Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Plaintiff Paul Martin appealed a superior court order denying his request for declaratory and injunctive relief against defendant City of Rochester (city), ruling that the city’s technical review group (TRG) was not a public body for purposes of New Hampshire's Right-to-Know Law, and that the city’s copy fee schedule was in compliance with RSA 91-A:4, IV (Supp. 2016). On appeal, plaintiff argued that: (1) the TRG was a “public body,” as defined by RSA 91-A:1-a, VI(d) (2013), because it was an “advisory committee,” and is therefore subject to the open-meeting requirement of RSA 91-A:2 (Supp. 2019); and (2) the city’s copy fee schedule was prohibited by RSA 91-A:4, IV, because it charged citizens requesting a copy of a public record more than the “actual cost” of making the copy. Plaintiff requested copies of certain documents from the city relating to the planning board and the TRG. The city charged a fee for making copies of city records or files: for black and white photocopies, the fee was fifty cents per page for the first ten pages and ten cents per page thereafter. After a bench trial, the court denied plaintiff’s prayers for relief. The New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed with plaintiff's interpretation of RSA 91- A:1-a, I: plaintiff read the phrase "primary purpose" as relating only to the TRG’s role in “considering” an application, not necessarily “advising” on it. Under this reading, plaintiff contended the TRG’s primary purpose was to consider whatever “subject matter . . . the city manager has designated for consideration.” Further, the Supreme Court concurred with the superior court's finding that the City's fee for photocopying was based upon the actual cost of copying, and not the labor associated with making the copies. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Martin v. City of Rochester" on Justia Law

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Petitioner New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) appealed a decision by the New Hampshire Wetlands Council remanding an administrative order issued by DES that directed respondents Bryan and Linda Corr to cease and desist unpermitted work on their lakefront property. The Corrs owned property in Moultonborough located on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. When they purchased the property, it contained a dry boathouse, positioned approximately two feet from the shore, which was partially collapsed as a result of snow load. The boathouse was considered a “grandfathered” or nonconforming structure for purposes of the Shoreland Protection Act. The Corrs made plans to replace the boathouse. They hired a land use consultant to assist them with the process, which required approvals from the Town of Moultonborough, as well as DES. After obtaining the building permit from the Town and the PBN from DES, the Corrs commenced construction. They spent over $100,000 on the permitted structure. When the structure was framed and nearing completion, DES visited the site to conduct an inspection, purportedly in response to a complaint the department had received. Subsequently, DES issued a Letter of Deficiency to the Corrs informing them that the structure was 27 feet tall, and therefore not compliant with DES regulations. The Corrs appealed DES’ administrative order to the Council. In their appeal, the Corrs raised four alternative arguments as to how DES had acted unlawfully and unreasonably in issuing its order. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed with the Corrs that DES did not have the authority to limit the height of their structure. The COurt affirmed the Council's decision to the extent that it concluded that a 12-foot height restriction did not apply to the Corrs’ structure. However, the Court vacated all other aspects of the Council’s decision, remanding with instructions to grant the Corrs’ appeal and to vacate DES’ administrative order, which relied solely on the alleged height violation. In light of the result reached, the Court did not address any additional arguments raised by the parties. View "Appeal of New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services" on Justia Law

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Defendant Town of Bedford appealed a superior court order: (1) ruling that the statutory scheme governing a municipality’s obligations to compensate a former owner of property that the municipality acquired by the execution of a tax deed violated Part I, Article 12 of the New Hampshire Constitution; and (2) awarding plaintiff Richard Polonsky equitable relief. In 2008, plaintiff inherited property in Bedford. Plaintiff failed to pay his real estate taxes in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Consequently, tax liens were imposed on the property for each of those years. When plaintiff failed to redeem the property by paying the amount of the liens plus interest, the town tax collector issued a tax deed conveying the property to the Town on May 31, 2011. The Town did not take any action regarding the property until 2013, when it contacted plaintiff by telephone to advise him of the amount of back taxes, interest, costs, and penalties required to repurchase the property, and of the Town’s intention to sell the property by auction if he chose not to repurchase it. Plaintiff offered