People make boards great

All government is taking a beating these days: federal, state and local. Deservedly so, most of the time. I myself have criticized all levels of our government in this newspaper, which is why it is important for me to give a shout-out to local government when things go well.

My husband and I received notice of a public hearing being held on Monday, Sept. 26, from the Nashua Historic District Commission, that concerned us as abutters. I was pleased from the get-go with this interaction, because we received the notice of the hearing nearly two weeks before it was to be held. I, like most people in the modern world, have a busy life, and I appreciated getting enough notice to actually be able to attend.

I have been to public hearings before, some of which directly involved me or my property as an abutter, but most of which were just public hearings on an issue that I was interested in finding out more about. All of these meetings have been informative. Most, but not all of them, have been civil. This one was the perfect example of local people doing local business in a not just a civil, but a cordial and effective way.

The issue being addressed was that our next-door neighbor (who I am embarrassed to admit that I had not met before the hearing) wanted to take demolish a shed/garage at the end of his driveway. The postcard stated that he also wanted to construct a wall. Both of these things seemed like a good idea to me, but also filled me with slight trepidation, because I have no idea of what the end result will look like.

Enter the Historic District Commission.

The Nashua Historic District Commission was created by the Board of Alderman in 1980 to enhance, recognize and strengthen Nashua’s heritage. The commission consists of seven members, and three alternate members, all of whom are appointed by the Mayor and Aldermen for a three-year term.

On the commission, there’s the mayor, a member of the Board of Alderman, an architect, a member of a local nonprofit historical organization, a resident of the Historic District, a member of the Nashua Planning Board, and another person. Right now, the commission consists of Christopher Barrett, Jim Donchess, Steve Edington, Mariellen MacKay, Robert Sampson, Robert Vorbach, Ed Weber, and Aldermen Mark Cookson and David Schoneman.

Bill and I got to the meeting room a few minutes before 6:30, not knowing what to expect, exactly. As I said, I’ve been to a lot of city board meetings, and while most of them have been civil, some have not been, and it is good to get there early to get the feel of the room.

This room felt good. When we asked where we should sit, and they told us anywhere, so we sat at the big table in the center of the meeting room, instead of in one of the chairs around the edges. I recognized two people: David Schoneman, as he is the alderman of the ward I live in, and Mariellen MacKay, who is the vice chairman of the commission, because I’ve seen her on Facebook.

We started right on time. After they accepted the minutes of the meeting, they got right down to business, asking the petitioner, our neighbor, to come up and explain why he wanted to demolish the shed. He had pictures of the shed, that he showed to the committee members, and then they asked him to explain why he wanted to get rid of the shed, which was basically because although the building is supposed to be a garage, it doesn’t have enough of a foundation under it to be useful as such and he needs the parking space that removing it would provide.

He also would like to put in a retaining wall, because behind the shed there’s quite a dropoff.

Bill went to ask something, and the chairman stopped him, and told him he would get a chance to speak afterward. So we waited until the committee had asked all the questions they needed to ask, and the architect on the committee, Robert Vorbach, stressed that the retaining wall needed to fit in with the character of the neighborhood.

Then, identifying ourselves as his neighbors, we asked our questions, mostly about the fencing between our properties of which the shed functions as a segment, and we received very satisfactory answers. When everyone had finished speaking, the commission voted to accept his request, and sent him off to get permits.

Bill and I went out into the hall and discussed things with our neighbor.

We were home in under an hour.

The reason I am telling this non-exciting story is to point out that this is how city business should work: everyone who wants to gets to speak, people ask intelligent and relevant questions, and everyone is there to perform a task. What I found most refreshing is that there was no excess speech: no grandstanding, no one enjoying the sound of their own voice.

So much of the business of our city gets done by people like the members of the Historic District Commission: volunteers who are there because they are interested and they want to do some service for the city. They put a lot of time and effort into basically thankless work. And even when I disagree with their decisions, I’m appreciative of what they are attempting to do.

Thank you, my fellow citizens.

June Lemen is a freelance writer who lives in Nashua. She is a columnist and op-ed writer for The Telegraph.