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>  News Releases >   2003 >   April

College opposes zoning proposals

Posted 04/30/03

Articles 8, 9, 10 on Hanover Town Meeting warrant

During day-long Town Meeting voting on Tuesday, May 13, Hanover residents will decide on three proposed amendments to the town zoning ordinance that represent a major departure from the tradition of joint efforts between the College, the town government and town residents to find mutually acceptable approaches to facilities planning.

The proposed amendments listed on the warrant as Articles 8, 9 and 10 were added to the ballot by petition from a group of Hanover residents. They would affect all institutional facilities planned in town for areas where the "Institutional Zone" (or I-Zone) is within 300 feet of the Residential zone, imposing new height and setback requirements. (View the complete warrant at the Town of Hanover's website)

In recent years, as Dartmouth and the town of Hanover have pursued planning processes designed to meet future facilities needs, attention has focused on the longstanding interdependence of the College, the town and the local residents. The three have worked together for many decades to find ways to move forward while maintaining a unique character for the area.

The College has been a leading player in a downtown Hanover "visioning" process, offered the town's Howe Library a new location on Dartmouth-owned property when the library was considering relocating, and helped purchase property to preserve the Mink Brook natural area. And just last summer, Dartmouth joined the Dresden School District and the Town of Hanover in a partnership that will make possible a renovated Hanover High School and a new Richmond Middle School if school district voters approve a proposal put forward by the three organizations.

"The histories of Hanover and Dartmouth have been intertwined since our earliest days," said James Wright, President of Dartmouth. "No organization has a longer-term stake in the quality and strength of the Upper Valley than does Dartmouth. When we have disagreed, we have come together to resolve our differences. These zoning proposals run counter to the spirit of collaboration that has made Hanover the strong, vibrant, attractive place that it is."

Hanover Planning Board recommends against proposed amendments
In a meeting last month, the Hanover Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend that voters defeat the amendments. The board noted that the proponents did not review their proposals with town staff, I-Zone property owners such as the school district and the College, and the greater community, and concluded that the proposals' effects were too uncertain to merit support.

In comments regarding the proposed zoning amendments that Provost Barry Scherr submitted to the Planning Board on behalf of the College, Scherr agreed that the proposals should be defeated, arguing that they represent a hastily conceived approach to zoning that could interfere with the College's efforts to preserve green space, make maximum use of existing facilities that have never been deemed problematic, provide necessary parking on or near campus, and adapt to the town master plan now in development.

"The proposed amendments would constrain Dartmouth from meeting its facilities needs in a manner that the College believes would best preserveboth its existing character and that of the town," Scherr said after the planning board vote. "But more importantly, they represent an approach that has not benefited from the expertise that town planners have to offer, and that does not give the Planning Board and the public the time necessary to properly understand and evaluate these proposals or appropriate alternatives that might accomplish similar goals."

In his letter to the Planning Board, Scherr wrote, "The petitioned amendments reflect a 'one size fits all' approach and run counter to existing patterns of use that have proven to be functional and beneficial. The amendments would make it harder for the community and Dartmouth to address common problems most effectively and to balance competing priorities."

For instance, the proposed amendments would have the unintended — and undesirable — consequence of requiring the College to build more densely and leave less open space on campus. Over time, this will curtail the College's ability to create and maintain the interior open spaces, lanes, and views that serve to make the campus so attractive. The Life Sciences building the College hopes to propose near the medical school provides an example of this problem. Buildings lower in height will require larger "footprints," so the proposed amendments would mean that Dartmouth would need to expand the footprint of the building to get the same gross square footage, resulting in less open area around the building.

Also, if adopted, the amendments would impair the ability of Dartmouth and other Institutional District owners (such as the public schools in Hanover and some of the churches) to address the parking needs that have been the focus of so much community effort. Areas along side and rear setbacks in the Institutional District, which currently are available for surface parking lots, no longer would be. This would make the provision of adequate, off-street parking more difficult to achieve.

"Overall," says Scherr, "the petitioned amendments represent an overly broad-brush approach to planning and ignore existing patterns of use. They would also have real aesthetic and practical consequences for the College, and, therefore, for the community."

Amendments would make more than 20 Dartmouth facilities nonconforming
The provost also noted that a number of existing facilities at Dartmouth would be made "nonconforming" by the proposed height and setback amendments.

Non-conforming means these facilities could not have been built had the amendments been in effect at the time of their construction. It also means that if the amendments are passed these facilities could not be expanded without special exceptions to the zoning ordinance; and that no similar facilities could be built in the areas they now occupy.

"The problems posed by the petitioners' uniform restrictions approach are highlighted by the way that they would cause many good existing uses to become nonconforming," Scherr wrote to the Planning Board. "If these proposals are adopted, more than 20 of Dartmouth's existing buildings, as well as a number of parking lots, would become nonconforming. The same might be true with respect to other owners' Institutional District properties."

Facilities that would suddenly become nonconforming include: Memorial Stadium, Berry Gymnasium and McCulloch Residence Hall off the intersection of Wheelock and Park Streets; Byrne Hall and Whittemore Hall at the Tuck School; Choate House, the Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies House, the Native American House and Sherman House on North Main Street; and parking lots around the Hanover Country Club, near Thayer Dining Hall, at Thompson Arena and Leverone Field House, at Berry Gymnasium and along Maynard Street.

Scherr wrote, " . . . the fact that so many buildings that have served the College well and have not been problematic to the community would be deemed nonconforming by the proposed guidelines makes us question the appropriateness of these changes."

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