to pay back taxes but requested that the Town waive the additional charges, citing ongoing medical problems that began in 2009. The Town Council voted to reject plaintiff’s offer and began the sale process. Six months later, the Town formally noticed plaintiff of its intent to sell the property. Although plaintiff did not respond to the notice, the Town did not sell the property. In April 2015, plaintiff received another notice of the Town’s intent to sell the property, informing him of his right to repurchase. Plaintiff again offered to pay the amount of back taxes and interest, but requested that the Town waive the penalties. The Town rejected the offer. Through counsel, plaintiff twice requested for reconsideration. Then plaintiff filed suit, alleging, in part, that the Town’s intent to keep excess proceeds from an eventual sale of the property violated his “right to the equity in the subject property” under the state constitution. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, finding that RSA 80:89, VII extinguished a municipality’s duty to provide excess proceeds for the taking of his or her property by tax deed after three years from the date of the recording of the deed, without requiring that the municipality execute that duty; the statute’s three-year limitation upon the municipality’s duty to pay excess proceeds violated Part I, Article 12 of the New Hampshire Constitution. Because the Town acquired plaintiff’s property without providing compensation, the trial court did not err in awarding equitable relief to plaintiff. View "Polonsky v. Town of Bedford" on Justia Law

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Appellant Michael Guiney challenged a superior court declaratory judgment ruling the road between Guiney’s house and barn became a public highway by prescription. Guiney also appealed the trial court’s decision on his cross-claim against appellees David Nault, Joshua Nault, and Leigh Nault (the Naults), which upheld boundary lines and a 50-foot wide right-of-way (50-foot ROW) that appeared in a 1988 boundary line agreement (BLA) under the doctrines of boundary by acquiescence and estoppel by recitals in instruments. The relevant properties and Kelsea Road were located in Dunbarton. Guiney acquired his property (Lot 5) by deed dated March 30, 1999. David Nault purchased three lots (Lots 7, 8, and 9) to the west and north of Lot 5 between 1990 and 1998, and had a home on Lot 7. When Guiney purchased Lot 5, the deed described the boundaries of the property using the language that appeared in the BLA, including the 50-foot ROW in favor of Lot 7. In 2015, Guiney recorded a plan which illustrated the boundary lines of his property as they were described in the BLA. Nault was also aware of the BLA prior to purchasing Lot 7 and understood it to be binding upon him and all future owners of the affected pieces of property. Although he observed very little traffic near his house, Guiney observed plow trucks for the Town of Dunbarton (Town) plowing the disputed area during the winter and using space next to his barn to turn around and go back down Kelsea Road. Although Town trucks never graded the disputed area between Guiney’s house and barn, they used the space next to the barn to turn their trucks around when grading Kelsea Road. The present action was set in motion in 2006, when Guiney filed a petition against Nault to quiet title to a “driveway” Nault had constructed over Lot 5, and outside of the disputed area, to access Lots 8 and 9. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the evidence presented to the trial court supported a finding of public use, but not adverse public use, therefore, insufficient to support a finding of a public highway by prescription. The Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s finding that Kelsea Road spurred west between Guiney’s house and barn; affirmed the trial court’s finding that the boundaries between Lot 5 and Lot 7 were established by acquiescence; and affirmed the trial court’s finding that Guiney was judicially estopped from denying the existence of the 50-foot ROW outlined in the BLA. View "Town of Dunbarton v. Guiney" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Working Stiff Partners, LLC, appealed a superior court order upholding a decision of the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for defendant City of Portsmouth (City), and denying injunctive relief. Plaintiff renovated the subject property and planned to make it available for short-term rentals via websites such as Airbnb, Homeaway and VRBO. Before renovations were completed, the City wrote to plaintiff’s owners to notify them that using the property for short-term rentals may not be permitted in the property’s zoning district, and recommended that they contact the City’s Planning Department to confirm that such a use would be permitted. Despite the City’s letter, plaintiff continued renovating the property and eventually began marketing it on Airbnb. The Airbnb listing offered daily rates, and stated that the property was suitable for family parties, wedding parties, and corporate stays. It also stated that the property could accommodate up to nine guests. As of November 2017, the property was occupied by guests 17% of the year. The complaints were not related to guest misbehavior, loud noises, or other disturbances. Rather, the complaints expressed categorical opposition to the use of the property for short-term rentals. The superior court ruled that plaintiff’s use of its property for short-term rentals was not permitted as a principal use in the zoning district in which the property was located, and that the definition of “[d]welling unit” contained in the City’s zoning ordinance was not unconstitutionally vague as applied to the plaintiff. