Zoning changes proposal to tackle Hopkinton’s housing needs

Voters stream in and out of Hopkinton Town Hall in Hopkinton, N.H. Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004.  (AP Photo/Lee Marriner)

Voters stream in and out of Hopkinton Town Hall in Hopkinton, N.H. Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004. (AP Photo/Lee Marriner) LEE MARRINER

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 10-25-2023 4:32 PM

Hopkinton, like many New Hampshire towns, faces an urgent need for affordable and elderly housing – goals that have been slowed by restrictive building regulations and an even more fundamental problem – affordability.

“Even if you build affordable housing, people can’t afford to pay the taxes,” resident Amanda Gilman said at Tuesday’s planning board meeting. “We can fix the workforce housing, but we need to kind of do it in concert with addressing the tax rate because I think that’s really the huge barrier in the housing industry.”

The town's tax rate for 2022 was set at $32.25. That means a house worth $350,000 pays about $1,000 a month in taxes.

The discussion before the planning board on Tuesday revolved around a proposal from the economic development committee, which stressed the need to adjust zoning regulations to accommodate smaller, more affordable dwellings, in alignment with the town’s master plan.

Anna Wells, the economic development director of Hopkinton, has heard from local businesses that are struggling to find workers to fill open positions. One reason they cite is the lack of affordable housing.

“There are not enough affordable places, for example, warehouse workers, someone who’s making median income or less,” said Wells. “There are no places that are affordable for them to live in our town and in our region.”

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The proposal also aims to keep Hopkinton’s aging population from moving out of town. With at least 50% of the population over 55 years old, many want to downsize from large single-family homes to smaller, more affordable housing.

When they can’t find suitable options, they’re forced to leave the town they call home.

In Hopkinton, 90% of all housing consists of single-family detached homes, the most expensive option for buyers and renters.

“It’s just been frustrating to watch the development that’s been going on in this town, ethically fair or not, it’s just very big residential houses that are worth a lot,” said Jane Bradstreet, a planning board member.

A study conducted by Central New Hampshire Regional Planning predicts that Hopkinton will experience a substantial 9.5% increase in its population by 2025, potentially adding around 500 more residents to the town.

To address the housing shortage, the economic development committee recommends allowing more single-family houses on smaller lot sizes. In certain areas of town, up to four or possibly eight units could be built on a single acre. Currently, the town’s zoning ordinance requires a single-family house to be built on at least two and a half acres of land.

Another recommendation is to expand the zoning at Hart’s Corner, allowing for a mix of residential and commercial buildings.

While the planning board is in the early stages of exploring zoning amendments, there are concerns about maintaining the town’s rural character and walkability.

Resident, Liz Carey, expressed her concerns.

“I am scared,” she said. “I don’t understand how all the additional jobs and all the cars are going to be coming in. What is going to happen to Hopkinton Village? How is it going to be able to absorb that?”

Acknowledging these concerns, Bradstreet stressed that the town will know if the landscape changes only if they attempt to tweak the zoning ordinances.

“If you don’t try it, you can’t get lucky,” Bradstreet said. “But this is a big issue and it’s a touchy issue and hard nut to crack.”