CLAREMONT — An analysis of land usages and values in Claremont recommends a community-wide rethinking toward city planning and property development.
Joseph Minicozzi, AICP, an urban planner from Asheville, North Carolina, and principal of Urban3, presented his findings from a land valuation study of three communities in the Upper Valley — Claremont, Hanover and Lebanon — at a regional webinar on Thursday. The webinar was part of an ongoing series hosted by New Hampshire Housing, a public organization that supports affordable housing development. New Hampshire Housing contracted Minicozzi to study 15 New Hampshire municipalities and provide recommendations for how communities can maximize the return value of their planning and development initiatives.
Minicozzi, who at one point referred to his approach as “geo-accounting,” said he focuses on a property’s assessed value per acre rather than its total valuation, which provides a better perspective of a property’s contributing value to the tax base.
Minicozzi explained that cities are, in actuality, corporations and could benefit from applying a similar economic scrutiny to how they invest.
“I told my community that Asheville is six times the value of Ted Turner,” Minicozzi said. “Do you think that Ted Turner just looks at Facebook for his decisions? Of course not. He looks at data.”
For example, some communities might mistakenly value a local Walmart, assessed at $20 million over a repurposed multi-story downtown building assessed at $11 million, Minicozzi said. If looking at a property’s value-by-acre, the multi-story building built on 0.2 acres is far more productive to the tax base than the Walmart built upon 34 acres.
“[The multi-story building] is producing 100 times more taxes per acre versus [Walmart],” Minicozzi said.
Importantly, Minicozzi assesses land according to its “productivity.” Minicozzi defines this productivity as how much taxable value the property yields per acre.
Measuring productivity is paramount when planning because communities also have to factor the costs to support those properties, such as roads and services, according to Minicozzi. Additionally, the city has to spend money to maintain the roads or water lines to those businesses. City centers or downtown districts are typically the most efficient value-wise because these properties are in a concentrated area, share resources like roads and parking lots and often build vertically on a smaller land plot.
In regard to Claremont, the city’s downtown is by far its most productive asset. While that productivity is relatively low in comparison to many communities in the study, the downtown value is a significant tax revenue generator to the city as well as Sullivan County, Minicozzi said.
“When you look at the downtown as a piece of the city, it barely takes up any footprint,” Minicozzi said. “It’s producing five percent of the city’s property taxes. That is exceptional [compared to national comparisons].”
Minicozzi acknowledged, however, that downtown tax portions in New Hampshire municipalities appear larger than in other parts of the county. Claremont’s downtown-to-city tax ratio was similar to Lebanon’s but considerably less than Hanover’s.
Much of Claremont’s land is agricultural, which contributes significantly to the city’s overall low productivity, as agricultural lands consume large spaces and generate a low per-acre value, Minicozzi said.
While Minicozzi said he would consider developing new residential neighborhoods in some farmlands over time, residential homes yield little productivity in comparison to the downtown’s potential.
Another interesting tidbit is that, unlike typical communities, Claremont’s multi-family homes carry less value productivity than single-family homes. In fact, this scenario was exactly opposite to Lebanon and Hanover.
Minicozzi said that poor value of multi-family homes could be due to any number of reasons, including the quality of those properties or demand.
Claremont’s mixed use commercial buildings, averaging a value of $2.6 million per acre, are the city’s most productive tax generators, Minicozzi said. These properties included the repurposed buildings in the mill district that house businesses like The Claremont Makerspace, The Common Man and Red Red River.
“With New England architecture you do have adaptable architectural lessons in your community where they have changed uses over time and still produced wealth for your community,” Minicozzi noted.
In contrast, Claremont’s average standalone business properties, such as those along Washington Street and Charlestown road have comparatively low value productivity, around $450,000 per acre. Minicozzi said this is common and attributable to the amount of land on these properties utilized for a parking lot, which has minimal assessable value.
City Planning and Development Director Nancy Merrill said in an interview with the Eagle Times on Thursday that Minicozzi’s presentation validates the city’s current direction and goals developed in its Master Plan.
In addition to the city’s $4.8 million downtown reconstruction project — which aims to revitalize the city center, increase pedestrian foot traffic and social opportunities and improve downtown parking — Claremont is seeing a surge in new investors in vacant properties. Chinburg Properties, a development company based in Newmarket, has plans to convert a former mill building at 29 Water St. into a residential building with 80 to 90 market rate apartments. Earlier this month Jeff Barrett, owner of several small businesses, announced his interest to acquire the former Junior Sports League building on 45 School St. to relocate and expand his business operations.
“We’ve been working to make the city’s value higher and we have been moving in a good direction,” Merrill said. “We are seeing some investment in our buildings and that’s going to increase our value further. I think we have done a lot and we have to keep working on it right now.”
To watch a video stream of Thursday’s webinar, visit the New Hampshire Housing website at www.nhhfa.org/news-events/events.
Vital Communities, a regional economic development support organization, also sponsored the webinar.