since 1986-1989, a time when many people feel housing development was out of control.

Concern about development is the main reason the town is asking voters to pay $2.3 million to buy 445 acres off Mile Slip Road in southwest Milford – one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land left in town.

Milford has an extra complication from its large number of apartment complexes and other multi-family housing, which tend to put more strain on local services such as schools and police departments.

In 2003, 44 percent of Milford’s units were multi-family, more than any nearby community except Nashua.

In Amherst, by contrast, just 7.2 percent of housing units are multi-housing, while in Mason, the figure is a minuscule 1 percent.

All of this is why Milford would like to develop a permanent growth management ordinance.

“Milford increasingly stands out as a target for unusual residential development . . . because, in contrast to the majority of surrounding communities, it has not yet adopted a growth management policy,” said a draft Planning Board report advocating the moratorium, prepared after a finding-of-fact meeting Nov. 9.

State data shows that 41 communities in the state have some sort of growth management ordinance in place.

As allowed under state law, the moratorium would have to be approved by a majority of voters at Town Meeting. It would require a one-year wait in any developments that have not proceeded to the stage of notifying abutting landowners about Planning Board hearings by later this week.

Minor subdivisions – in which no more than two new lots are created – could still go forward, as could small projects such as lot-line adjustments.