Twin Pines Housing talking with Hanover about town-owned parcel

The Mink Brook Community Forest in Hanover, N.H., received a $200,000 Land and Community Heritage Program grant to enrich the Town of Hanover's conservation efforts. (Courtesy photograph)

The Mink Brook Community Forest in Hanover, N.H., received a $200,000 Land and Community Heritage Program grant to enrich the Town of Hanover's conservation efforts. (Courtesy photograph) Mim Adkins

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-31-2023 4:46 PM

HANOVER — Town officials are in early negotiations with nonprofit developer Twin Pines Housing Trust for the acquisition of 5 acres of town-owned land on which to build workforce housing.

Town Manager Alex Torpey said the Selectboard is currently discussing a purchase option with Twin Pines of a parcel in Mink Brook Community Forest, a 265-acre property acquired by Hanover in 2021 from the Leavitt family.

At Town Meeting in March, voters authorized the town to transfer five 5 of the conserved land on Greensboro Road to a nonprofit housing developer for the creation of workforce housing.

A new study from public corporation New Hampshire Housing found that Grafton County’s median gross rent — $2,081 for a two-bedroom unit — is the highest in the state. Rent prices in Grafton County have increased by 82% since 2018, more than twice the statewide average of 36% during that time.

According to the report, the county’s high rental costs also are driven by the Lebanon and Enfield area, as well as the area of Holderness and Plymouth, N.H.

“That really speaks to our housing crisis here,” said Andrew Winter, director of Twin Pines. “And this is going to have a major regional impact on our economies (and our communities).”

Torpey said the town hopes to hold public information meetings about the proposed housing project in Mink Brook in one or two months, once an agreement on the land is finalized.

Town voters authorized the purchase of Mink Brook Community Forest, by a voice vote, at Town Meeting in 2020. The warrant article approved by voters stated that 260 acres would be owned and maintained by the town for conservation or community recreation, 1 acre containing a farmhouse would be sold to generate revenue toward the property purchase and 4 acres would be “transferred to Twin Pines Housing Trust for future development of a small cluster of cottage homes for workforce housing, subject to future approval at Town Meeting.”

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A land assessment conducted later measured the actual parcel size at 5 acres.

Earlier this month, town administrators published an informational document on the town website to address questions and concerns from residents about the project — including the size of the development, the definition of workforce housing and how the project might affect community access to the public trails.

Winter said he’d met with a few residents to hear their concerns, which were mostly about the potential scale of the project.

Some residents may have envisioned projects similar to others built by Twin Pines in Hanover, which were larger, multi-story facilities, Winter said.

Those include Gile Hill, a 76-unit complex just north of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and Summer Park, a 42-unit residential facility close to downtown for people with disabilities or age 62 or older.

“Once I explain that what we are looking to do (at Mink Brook) is much smaller in scale, they are less uneasy,” Winter said.

Torpey said the plan is to build a cluster housing development.

Cluster housing, such as cottage courts, involves multiple dwelling units — such as small, detached homes — built around a central common space. This type of project is designed to maximize space by building multiple units on a single parcel.

Residents have also expressed relief when learning the project will not obstruct public access to the Mink Brook recreational trail or the trail parking, Winter said.

Town Planning and Zoning Director Rob Houseman said the “only interesting twist” about the particular 5-acre parcel of land is that it also houses the trailhead. However, this parcel is not considered part of the conserved property as it had already been cleared of trees and is already prepared for development — including water and sewer access and a state-approved driveway entrance.

“It abuts the conserved land,” Houseman said. “But it was intentionally carved out for workforce housing” when the town considered the land purchase.

“Workforce housing” refers to housing developments where the rent or home ownership is affordable to people whose incomes are less than 120% of the area median income in Grafton County — which is $115,000 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

To qualify as workforce housing, at least half of the units must be reserved for individuals or families who earn 30 to 50% of the area median income — or $30,000 to $50,000 per year for a family of four in Grafton County.

Houseman noted that there will be several public meetings on the project, which will need to go through the same zoning and permitting process as any housing development.

The developers will need to obtain a special exemption permit for workforce housing from the town Zoning Board of Adjustment. After that the Planning Board will hold public hearings to review the project’s preliminary designs and then to approve the final site plan.

“It is also not uncommon to have listening sessions with the community (during the permitting process),” Houseman said. “My hope is that there will be some effort to emphasize the regional housing crisis that we are in and that this is an opportunity for our community to do something.”

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216.