CONWAY — The Conway Planning Board discussed at its Nov. 4 meeting a zoning change to lower the maximum allowable height for new buildings projects north of North Conway Village to 40 feet.
Currently, the Conway Zoning Ordinance restricts structure height to 55 feet and building height to 45 feet.
The town sets different limits for "structures" and "buildings."
While all buildings are considered structures, the definition in the town zoning ordinance includes specific building features such as carports, signs, chimney stacks and antennas. Structure height is the maximum height of all these things.
On a building with a peaked roof, the structure height would be the height of the ridgeline, assuming no chimney or other structure stuck out above that. But its "building height" would be different, based on the height of "the mean gable elevation of the building." That height is roughly height at the middle of the triangle formed by the peak of the roof; it often corresponds to the ceiling height a building's top story.
For flat-roofed buildings, building height and structure height are often essentially the same. All of these measurements are taken from the lowest point of an existing or proposed grade for a new building project.
First-year board member Eliza Grant of Intervale suggested changing the height limits after doing research sparked by public comments during a review of Intervale's Viewpoint hotel proposal that is set to come back before the planning board Jan. 13, 2022.
The board at its Sept. 23 meeting sent project engineer Josh McAllister of HEB Engineers back to the drawing board, requesting he reduce the building height to 40 feet from the originally proposed 54.5 feet, a reduction that he termed as a “problem.”
Grant told the Sun: “We think we can continue to be a destination resort community with a lot of visitors and part-timers and still have the character and balance as a small town. But it takes a lot of work.
“As for Viewpoint, we need to see what they come back with in January. The planning board has made it very clear how they feel. (As a resident of Intervale) I have recused myself from those discussions, but we will see what (developers) come back with to us and go from there.”
Selectmen's representative Steve Porter agreed with Grant that the Highway Commercial District from River Road north to the state’s Scenic Vista needs more protection.
But Porter differed on Grant’s proposal to impose the stricter height restrictions for the Highway Commercial District along the Route 16 commercial strip.
Porter said it is best to leave the current regulations there in place of 55 and 45 feet.
“The strip has made its bed — and I’ve accepted that. It’s not the strip that I grew up with, and I don’t like it, but it is what it is,” he said.
He supports putting in lower building heights in the villages because if older buildings come down larger commercial structures could be built in their place and he feels that would be a detriment.
“The areas to be protected now and for future generations are in the Intervale-Kearsarge area and that takes time, If we start with height restrictions in that area I can buy into that," Porter said. "But to start targeting other areas for lack of a better term haphazardly without proper research it — that’s why I wanted to wait until Jamel (new town planner Jamel Torres) got started so we can do this the right way and convince voters something has to be done."
Porter reminded the board that height restrictions were put in place on the west side of Route 16 in North Conway Village to rein in a proposal by the North Conway Community Center to build an addition that would have blocked views to the west of the Moats.
Speaking from the floor, planning board alternate Steve Steiner, who is a Realtor, raised the specter of at least one other commercial motel along Route 16 between North Conway Village and Intervale as being listed for sale and that it could be replaced by larger structures.
Noted Grant, “Foremost on our minds are not only the aesthetics and scale of our town but also allowing enough latitude for housing development to occur and being fair to businesses in town." She added that setbacks should be considered in the future, "as well as whether or not an Intervale-specific district should ultimately be created.”
The amended motion as currently written would add the following two sentences:
Section 190-20. E. 1. For properties located in the North Conway area north of North Conway Village, structure height shall not exceed 40 feet.
190-20. E. 2. For properties located in the North Conway area north of North Conway Village, building height shall not exceed 30 feet.
The board agreed to leave the height restrictions in the Industrial 1 zone off Hobbs Street in Conway Village and I-2 zone off East Conway Road untouched at 55 feet for structure height and 45 feet for building height.
For more, go to conwaynh.org/planning.
The discussion is to be continued at the board’s next meeting Dec. 9 and if the amendments are approved by the board, a public hearing would be held in January to allow the final adopted article to be put before voters for approval at April town meeting.