Proposed updated Manchester zoning code revealed

The new zoning code has many pictures to help explain concepts

MANCHESTER, N.H. –Manchester residents on Friday night got a first look at the draft of Manchester’s new proposed zoning ordinances, the third update of its kind in the city’s history.

According to City of Manchester Planning and Community Development Director Jeffrey Belanger, the new zoning code is largely form-based, following in the footsteps of other New Hampshire municipalities such as Dover, Portsmouth and Lancaster.

Other New Hampshire municipalities seeking form-based codes include Nashua and Concord and over a thousand other municipalities across the country, ranging from Burlington, VT to Buffalo, NY to Miami, Fla.

The new draft code is not entirely form-based, an urban planning concept that seeks to focus more on building types than building uses, but Belanger says the form-based concepts are implemented where it makes sense for Manchester, part of what he called a “balanced” approach that aims to allow leeway for varying areas of the city, an approach encouraged by the city’s recently approved master plan.

Some of the balance shown within the draft includes the retention of zones that only allow single-family homes by right and mandatory parking minimums in other zones. Consultants for the city recommended against both, given the increasing trend in the urban planning community opposing the concepts of parking minimums and single-family housing for their drag on addressing the lack of affordable housing in many parts of the country.

Belanger instead stated that the new code seeks to address the city’s housing shortage by making it easier for developers to build “missing middle” housing, buildings such as duplexes that allow more density than single-family homes but are cheaper and smaller than large apartment complexes. In the past several years, the Manchester Zoning Board of Adjustment has regularly allowed variances for these “missing middle” housing proposals, a sign that the code no longer reflects the city as it is today. However, Belanger also noted that many developers would rather not build than wait a month to obtain a variance given the risk that they may not obtain the variance as well as the potential costs in waiting for the variance.


Jeffrey Belanger on June 21, 2024. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

There are also new types of zones that reflect the city’s new reality such as the “innovation district” in the Hackett Hill area which seeks to blend education, research and development and light industrial uses with higher-density residential units and natural space to create unique neighborhood aesthetics designed to attract high-tech corporations.

Another aspect of the new draft zoning code is its attempt to clarify certain uses such as junkyards and simplification of the code by removing redundancies. Although the draft’s 259 pages is longer than the 167 pages of the current code, it is shorter than the 459 page code recommended by consultants to the city and most of the additional pages are in place to the addition of numerous images not found in the current code as well as instructions on how to proceed through the code.

The presentation is expected to be posted on-demand by Manchester Public Television and neighborhood discussions throughout the city are planned on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer. Three citizen members positions for a steering committee for the draft are also still open. Anyone interested in more information on the draft or the steering committee can email luc@manchesternh.gov or go to www.manchesternh.gov/landusecode