By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Across the U.S., an “affordable” housing policy war brews between suburban homeowners and promoters of New Urbanism.”
For readers who aren’t familiar with the terminology, the international organization, Congress for the New Urbanism, defines the concept as follows:
New Urbanism is a planning and development approach based on the principles of how cities and towns had been built for the last several centuries: walkable blocks and streets, housing and shopping in close proximity, and accessible public spaces. In other words: New Urbanism focuses on human-scaled urban design.
The principles, articulated in the Charter of the New Urbanism, were developed to offer alternatives to the sprawling, single-use, low-density patterns typical of post-WWII development, which have been shown to inflict negative economic, health, and environmental impacts on communities.
What is New Urbanism?
Read between the lines:
New Urbanists are politically aligned, and preach a vision of a more urban America. Put simply, their mantra is that suburban single family neighborhoods are bad, but densely packed, multi-story, housing (condos and apartments) are good.
If the world were reinvented according to the New Urbanist philosophy, single family homes would be systematically surrounded — and eventually replaced — by multifamily housing in mixed-use neighborhoods. Imagine a world where suburban and rural communities would either disappear or morph into crowded cities.
The fans of “walkable” cities would have Americans give up their cars and SUVs, forced to use public mass transit or bicycles as modes of transportation.
Suburban and small town life
Naturally, the majority of Americans, who do not reside in large cities, don’t take kindly to New Urbanism. (This author included)
We happen to like our green backyards, streets with minimal traffic, safe neighborhoods, and closer proximity to nature. Generally, it’s a quieter, slower pace of life, and much less expensive and stressful than life in the Big City.
So, it’s not surprising that many small town and county governments don’t allow high-rise condominium and apartment towers. Instead, they tend to prefer new construction of single family homes, with a limited number of townhouses and low-rise apartment housing.
Unfortunately, some small governments impose way too many restrictions and permit fees on new construction. That makes land so expensive that most builders cannot make money by building small Cape Cod, one-story, or bungalow homes on quarter-acre lots.
That’s why there’s a shortage of smaller, newer homes in many parts of the country. It also explains why, in many real estate markets, many first-time and down-sizing home buyers have only two affordable choices: smaller, older fix-up homes or newer townhouses.
There should be a middle ground. Home buyers and even renters need more single family detached housing choices that work with their modest household budgets.
The problem should be solved at the local level, but some folks want state government to step in and overrule local housing policy.
New Urbanists push for Housing Appeals Board
It’s no secret. Urban housing developers strive to build the maximum number of housing units on smaller parcels of land. That means attached housing, and building UP instead of spreading out. Urbanists also love to add commercial properties into the mix. Obviously, that’s more profitable for them.
In New Hampshire, the New Urbanism, crowd — mostly real estate developers and planners — is pushing a new bill that would create a state Housing Appeals Board. Supporters of HB 104 say an appeals process is necessary to override local government restrictions that prevent the construction of affordable workforce housing.
But suburbanites and small town folks in the “live free or die” state say that an executive level housing appeals board would usurp local control of development planning. If the state were allowed to veto city and county board restrictions on high-density (multifamily) housing, all for the benefit of urban developers, existing residents would surely experience a higher cost of living and reduced quality of life.
Summary: New Hampshire HB 104
- Calls for a 3-person board under the Attorney General, appointed by the Governor of NH for three-year terms.
- Board members would include one attorney, one retired judge, one Professional Engineer
- Board positions would be part-time, no conflicting employment allowed
- Executive hearing via the Housing Appeals Board would take the place of Judicial process in Superior Court
- The Board would have the authority to request documents and records, subpoena witnesses, and to conduct investigations.
- Non-attorney experts could represent the parties to the Appeal
- Hearings and confirmed decisions would be open to the public
- Decisions and actions of the Board are enforceable by law
- $500 filing fee for appeal
I. In matters within its authority, the board shall have concurrent, appellate jurisdiction with the superior court. A petitioner who elects to bring an action before the board shall waive his or her right to bring such action in the superior court. The board shall retain jurisdiction of any matter originally brought before it.
II. The board shall not accept an appeal if the same or a similar case is pending before the superior court.
The board shall hear and affirm, reverse, or modify, in whole or in part, appeals of final decisions of municipal boards, committees, and commissions regarding questions of housing and housing development only after all local appeals have been completed. The board shall not hear or act on any petition for modification of fees. Disputes over fees shall be resolved in the superior court.
Hearing Procedure. The board shall be bound by the strict rules of evidence adhered to in the superior courts in this state. The board may introduce into evidence any information obtained through its own investigation or an external investigation. The board shall record the proceedings of any hearing before it and shall make such recording available to the public for inspection.