Residential zoning ordinances to come under focus at May 10 Hanover Town Meeting

This year’s list of ordinances includes four proposals by Dartmouth students, several of which aim to adjust the capacity and tenancy requirements in Hanover rental properties.

by Soleil Gaylord | 5/11/22 8:04pm

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The College's decisions have historically implicated the town of Hanover, including through construction projects and business sales.

by Hannah Li / The Dartmouth

The annual Hanover Town Meeting will take place on Tuesday, May 10 in the Hanover High School gymnasium, where polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters will have the opportunity to decide on 26 articles — four of which have been submitted by Dartmouth students. 

Ten new amendments to Hanover’s zoning ordinance will appear on ballots Tuesday. Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said that this year, Dartmouth students have been “active” in submitting housing-related amendments. Hanover planning, zoning and codes director Rob Houseman echoed Griffin, saying that this was the first time he had seen four student-proposed amendments brought forth in a single year. 

The town meeting and the proposed articles are split into two sections, according to the town warrant. The voting for the first 11 articles is conducted by ballot during the day. Then, during the evening business meeting, the public will have the opportunity to discuss, modify and vote on the remainder of the articles.

Student body president David Millman ’23 said any U.S. citizen that is a registered voter — students included — can vote in Tuesday’s election. He underscored the importance of voting.

“You can make very tangible change in these local elections,” Millman said. 

Zoning Articles

Articles Two through Seven — which Hanover’s Planning Board voted on March 1 to recommend that the town approve — propose various zoning ordinances. These include size limits on solar energy systems, accessory dwelling units and retaining walls. Though the Hanover Planning Board may recommend to approve an article, the legislation is still voted on by the town during the meeting.

Articles Eight through 11, coming via petition from Dartmouth students, address a variety of housing-related concerns. According to Griffin, to propose an amendment a zoning ordinance, one must gather the signatures of 25 registered Hanover voters. 

Article 11, the final student-submitted amendment which the Hanover Planning Board recommended for approval in a 3-2 vote, reintroduces a similar amendment that failed in 2015. The article proposes establishing a new zoning district called the “Main Wheelock District” that will allow for high-density residential development and commercial use along West Wheelock Street. The article would thus ease zoning restrictions to make it less burdensome to build apartments, according to Millman. 

“I wanted to introduce some warrant articles to vote on [in the] town meeting, because after seeing what happened with the housing lottery, and seeing no real progress on the housing crisis in Hanover, I thought it was time to try to get something passed on our own,” Millman said. He added that while the same amendment failed in 2015, this year, with better outreach, he hopes to see the proposal succeed. 

“The capacity increase [would be] quite remarkable,” Millman said. “It really is a win-win for students and the town — this allows for not only more capacity but a much higher standard of living in the area.”

According to Houseman, the changes in Article 11 from its 2015 version are “fairly substantial.” Houseman voiced his concern over various proposed changes, including a 20% increase in building height from 50 to 60 feet. 

“We need to work collectively together to come up with a solution so that all the housing needs are met, not just the student housing,” Houseman said. 

According to Griffin, in a public hearing held on March 1, the Hanover Planning Board voted to recommend that the town meeting approve all six amendments submitted by the planning board as well as the student-submitted Article 11, while voting to recommend that the town meeting disapprove Articles Eight, Nine and 10.

Millman emphasized that while he no longer supports Articles Nine and 10 after an “intentional effort to try to solicit feedback and get support from members of the town,” he hopes to see Article 11 passed.

“Everyone has been involved in its creation — it has wide support across town,” Millman said. “It has a lot of institutional support as well, which is pretty rare for a petition amendment, especially by students.”

Article Eight seeks to amend the definition of “family” — which currently limits residential occupancy to three or fewer unrelated persons — to replace it with “any number of persons related by blood or marriage or adoption” or up to two unrelated adults per bedroom in a single dwelling unit, according to the Town of Hanover’s website. The Hanover Planning Board voted to disapprove this zoning amendment. 

Similarly, Article Nine would modify the definition of “family” to mean a cumulative total of up to one adult person plus one person  per bedroom of a shared dwelling unit, rather than three adults. The article would also allow short term rentals for a total of 90 days per year, among other changes. The Hanover Planning Board also suggested that the town disapprove this zoning amendment. 

Article 10 proposes to remove “ground-mounted solar energy system” and “student residence” from the list of uses permitted by special exception, placing them as “permitted uses” instead. Houseman said that Articles Eight, Nine and 10 present a challenge in that the amendments did not go through the same regulatory process as would a “non-petitioned zoning ordinance,” which he said “could take months and sometimes years.”

Non-Zoning Articles 

Outside of the ten proposed zoning ordinances, voters will select elected officials as well as decide on various budgetary items. 

Article One will allow voters to select candidates for various town officer positions, including a Selectboard member, a trustee of trust funds and a town clerk. Similar to Article One, Article 12 will allow voters to choose various town officers such as a board of assessors, fence viewers and surveyors of wood and timber.

Article 13 will allow voters to decide whether or not to increase the elderly exemption from property taxes. Similarly, Article 14 proposes a modification to the tax exemption for the disabled, while Article 15 seeks to modify a similar exemption for the blind. 

“We are simply mirroring the increase in property value to raise the exemption levels for qualifying income and assets to reflect the impact of inflation,” Griffin said.

Articles 16, 17 and 18 concern appropriations for capital, conservation and land improvements. 

Article 19 proposes the appropriation of $23,000 for funding the construction of a sidewalk segment along Reservoir Road — from the Hemlock Road to the Strong Trail. Griffin said this will make the walk from residential neighborhoods to an elementary school “easier and safer.”

Articles 20 through 26 concern various appropriations for town funds dedicated to road construction, water treatment and police vehicles. 

The business meeting will commence at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the gymnasium of Hanover High School to discuss adoption of the town’s budget, where citizens must attend in person to vote. 

Correction Appended (May 11, 8:10 p.m.): A previous incorrectly referred to David Millman as the student body president. He is the student body president-elect. The article has been updated. 

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