Density: What Does it Look Like in a Rural State?

When you hear about housing “density,” images of cities, high-rises and large apartment complexes come to mind—not the rural towns and small cities of New Hampshire. However, the reality might surprise you. Local developers, architects, and planners are coming together on projects that create housing for more people in less space, but still fit into New Hampshire’s historic landscape.

Some of these efforts to create livable, walkable communities were spotlighted earlier this summer at the Visualizing Density awards, an annual event honoring housing projects that have taken a creative strategy to fit housing into the landscape. They range from urban infill designs that use smaller spaces effectively or neighborhood-type designs that divide larger houses into multiple units. The awards are part of the “Vibrant Villages NH” initiative, which was developed through a partnership between New Hampshire Housing and Plan NH designed to show that density, when thoughtfully done, can contribute to vibrant, healthy neighborhoods and communities in a rural state.

Visualizing Density award-winners and nominees will be entered into a database with photos and information about existing developments that provide housing at various densities. The goal of the database is to make it easier for developers and the public to picture what different densities actually look like, rather than just be numbers on paper. The database, which is still under development, will be hosted on the Vibrant Villages website.

The following award nominees are just a few examples of the projects submitted for recognition, and they illustrate how density is working within various types of communities.

Conway Pines – Conway

Conway Pines was built in response to the Mt. Washington Valley’s need to house hospitality and retail workers, who are the backbone of the region’s service-industry economy. The town adjusted zoning restrictions so the site could hold 10 units per acre, and they also mandated that the apartments remain as rentals for at least 20 years. The result was an apartment complex within walking distance to area medical centers, Conway Village, the local library, a shopping plaza, and many local employers. The building also incorporated geothermal heating and cooling and solar power, making its 32 apartments comfortable and “green.”

ConwayPines3    ConwayPines1 ConwayPines2

Parkhurst, Elm and Allen Streets – Lebanon

Within walking distance of downtown Lebanon, the neighborhood bound by Parkhurst, Elm and Allen Streets has taken older single-family residences and repurposed them into multi-family homes. Most of the large buildings were built between 1850 and 1930, and the neighborhood currently holds over 110 units. In addition to duplexes and multi-family homes, some of the buildings have been turned into professional offices or a blend of housing and commercial space. These changes mean this section is one of the denser areas of Lebanon, but it has managed to retain its historical and residential characteristics.

Parkhurst

Haymarket Square – Portsmouth

The owner of a lot located at the intersection of Middle and State Streets approached DeStefano Architects about turning it into a multi-unit condominium building. This “urban infill” project, a process of developing or redeveloping a vacant or underutilized parcel of land, transformed an old service station into a residential building with four condos on less than a quarter acre. Its placement and design contributes to the historical downtown Portsmouth neighborhood.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The lot before development.

HaymarketAfter

The lot after urban infill.

 

Interested in learning more about density in New Hampshire? Visit www.plannh.org/ and www.vibrantvillagesnh.org/.

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