CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — The Chesterfield Planning Board reopened its discussion of a steep slopes ordinance in the Spofford Lake watershed on Monday night.
On March 9, town voters said no to a proposed overlay district by a vote of 608 to 242.
The Spofford Lake Watershed Steep Slope Overlay District Ordinance would have limited development on slopes between 10 and 15 percent and prohibited it for the most part on slopes of more than 15 percent.
The ordinance was opposed by many people who live uphill from Spofford Lake, some of whom characterized it as an illegal taking and others who said not enough thought had been given to it.
At the beginning of the “listening session,” James Corliss, chairman of the Planning Board, who was the only board member to vote no to send it to a public vote, said he acknowledged the resounding defeat of the ordinance.
“But we do think it would be good to try to do something dealing with watershed around Spofford Lake,” he said. “We are hoping for some guidance from the town.”
Near the end of the meeting, Corliss said the purpose of the listening session was to gather information to find a path forward, “if there are ways forward.”
He also noted the Planning Board has limited authority. While it can recommend changes to the zoning regulations, it’s still up to the town to approve them.
“There are things we can do and some things that are not part of our purview,” he said, such as the size and speed of boats on the lake as well as the size of engines on the boats.
The first speaker, James Hancock, came out in opposition to any proposal that “fundamentally ignores” property rights in New Hampshire.
“What people are saying loud and clear, we have a right to property, we have a right to live our lives and use our property as we see fit as long as it doesn’t hurt other people and their property,” he said. “This is not the town’s land and we are not serfs living on the town’s land.”
He urged the board to use scientific data, USGS data and technology to take a scientific measurement of properties around the lake that might be the biggest offenders, saying they will find it’s the state and the town itself that are the biggest polluters.
“The government needs to be held accountable as well,” said Hancock, “probably before everybody else.”
Bayard Tracy, the president of the Spofford Lake Association, said that “a good deal of the problems” at Spofford Lake were caused by decisions during development around the lake.
He said phosphorous, a nutrient that can cause eutrophication, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of aquatic life from lack of oxygen, flows into the lake from multiple sources, including from storm water runoff, chemicals on the roads, and fertilized lawns.
He also said the Lake Association is closely watching water levels. A recent study concluded that in the last 40 years, sediment at the lake has changed from mostly sand to sand and organic material washed away from the shore of the lake by increased water levels. The study also noted turbulence and waves created by boats and small personal watercraft also contribute to shoreline erosion.
Last summer, large, stinky mats of cyanobacteria floated to the surface of the lake, possibly loosened from the bottom of the lake by low water levels and agitation by passing motor boats.
Tracy said any revised ordinance should limit sedimentation, rather than development. He also said the Planning Board, Conservation Commission and the Lake Association should work with other towns in a similar situation.
“It’s not going to be solved by dealing with low-hanging fruit, which was what last year’s proposal was,” Tracy said. “Steep slopes is not the best way to solve this, and it could result in legal problems for the town.”
Pam Walton, a former Lake Association president, said the Planning Board should consider working with professional consultants and the state’s Watershed Management Bureau to develop a broader watershed protection plan.
“It’s time for the town to spend some money to make sure that we can do for this lake what this lake has done for us,” she said. “As the lake goes, so goes Chesterfield.”
Maybe it’s time, said Walton, to establish a committee to look at possible ordinances for the lake zone, and they can see how sand is getting into the lake and how driveways are increasing impermeable surfaces around the lake.
Charlie Donahue spoke next, characterizing the no vote as “a groundswell” of opposition and saying the board “has a credibility problem.”
“I’m still hearing from people who are angry that this is coming up so soon,” he said. “There is a perception that there is a lot of hypocrisy and some of the zealots have really taken over.”
Donahue acknowledged the need to take “a holistic approach” in managing the lake, but it requires “fresh blood” to look at all the problems.
“I live near a culvert that gushes gallons of silt and sedimentation from the town and the state and we’re worried about raindrops on roofs getting into the lake,” he said.
Attending a board meeting prior to the vote, Donahue said he reached the conclusion looking at the faces of the board that very few of the members we’re open to the idea the ordinance was wrong and trying to argue was a waste of time.
“There is no monopoly on good ideas,” he said. “Trying to cram something down people’s throats is not going to work.”
Maria Bissell urged the town to assemble a committee of “varied thinking people” to develop a plan to address the many challenges facing the lake.
John Zannotti asked the board if it evaluated the approach taken by other towns and the resultant outcomes.
“Other towns have gone through this same evolution,” he said, adding that the board should take into consideration any lessons learned.
Doug Iosue urged the board to bring in experts to help it look at outcomes and lessons learned by other towns, “to make this more of an objective process than somewhat of a free for all.”
“The vote did show us a town divided,” said Susan Donahue.
She said the town shouldn’t penalize people who don’t live on the lake for the benefit of those who do, unless it wants to offer increased access to town residents who don’t already have it.
Maybe that way, she said, “everybody will feel like they are more part of the lake.”