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Chichester residents dig deep into soil at town meeting

  • Attendees vote by secret ballot during Saturday's Chichester School District annual meeting at Chichester Central School on March 11, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz



Monitor staff
Monday, March 19, 2018

For decades, Chichester has kept an unusual approach to determine its zoning districts. The boundaries of the town’s residential and wetlands districts aren’t neatly carved out on a map with a Sharpie by the planning board. They’re determined by the soil.

Want to subdivide your parcel into 2-acre properties in a residential zone? You’d better have a high degree of “Gloucester sandy loam.” If your yard leans more toward “Woodbridge very stony loam,” you might be in a rural agricultural zone. Muck, peat and silt are the sure signs of a wetlands area.

Year after year, certified soil scientists are called out to measure the makeup of each lot. And year after year, the system becomes even more rare; Chichester is now one of only two towns in the state that work this way, according to town officials.

On Saturday, residents voted to explore a new direction. Attendees at town meeting opted to set aside $8,000 to design a new system.

The problems right now are many, officials said. Residential zones, for instance, must meet 90 percent of the soil requirements or they’ll be recategorized. Some properties are an unwieldy medley, beholden to no category. And the soil types themselves are decades out of date; scientists now have entirely new subsets of dirt that didn’t exist when the parcels were carved out.

It’s only a matter of time before someone is denied a variance and sues the town, the select board said.

“We’re trying to get prepared,” said Stan Brehm, a member of the planning board.

The motion landed in the middle of a brisk town meeting, with few disputes. Voters passed a $2,603,072 budget – up $229,091 from last year – carrying a tax increase of more than 9 percent.

Among those increases is a near-50 percent uptick in the fire department’s budget, to be put in part toward the hiring of two full-time EMTs to staff an ambulance. The move was made because Loudon, overwhelmed with calls, can no longer assist Chichester with transport, according to fire Chief Alan Quimby.

The town also approved $320,000 in road reconstruction money in order to accept a bid for paving projects.

As for the new zoning ordinance, the money set aside Saturday would pay for legal fees and for an overhaul by the Central New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission. That will remove the rules revisions from any inside bias, select board members said. But residents will still have to sign off on the final plan.

“We need public input,” said selectman Jeff Jordan. “It’s critical that we get public input.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at
@edewittNH.)