language or experience help needed to persuade Planning Board
From: Thomas Lofft (
Date: Sat, 12 Dec 2009 17:03:47 -0800 (PST)



I have always promoted the "Co" in cohousing as meaning collaborative.  
Collaborating with the present 1800 residents (meaning the number of residents, 
not necessarily their 17th century mentality) is part of the solution. 


As Sharon Villines indicated, that certainly means getting an understanding of 
the values and norms of the existing community, which, admittedly, may appear 
to be unreasonable. 


As far as zoning and land use planning go, professionally the community norms 
should all be outlined in the Comprehensive Plan, which leads to the Zoning, 
which along with the development regulations allows you to know what the 
constraints are for your site plan and subdivision.  Of course, there may well 
be multiple underlying ethics that will never be spelled out in the code books, 
whether you want to identify them as fear or bigotry or anything else.


Typically, we find that developers run into opposition of two kinds: 

1) The NIMBY's: Not in My Backyard. "I'm not against (multi-family), but this 
just isn't the place for it in this community..."; and 

2) The CAVE-men: Citizens Against Virtually Everything: "We have just enough of 
everything we need here and we don't want anything different."


But every community wants something they still don't have and if you can show 
that your proposal can/will bring one or more of those factors to the 
community, without bringing any of the things they really fear most, whatever 
those may be, it should make your proposal more appealing.  But part of the 
system is also to make yourselves more appealing and create ways to comply with 
the bureaucracy that exists, even if it takes a few years to get there.


We built Liberty Village on the edge of a 700 resident unincorporated rural 
community by negotiating with the larger County Comprehensive Plan and Zoning 
provisions.  We selected the site because it was: A, available; B, 
environmentally appealing; C, adjacent to a far larger county park; and D, 
close enough to connect to the existing sewer system and an adjacent limited 
water system.  But it was zoned Agricultural and would only allow a SFD cluster 
of 6 homes on 1 acre lots with wells and septic systems.  


We honored all the environmentally sensitive areas of flood plain, wetlands, 
and limited woodlands by conserving them as a buffer against the park and 
committing to add far more new woodland than presently existed.  We honored the 
historic conservation ethic by protecting the 1753 Manor House and planning it 
as a separate parcel to be subdivided and sold with outbuildings as a unique 
historic property, albeit with a much smaller land parcel.   We committed to 
pay all our own costs for extending the sewer system mains to connect to our 
property.  We committed to upgrade the water system by paying for new water 
storage facilities that weren't presently available, but were badly needed to 
manage peak water user demands.


We couldn't get a Planned Unit Development approval because the site was zoned 
Agricultural so we applied for a single family rezoning that would give us 50% 
more density than we wanted, but we still presented a cluster development plan 
that showed that we wouldn't use the total density allowed.  Still the County 
denied the requested rezoning application, but conceded with approving a lower 
density single family zoning.  This was a major success because it also gave us 
a residential land use designation, which did allow us to apply for a Planned 
Unit Development approval.  Yes, we had to repeat the initiative for a 2nd 
rezoning application to get the Planned Unit Development which was finally 
approved and allowed our clustering of duplexes not allowed by the SFD zoning.  
Yes, it took four years, but we survived the retirement of a Planning Director, 
retirement of a Public Works Director, an elected changeover of many of the 
County Commissioners and multiple new appointments to the Planning Commission.


For four years, we told everyone who we could buttonhole for a conversation 
about the value of cohousing as a collaborative tool for building a new 
community without divisiveness, presented them with copies of Chuck & Katie's 
Book, and held repeated open community meetings as we kept increasing our 
partnership from five invested households to 23.  Yes, it took time, but what 
else were we planning to do with the rest of our lives?  Live in spec builder 
subdivisions and apartments?


In considering your case in Lyme, does the Village Center have multi-family 
zoning or other multi-family development provisions?  Can you engage a few 
intervening landowners to build a bridge/link to extend that zoning through 
their properties to your property by rezoning them all in a comprehensive land 
use plan change? 


Does the town have any environmental planning ethics discussed or adopted in 
the Town Plan that embrace energy conservation?  Does the town have any 
residential weatherization assistance program, even if it is income restricted, 
that at least embraces energy conservation?  The challenge is to point out that 
the town has embraced energy conservation in principle and that your proposal 
merely proposes to do that at a higher level of energy conservation than other 
predecessors had anticipated, but is now entirely appropriately.


Are there any other developers in the region that would also support having 
larger multifamily buildings?  Will they join you in lobbying to change the 
zoning code restrictions?  That's part of the American Way.  If you don't like 
the system, then change it!  Get LEED certification criteria and a LEED expert 
to demonstrate how multiple interactive energy efficient design measures can be 
most effectively implemented in larger scale buildings, even if done as 
low-rise 3 story buildings.  E.G., tighter building shells reduce energy demand 
which allow smaller heating plants which produce lower emissions which create 
less global warming.  Clustered units in larger buildings offer less exterior 
wall space with less energy loss.  A single larger multi-family building on a 
site allows more open space conservation than wasting land in unusable side 
yards between scattered multiple buildings.   A single larger multi-family 
building with internal community space reduces demand on community recreation 
facilities and play areas that would be generated by multiple smaller buildings 
which would not have the economy of scale of a single large building.  A single 
larger building reduces total rooftop area and therefore reduces storm water 
runoff which reduces downstream erosion factors.  A consolidated parking area 
does the same thing. 


If the density scare is also thrown up against you, I believe the numbers can 
be made less threatening by finding comparable examples of overall averages for 
the entire town that will make your proposal much less threatening.  Another 
tactic for making numbers work is attaching a totally undevelopable adjacent 
parcel, alley, floodplain, right-of-way, etc. to your parcel at a low cost, 
even if only for the purpose of making your density numbers average out lower.  
Then use the land for a playground.


Does an adjacent neighborhood need community meeting space?  Will you willingly 
offer to share your community space?  Takoma Village Cohousing does and has 41 
units approved on 1.25 acres. 


There is something that Lyme, NH needs that the Pinnacle Project can provide 
through developing cohousing to overcome Lyme disease.  What is it? How will 
you provide it?


Best wishes,


Tom Lofft

Liberty Village, MD


Date: Thu, 10 Dec 2009 18:15:53 -0500
From: Liz Ryan Cole <lizryancole [at]>
Subject: [C-L]_ language or experience help needed to persuade Planning Board 
that 6 unit max per building not the most environmental way to build 
Our cooperative cohousing and hospitality business project is making good 
progress. Right now we would like to persuade the Lyme (NH) Planning Board that 
the existing zoning language, which limits multiunit buildings to no more than 
6 units, is unnecessarily restrictive.
Can anyone point us to experience and/or language that will help us?

We are building in a rural area, in a town of 1800 people, near a village 
center. Almost all homes in town are single family. We know that we have a 
better chance to build less expensive homes if they don't have to be stand 
alones. We also know in our cold climate that it is less expensive to heat 
shared-walled spaces and that we are much more likely to use the common house 
as a real living room, library, etc, if we don't have to put on boots, etc just 
to get there.
Does anyone on this list have data and/or experience that can help? 
thanks! liz
Liz Ryan Cole
Pinnacle Project
Lyme, NH
lizryancole [at]
Home 802.785.4124
Work 802.831.1240

Thanks for writing.


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