Quick take

  • Price of success: continuing pressure from development and housing demand
  • Comprehensive, forward-looking vision for planning and managing growth
  • Satisfying community needs and staying out of court
  • Getting the economics of land use right

There are no signs that the factors leading to Portsmouth’s current unprecedented growth will abate any time soon. In fact, the pressures may well intensify. The influx of well-paid professional workers is predicted to continue with the expansion of the Pease Tradeport and the new phenomenon of the “zoomburb” -- the shift during the COVID pandemic to virtual work and the realization by big city-dwellers that they can still work effectively from home in a small New England town. On the horizon -- thankfully -- is the approach of an offshore wind industry and all the workers and demand for housing that will bring. We are not prepared for this.

Providing adequate housing -- especially for lower income groups -- has been an issue for many years and is only growing worse. Within the constraints we have to deal with -- scarce and finite land to build on, the requirements of state legislation, inadequate ordinances and planning stipulations -- we believe it’s possible to find a practical pathway forward. We have to stop treating developers as villains and instead present them with a comprehensive set of levers they must pull -- for example, impact-related, environmental, affordable housing and public space requirements -- in order for their projects to proceed. The approach puts community first and also facilitates smart, managed growth.

Protecting taxpayers

How land is used affects tax productivity. What types of development create the greatest tax revenue for New Hampshire communities – suburban sprawl and big box stores, or dense, downtown development? In New Hampshire, property taxes are the key revenue source for local governments. Tax rates, land use and land value from one end of town to the other often vary in surprising ways. Read what the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce says on the topic. If you got more time, watch this insightful YouTube presentation by national expert on the subject, Joe Minicozzi: From the Outskirts to Downtown Taxes, Land Use & Value in Seacoast Communities.

In terms of economic impact, citizens who are skeptical of the pace of change should remember that development:

  • Contributes to job creation and attracts visitors who become customers at our existing restaurants, retailers, and other businesses
  • Provides additional opportunities for local workforce to live locally
  • Expands the base of potential sponsors for our extensive arts and nonprofit community

When development is blocked or impeded by actions of the elected body or other legal challenges, the consequences include:

  • Additional costs that impact the affordability of leased or rented homes -- the more expensive the legal challenges for developers, the higher the rent or lease will be.
  • Evaporating incentives for developers to build lower cost housing if they anticipate a drawn-out, costly process.

In terms of commercial taxbase, development:

  • Increases the tax base
  • In the case of commercial taxbase (office/retail/hotel), reduces the ratio of tax burden on residential taxpayers
  • Even in the case of increase of residential taxbase (or is often in the form of mixed use, with some retail/commercial), added revenue impact the municipal budget (compared to added impact of having more users of our municipal systems)
  • When blocked, impeded, delayed by actions of the elected body or other legal challenges, produces opportunity costs in taxes and other revenue
  • Provides the opportunity to add tax revenue to support community affordable housing and other investments such as Prescott Park improvements or costly necessary capital projects like a new police station

Get Involved

Portsmouth Smart Growth is a local nonprofit group dedicated to bringing world-class thinkers and speakers on a range of topics that touch on urban design.