New Hampshire’s system of government is best captured by our state motto: “Live Free or Die.” In comparison to other states, including neighboring states in New England, New Hampshire emphasizes local governance by empowering municipalities to establish robust local boards to regulate and enforce municipal-specific issues, including local land use issues.
RSA 673:1 permits any local legislative body to establish local land use boards– including planning boards, heritage commissions, and agricultural commissions, among others—and to adopt zoning ordinances that include provisions for the establishment of a zoning board of adjustment (“ZBA”). Members of the ZBA may be elected or appointed, subject to the provisions of RSA 673:3. Additionally, local legislative bodies are permitted to include provisions for the establishment of a building inspector and a building code board of appeals. RSA 673:1.
Each local land use board and position in a municipality operates under regulations enumerated in New Hampshire statutes as well as any and all applicable local ordinances. While the New Hampshire statutes bestow certain inherent powers and obligations to boards (for example, planning boards are statutorily required to prepare and amend, from time to time, a master plan to guide the development of the municipality per RSA 674:1(I)), local ordinances may enhance or modify the scope of boards in non-statutorily defined roles.
The complex local system of governance in New Hampshire municipalities often requires the help of an attorney at some level to navigate. For example, attorneys are often helpful for individuals or developers looking to file official applications with local land use boards—such as site plan applications or subdivision applications—to ensure sufficient and appropriate information is presented upon application to expedite the process through the local level. This is particularly helpful for those individuals or developers on a planned timeline—remember, most local boards only hold one public meeting per month, so continuances due to insufficient applications can often create long delays in the approval process.
This series, “Local Land Use Law: A Brief Introduction” will continue next month with an article exploring the specific role, duties, and obligations of ZBAs in town governance, including appeal procedures. For more information on land use law, please contact Attorney Liz Nolin at firstname.lastname@example.org.