Town of Durham – 2012 Award Winner

Photo of downtown Durham NH

Excellence in planning award for 2012

The 2012 Excellence in Town Planning is given to the Town of Durham. For those who work with or on Planning Boards, Conservation Commissions, and Zoning Boards of Adjustment, acknowledging that planning is a deliberative journey is paramount to understanding how change occurs.

The words that come to mind for Durham planning are: thoroughly discussed, incremental changes; thoughtful, intentional actions. In an interview with Town Administrator Todd Selig, he stated that change can be both exciting and difficult for Townspeople, and so the Town attempts to guide change at a rate people can absorb.

But then there are the market forces which move at their own pace.  Four years ago the first glimmer of market driven change was appearing in Durham at a time when other communities were slowed to a crawl.  How does this happen?

A planner would say it was the result of implementing zoning from the 2000 Master Plan seven years later. A planner would point to implementing small zoning changes from the B. Dennis downtown process two years ago.

Town administration and legislative bodies would say it was the recognition of the need to have a stable and productive Town Gown relationship with the University of New Hampshire.

Code enforcement staff would say it was using enforcement as a strategy to offset student housing pressures in family neighborhoods leading to the understanding that a new student housing product was needed.

Town public works staff and land use boards would say it was the implementation of state of the art stormwater management regulations that led to their use in the Capstone and downtown redevelopment projects with the objective of not exacerbating Great Bay water quality.

The economic development committee, business owners and developers would say it was balancing development incentives in urban spaces with regulations that upgrade existing stormwater conditions and protect greenfields.

Town legislative bodies would say it was active listening, reframing of policies and strategies, leaning toward growth, and then leaning toward historic preservation and conservation, while finding a balance to meet the financial needs of the Town and its citizens.

Where may Durham be heading in the future?

Recognizing that student housing is still its bread and butter, but also understanding that new housing products and demographics are changing the Durham market.

Mixed use development will change the face and substance of the downtown. Assembling parcels for development will be a necessity.

Energy initiatives will change planning regulations, processes, and save residents money.

Promotion of a research-based economy, think Idea Greenhouse, will change the tax base and Durham’s image.

Initiating out of the box processes will create opportunities for new partnerships and collaborations.

Volunteers and leaders will bring expertise allowing for the examination of municipal operations.

Townspeople will bring their business and academic excellence to the Town, just like always – providing several steps forwards, one to the side, a spin to the middle and back on the journey with a steadiness and soundness, that keep Durham deliberative, thoughtful, fun and surprising, but always working to control its destiny, maintaining the character of Durham as an excellent place to practice planning  –   make your home – create a successful business  — and obtain a first class education.

Congratulations Town of Durham and our best wishes on your sustained planning journey.