Keene seeking public input on proposal to allow more mixed-use development

·2 min read

Jun. 14—Keene residents will have a chance Thursday to voice their thoughts on a proposed amendment to city housing codes that would allow for more residential units above commercial buildings near downtown.

A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, during the regularly scheduled City Council meeting.

The proposed amendment, which first went before a joint meeting of the council's Planning, Licenses and Development Committee and Planning Board in April, would permit new and existing buildings in the commerce district up to four stories, or 56 feet. It would also require that apartments in these buildings be located above the ground floor.

Keene's Commerce District includes 220 parcels of land that are mainly located in areas to the west and south of downtown along major corridors including West Street and Route 101, Senior City Planner Mari Brunner wrote in a memo to the PLD committee and the Planning Board ahead of a joint meeting on May 9.

According to the proposed amendment, as written, three-story commercial buildings would be required to have a 10-foot stepback above the ground floor, and four-story buildings would be required to have a 20 foot stepback, no higher than the third floor. A stepback refers to an architectural design in which an upper-level portion of a building is inward from the facade, toward the property's center.

Current housing codes allow for buildings to be two stories, or no more than 35 feet tall.

At-large City Councilor and PLD Committee Chairwoman Kate Bosley said the amendment could go a long way toward providing more living space and increasing economic development in the Elm City.

"We will see lots of changes," Bosley said Tuesday. "It will make the housing stock more available. The ability for developers to add residential units gives opportunities for additional income streams which will hopefully inspire more to come to Keene."

Affordable housing in the Granite State has scant. In a 2021 survey, N.H. Housing found the median gross rent for a two-bedroom unit was $1,498, a 6 percent increase from the previous year, and the vacancy rate was less than 1 percent. At the time, the vacancy rates for the U.S. and the Northeast were both 6.8 percent.

Bosley added that commercial buildings that may already have residential floors above them are non-conforming, and were constructed prior to current zoning laws, but their continued use is permitted. The amendment would affect new housing units.

Councilors will use public input from Thursday's hearing to help inform their next steps. Bosley said the ordinance is slated to go back to the PLD Committee on July 13 before a full council vote on July 21.

Hunter Oberst can be reached at 355-8585, or hoberst@keenesentinel.com.