The Peterborough Master Plan Steering Committee held a meeting on November 21 to discuss the draft plan for 2022, which will ultimately help shape the city’s future.
According to former Peterborough planning committee member Ivy Vann, a master plan is a guide used to determine “the best and most appropriate future development of the area under the jurisdiction of the city planning committee”. A city’s master plan, she continued, helps the planning authority design a variety of ordinances and helps them fulfill their duties to the city.
“A master plan is designed to help preserve and enhance the unique quality of life and culture in New Hampshire cities,” she said, explaining that the goal in creating a master plan is to help a city “embody the principles of… to achieve smart growth, solid planning and wise resource protection.”
Although the master plan is not a legal document, it forms the legal basis for zoning and other zoning regulations. For a city to adopt a zoning ordinance, a planning committee must have approved a master plan that includes at least vision and land use sections.
For example, cities cannot enact ordinances on workers’ housing without a master plan because this type of housing falls under the New Hampshire Land Use Code RSA 674:2. Also, cities without a current master plan may not be eligible for certain grants.
“One of the things that goes into a good master plan is a chapter on change,” Vann said, explaining that this boils down to looking closely and making recommendations on areas that need to be addressed in the zoning plan that the city has set et cetera The city wants, “but can’t have because the code doesn’t fit the master plan.”
The first version of a master plan at Peterborough was published in 1972 and many iterations and updates followed. In 1998, “Peterborough’s master plan really began to take shape,” said city planner Danica Melone, adding that this plan followed more strictly regulated content and timelines that had been put in place.
Melone said the only two chapters of the master plan required by law are the Vision and Land Use chapters, and the goal is to update them every five years.
“The committee first looked at these chapters last year and was approved by the planning committee in December 2021,” she said. “From there, the committee wants to update the remaining chapters.”
The last time some chapters in Peterborough’s master plan were updated was in 2002 and 2003, Melone said, adding that she would like to add a new chapter on sustainability, renewable energy and climate change.
This year the Steering Committee dealt with four chapters: Economic Vitality, Housing and Population, Cultural Resources and Historical Resources. The next chapters on the list include Open Space, Transportation, Water Resources and Regional Concerns.
Melone said the steering committee will decide which chapters to lead at its next meeting and will first create an outreach plan to gather feedback on the issues.
“My recommendation will be to hold the open space and water resources chapter on hold until we complete our new natural resource inventory,” Melone said, adding that this document will help guide much of the outreach and information in those chapters .
Melone echoed Vann’s description of the importance of a master plan.
“The master plan is a document that shows where the community has built consensus on specific issues — development patterns, protection of natural resources, important commons,” Melone said. “The planning authority and staff can then refer to those identified elements and create/revise regulations or processes that support/enhance those elements.”
A reduced example, Melone said, might involve a community that strongly recognizes that its historic village square is one of its most prized assets. At this point, the planning authority could consider how to protect these historic features or encourage their renovation and reuse through zoning.
Prior to the master plan drafting process, Melone said gathering feedback from the community is vital to the development of each chapter, and during the drafting process, the public is welcome to review drafts and attend meetings.
“There are many other reasons the master plan is important, but another reason I’m always happy to add is that they can be key to securing grant funding,” she said. “Funders like to see that the proposed project has good support from the community.”
Melone said she was first introduced to planning as a tool to protect a community’s resources, strengthen its economy and foster community cohesion.
“I’ve always loved Granite State very much, so I found planning was a way for me to support the New Hampshire community and the places I love,” she said, adding that it was her first planning experience work in an urban land use was office. “I really enjoyed working personally with people/companies. It is rewarding to meet the wants and needs of a community and to see individual projects come to life.”
Overall, Melone said the master plan is an evolving work, and five years from now “we’re going to try again to start this process over again with the same chapters that we just closed [Monday].”
The Master Plan Steering Committee has requested that the draft plan be submitted to the Planning Committee on December 12th and will meet again on December 19th.