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Communities Struggle With Population Growth

M. Brown

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Communities Struggle With Population Growth

State's Quality Of Life Attracts Many

POSTED: 11:09 a.m. EST February 7, 2003

UPDATED: 11:15 a.m. EST February 7, 2003

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- New Hampshire's population is growing at a staggering rate, sparking a new dialogue about how to control our expansion.

Unfortunately, some towns literally stand in the way of progress and must deal with the difficult issue of sprawl.

News9's Scott Spradling takes a look at how communities are carrying the load, in Part 2 of "Growing Pains".

Ever notice just how crowded it's getting around the state? You know, like the huge apartment complex where that beautiful farmland used to be, or the neighborhood that looks like it's about to fall right onto Interstate 93.

As Yogi Berra once said, "you can observe a lot just by watching".

And what you'll see is growth.

By 2025, 350,000 more people will live in New Hampshire.

"We're currently on a pace to add a city of Nashua every five years," New Hampshire Office of State Planning spokesman Thomas Duffy said.

Runaway growth is considered sprawl, where every square inch is taken up by some thing or someone. For New Hampshire, it's sort of a compliment of how attractive we are to our neighbors.

"Massachusetts people make up 40 percent of the in-migration. The next closest is Maine with just 7 percent," Duffy said.

So why the attraction? The answer you'll likely get is quality of life. But how you define it depends on who you ask.

"Well, obviously, what it is, it's our favorable tax base," Sen. Bob Clegg said.

"It's not just the environment. It's not just taxes. It's not just the arts. It's a combination of all of those pieces," New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources Commissioner Van McLeod said.

The fight to preserve all those things can get ugly. Take Nottingham for example. USA Springs wants to build a bottling plant in town. Locals protested. Recently, an arsonist burned down the future home of the plant.

In Weare, a grassroots effort to limit growth via petition was met with subpoenas and a court fight between officials and residents.

Those are extremes. Others are trying to set responsible limits on sprawl.

Each community is forced to deal with sprawl, but no two solutions are identical. In Pembroke, the dialogue centers around a growth management plan. Sue Seidner has come up with a unique idea. She's wants to make sure no more than 20 new homes are built in Pembroke next year.

It's basically a time out, giving the town a chance to draw up a plan to better control growth, preserving the town's unique feel.

"Pembroke doesn't have lots of commercial property. We have a high school, a theater, open land, if that's gone, not sure what would attract people to the area," Seidner said.

Other towns have imposed strict building codes or new fees, which cover the cost of services like additional schools.

Derry has a growth plan. Locals intend to preserve their quality of life by looking far into the future before making a decision today.

"We did studies of what we wanted to look like in 20 years, then we worked backwards from that we knew what infrastructure we had to build," Derry Town Council Chairman Paul Doolittle said.

Residents and environmentalists have joined forces to manage growth.

"I think there's plenty of room to grow, but where do we expand, and what do we set aside because they define the nature of our towns and cities?" Society for Protection of New Hampshire Forests Charlie Niebling said.

That's the fundamental question behind the state's land and community heritage program. In the last two years, it's dedicated $9 million to preserving quality of life, from open spaces to all types of places of significance.

It's triggered a massive grassroots effort all over the state.

There is no single solution to the problem of sprawl. But if you look around, you'll notice your town's future blueprint is discussed more today with many voices sharing the dialogue about protecting all aspects of our quality of life.

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I see this a lot where I live in southeast New Hampshire. Tons of new developments are popping up everywhere, and I'm not sure if its good or bad. I'm sure it's good for some cities and bad for others. And it's true that most of them are from Massachussetts. I guess that's what comes with being one of the best states.

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The growth problem in NH is the same as it is in much of New England, parochialism. It's left up to each individual city and town to formulate a plan for growth. In reality the entire Merrimac Valley and the entire Seacoast need to be working together to plan for growth. Hopefully the new Governor will be able to work to undue some of the nonsensical poilicies in NH, such as the Department of Transportation not being able to spend funds on non-highway projects (i.e. rail).

Manchester, Nashua, Concord, and Portsmouth need commuter rail, not only to bring people to and from Boston, but to bring workers from throughout NH to those cities. There needs to be transit links between the Merrimac Valley and the Seacoast as well. It won't be too long before 101 is maxed, what then, add lanes?

NH also needs to step to the plate and cough up the funds for it's share of the Boston to Montreal highspeed rail project. NH stands to gain a lot from this proposal, and should be the state most pushing for it, instead it is the state that is most standing in the way.

The key to protecting what makes New Hampshire special, it's open space and historic towns, is to embrace the fact that New Hampshire has some sizable cities in it. Those cities need to be encouraged to grow as cities, not as sprawled suburbs of Boston.

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same thing is going on in Connecticut, the fastest growing town in CT, which is Tolland, is seeing amazing growth, new neighborhoods are going up like crazy, and its a good thing, its bringing a more community feeling, but its also keeping the historical district the same way and making the town better. they should invite others to move in and other businesses, but just keep it under control with how buildings and houses look, other wise i beleive it is a good thing.

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