Strafford Regional Planning Commission invited commissioners, partners, and guests to celebrate another successful year at its annual meeting on Thursday, Jun. 27. Held at the Community Education and Conference Center at Frisbie Memorial Hospital, the meeting topic highlighted the importance of taking an integrated approach to planning through the lenses of conservation, transportation, and housing. Panelists discussed these topics following a welcome from Chairperson Victoria Parmele, and a reading of letters written by special invitees Senator Maggie Hassan, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and Congressman Chris Pappas, who were not able to attend in person.
Senior Transportation Planner Colin Lentz facilitated a discussion with panelists George Reagan (NH Housing), Michael Williams (COAST Bus), and Steve Bird (Dover City Planning Department) through four rounds of questions addressing regional perspectives, current trends, integrated approaches for community planning, and integrated/comprehensive policy in action.
George Reagan spoke about variety in housing choices and how different people and age groups have varying needs. He offered examples of housing developments and projects built near services and explained how this effects desirability, as well as addressed affordable housing, including accessory dwelling units, in the region and state.
Steve Bird shared that Dover is one of the few places in New Hampshire where the population is actually growing younger and explained some of the planning initiatives the City is doing to maintain that. He discussed Dover's priority on offering diverse housing options and using developed land more effectively, offering multiple transit options, building natural resources like its community trail, all while ensuring land is conserved. He elaborated on Dover's transfer of development rights program which funds conservation land easements and purchases.
Panelist Michael Williams talked about COAST's new project to redesign current routes and described barriers to more frequent and responsive service (to summarize - transit service is most effective when diverse riders and destinations can be served along a straight line). He also discussed the challenges of adopting new technologies like electric buses. Current electric buses and equipment are expensive and complicated to adapt to a large area like the Strafford region. Michael noted that it's just as environmentally friendly at this point to encourage more ridership on existing diesel buses.
Following the panel, Jen Czysz, SRPC executive director, presented the annual excellence award. This year's recipient, the Tri-City Mayors' Task Force on Homelessness, was awarded for regional collaboration. Deputy Rochester City Mayor Ray Varney, Dover City Mayor Karen Weston, Somersworth representatives Michael Bobinsky (Director of Public Works) and Shanna Saunders (City Planning), vice-chairperson of the Committee Marcia Gasses, and committee alternate and Dover resident Lindsey Williams came forward the accept the award.
Karen Weston thanked SRPC for the award, noting the immense effort and collaboration that went into the adopted homelessness plan for the tri-cities. She also thanked SRPC for its early involvement in the process. Rob Varney followed noting the importance of the plan and the enthusiasm for its implementation.
The meeting concluded with Commission business, including the adoption of the FY2020 budget and election of SRPC officers.
SRPC thanks commissioners and guests for making the 2019 annual meeting a success.