Divide between students, town will come under focus at July 13 Hanover Town Meeting
Highlights of Tuesday’s meeting include potential changes to Hanover zoning laws, an undergraduate student running for Selectboard and a petition to remove the Town Manager position.
Due to the pandemic, the Hanover Selectboard delayed the Town Hall Meeting until July for the second consecutive year in order to hold the meeting outside.
The annual Hanover Town Meeting will be held in the Dewey Field Lot on Tuesday, July 13 from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., following a two-month delay due to the pandemic. This is the second consecutive year that both parts of the meeting — the official voting period and the business meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. — have been delayed from May until July and held outdoors.
According to town clerk Betsy McClain, the majority of votes were cast via absentee ballots at last year’s meeting, but this year, the town is expecting more in-person voting because of relaxed public health restrictions. She added that she hopes that Hanover’s high vaccination rate will make town residents more comfortable to come outdoors and vote.
McClain noted that Dartmouth students are eligible to vote at the town meeting if they have previously registered to vote in Hanover; students are eligible to register to vote if they can prove they live in Hanover, are American citizens and are at least 18 years old. Same-day voter registration will be available to elect town officers during the official meeting, but voters must be registered by 7 p.m. if they wish to cast a ballot on town ordinances at the business meeting.
During the official ballot voting period, town residents will vote on the first five articles, which concern town officer elections, zoning ordinances and the town manager plan. During the business meeting, residents will vote on the remaining sixteen articles, which cover issues ranging from the town budget and a plan for electricity aggregation to state redistricting following the 2020 census. According to town manager Julia Griffin, state law requires that town elections and administrative changes, as well as zoning ordinances, be voted on during the official meeting.
Article One: election of town officers
Article One focuses on the election of town officers — one Etna Library trustee, one Trustee of Trust Funds and two Selectboard members. While Etna Library trustee Elizabeth Cornell and Trustee of Trust Funds Judson Pierson Jr. are running for re-election unopposed, the Selectboard election is contested between three candidates: incumbents Nancy Carter and Joanna Whitcomb and first-time candidate David Millman ’23.
Millman’s campaign has centered on student issues like housing and student representation in town governance, many of which have come under deeper scrutiny over the past year.
“The goal of my campaign is to be able to bridge this divide between what we’ve seen has been made during the pandemic as two separate communities, the student body and the town of Hanover,” said Millman.
Though she shares Millman’s focus on Hanover’s housing shortage, Carter emphasized her previous Selectboard experience in her campaign — she is currently running for her third three-year term, making her the most experienced of the candidates.
“Running a town is not very glamorous,” she said. “But if you talk to a Dartmouth student who’s trying to make her way between buildings and has to go through the town streets and slips and slides in the winter, it really is a big deal whether or not the sidewalk is clear. I bring a good perspective in terms of how many years it takes to have both the understanding and the patience for these issues, both large and small, in town governance.”
Whitcomb said that her campaign has focused on maintaining the best qualities of the Hanover community.
“My signature campaign platform is to make sure that the town and the College create and support a great community, both to work, play, and study — to be a student [or] to be a resident,” she said. “I think it’s important that we realize that we are a town and [a] community, and that we need to work together to keep it as special as it is. So to me, my platform is to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for all.”
Articles Two, Three and Four: amendments to the Hanover Zoning Ordinance
Articles Two, Three and Four focus on amendments to the Hanover Zoning Ordinance. Article Four, which would “amend the definition of family to include a number of people (not related by blood or marriage or adoption) not to exceed two adult persons per bedroom occupying a single dwelling unit,” per the warrant for the Town Meeting, has proven particularly divisive between students and full-time residents. The Hanover Planning Board voted to recommend that the Town Meeting disapprove Article Four and retain the current definition of “family,” which allows for only three unrelated adults per residence.
Whitcomb said that Article Four, which has become a key point in the Selectboard election, is “a very bad article” because it would “change the character of all our residential properties in the town.”
“We need to take on housing and affordability and availability as a community-wide effort, and this zoning amendment does not address that,” she said.
Similarly, Carter is opposed to Article Four because she is “not in favor of any changes that will have an impact on our current Hanover ordinance,” citing issues like overcrowded student housing and Hanover’s lack of parking and adequate public transit.
“The reality is that almost everybody comes [to Hanover] with a car, and it is the cars and the parking and the density of parking in our residential neighborhoods that has an even greater impact,” Carter said. “I really wish that we had better mass transit, that our mass transit operated into the night, that it operated into the weekends — I think that that's a real shortcoming, and I think that that's one of the things that Hanover and the College ought to start talking about.”
Millman, however, favors the adoption of Article Four, calling the current family ordinance an “archaic definition” that is “quite obviously targeting students.”
“Not expanding [housing] capacity is a recipe for disaster,” he said. “When you look at the situation with affordable housing in the Upper Valley, you look at the recent housing lottery with  students still on the waitlist, with those accepting the lottery with the incentive to come into the rental housing market. Not having any plans for that is an oversight by the College and the town.”
Article Two would expand the definition of “family” to include civil unions, foster care families and other “custodial relationships,” while also explicitly excluding groups of more than three college students that are not related by blood or marriage. Article Three would amend the zoning map to include the duplex at 59 and 61 Lyme Road in the Residence and Office zoning district.
Article Five: approval of the town manager plan
Article Five concerns residents’ approval of the town manager plan, under which Griffin, an unelected and professionally trained town employee, oversees the day-to-day operations of Hanover. Should the Town meeting vote no on the article, which was proposed by a petition started by Kevin Berghuis ’23, this responsibility would fall to the Selectboard. The Selectboard voted unanimously to recommend that the Town Meeting vote “yes” on Article Five, and Millman also supports the continuation of the town manager position. Berghuis, a senior editor of The Dartmouth Review, did not respond to multiple requests for comment except to clarify via email that the article “is not a Dartmouth Review initiative.”
Griffin said that the article “reflects perhaps a lack of understanding of the role of a town manager, not of this particular town manager, but a town manager,” noting that the town manager’s office oversees only daily town operations and defers to the Selectboard for all policy-related matters.
“The reason the town manager plan was created in New Hampshire was that as towns grew and their operations became more complex, as legal requirements increased, all elements of managing an organization of this size just over time become more complicated, because our world becomes more complex and complicated,” she said. “There was a recognition that you need someone who’s a trained municipal manager — not necessarily just an elected official or set of elected officials, but a trained individual to manage the day-to-day operations of the town.”
Griffin also noted that her office has worked extensively on Article Eighteen, which, if approved, would launch Hanover Community Power, an initiative to pool Hanover’s electricity spending with other participating communities in the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire. In turn, the CPCNH would contract with suppliers to provide more climate-friendly electricity, including completely green energy, at favorable prices. Griffin said that Hanover pledged in 2017 to transition to 100% green energy by 2030, so membership in the CPCNH would be “a pretty exciting opportunity for the community.” The Selectboard voted unanimously to recommend that the town approve the measure at the Town Meeting.