Opening Pandora's Box in Jaffrey

January 8, 2007

Opening Pandora’s Box in Jaffrey

By Will Abbott

The Town of Jaffrey is considering a housing subdivision that could open the lower slopes of Mount Monadnock to cookie-cutter developments more suitable to suburban Boston or northern New Jersey. The irony in this situation is that over the past 14 years the voters of Jaffrey, Dublin, Troy and Marlborough have each created specially designated areas called “Mountain Zones” to protect the base of Mount Monadnock from exactly this kind of over-development.

Zoning ordinances are a means to an end. That end is collectively determined by residents of a community in their master plan and in the implementation of that master plan with a zoning ordinance. Though the process can itself be challenging – and, indeed, is meant to be – the outcomes of the process are clear: the community chooses a vision for its future and the zoning ordinances guide that vision to reality.

The Town of Jaffrey’s Zoning Ordinance creates the Mountain Zone for the stated purpose "to protect and preserve the rural, scenic beauty of Mount Monadnock and its associated highlands. A scenic zone will primarily address the threat to the Monadnock highlands posed by over commercialization and/or exploitation in a zone immediately adjacent to the highlands."

The ordinance goes on to say, concerning the Mountain Zone: "We believe that a regional zone will have positive long term economic implications for all towns involved, as well as helping to preserve the natural beauty of the Monadnock highlands for future generations."

On December 12 the Jaffrey Planning Board will hold a public hearing on a proposal from developer Robert Van Dyke to approve a subdivision of 36 single family homes on 30 acres of buildable land in Jaffrey’s Mountain Zone. The pristine beauty of the waterways, ponds, marshes and other wetlands that cover the other half of the 59-acre parcel will be destroyed by this project.

The 36 units represent four times the number of single-family homes that should be allowed under current zoning for the land. If approved as proposed, this development will clearly alter the rural character that the Mountain Zone was designed to protect. Further, it will set exactly the wrong precedent for any future development in the Mountain Zone, opening a Pandora’s Box not only in Jaffrey but also in the three other towns who thought they had a regional agreement on the purpose of creating these special zones.

The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests cannot imagine a development more contrary to the purpose of the Jaffrey Mountain Zone than this proposal. This proposal rewrites the definition of "Open Space Development Plans" as it appears in the Jaffrey Zoning Ordinance. For all practical purposes it nullifies the vote of Jaffrey residents taken 14 years ago to create the Mountain Zone.

It has taken 120 years to create the permanently protected mosaic of nearly 6,000 acres of land that today leads to the summits of Mount Monadnock, Little Monadnock and Gap Mountain. Fourteen years ago the voters of Jaffrey agreed to buffer this protection by adopting the Mountain Zone ordinance. The voters did not say "no growth" in this zone, they said "limited growth" in this zone.

We believe that such large scale development on the lower slopes of Mount Monadnock is fundamentally incompatible with the rural character of the mountain. We believe that Mr. Van Dyke’s proposal should be rejected by the Jaffrey Planning Board. Further, we believe the developer should submit a new proposal more in keeping with the Mountain Zone and the limited development envisioned by the voters when they created it.

Will Abbott is Vice President for Policy & Land Management at the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The Forest Society currently owns and protects for public benefit more than 4,900 acres on Mount Monadnock and Gap Mountain, including property in the towns of Dublin, Marlborough, Troy and Jaffrey, and holds easements on an additional 1,000 acres.