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Working Stiff Partners, LLC v. City of Portsmouth" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Denis Girard and Florence Leduc appealed a superior court order upholding a decision of the Town of Plymouth Planning Board denying their subdivision application. They argued the trial court erred in upholding the planning board’s denial of their application because: (1) the board “engaged in impermissible ad hoc rule” and “decision making” when it relied upon an “overly broad” subdivision regulation; (2) the board relied on a subdivision regulation that did not specifically authorize the board to regulate wetlands; (3) the board’s regulation of wetlands is preempted by State statute; (4) the trial court unreasonably relied on certain evidence provided by a wetlands scientist; (5) the board’s decision to reject the application based upon the proposed subdivision’s impact on the wetlands was unreasonable; and (6) the board violated New Hampshire law by discussing the application at a hearing without notice to the applicants or the public. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Girard v. Town of Plymouth" on Justia Law

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Defendants, the City of Rochester (City) and Michael and Stacey Philbrook, appealed superior court orders : (1) requiring the City to reacquire title to a parcel of land it previously conveyed to the Philbrooks and transfer title to plaintiffs Donald and Bonnie Toy; and (2) awarding attorney’s fees to the Toys. In May 2015, the City took title to a 1.8-acre parcel of land located in Rochester (Lot 54). The Philbrooks owned a lot adjacent to Lot 54. The Toys owned a manufactured housing park known as “Addison Estates” and an additional, smaller lot located nearby. In 2015, the Toys purchased an additional lot, which shared boundaries with Addison Estates and Lot 54. Lot 54 was located in a zoning district in which the development or expansion of manufactured housing parks was prohibited. The Rochester City Council voted to sell Lot 54 through an advertised sealed bid process. The Toys submitted the highest bid and represented that they intended to “annex the property” to their adjacent property. The Philbrooks submitted the lowest bid stating that they intended to “[a]dd this abutting land to [their] land.” The city council reached a “‘consensus’” that the City would sell Lot 54 to the Toys, provided that they agreed to a restrictive covenant in the deed prohibiting the owner of Lot 54 from ever using the property for manufactured housing park development or to expand Addison Estates. The city council also agreed that, if the Toys did not accept the restrictive covenant, it would sell the lot to the Philbrooks. The Toys’ attorney declined purchase with the covenant. The City then sold the property to the Philbrooks with a warranty deed that did not contain any restrictive covenants. The Toys filed a complaint against the City and the Philbrooks, seeking damages, a declaration that the Toys were “lawfully entitled to the right of first refusal” on Lot 54, an order concluding that the City “breached the Conditions of Sale by transferring” Lot 54 to the Philbrooks and requiring the Philbrooks to convey Lot 54 to the Toys, and attorney’s fees. The defendants moved to dismiss. Although, ideally, the City should have included the restrictive covenant in the Notice of Sale or the Conditions of Sale, the New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court that the City could not subsequently revise the terms of sale to include the restrictive covenant. However, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that, in contravention of controlling case law, the City failed to treat the Toys “fairly and equally” when it did not require the Philbrooks to accept the same restrictive covenant demanded of the Toys. Therefore, the City's covenant requirement was “outside the bounds of fairness.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that the City did not treat the Toys “fairly and equally” — but only to the limited extent that the City failed to require that other bidders, including the Philbrooks, accept the restrictive covenant. The attorney fee award was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Toy v. City of Rochester" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Northern Pass Transmission, LLC and Public Service Company of New Hampshire d/b/a Eversource Energy (PSNH), appealed the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee’s decision denying their application for a “Certificate of Site and Facility” (certificate) for the siting, construction, and operation of a high voltage transmission line (HVTL) and associated facilities from Pittsburg to Deerfield (the project). A subcommittee of the Evaluation Committee held 70 days of adjudicative hearings between April and December 2017. It received testimony from 154 witnesses and received 2,176 exhibits. At the conclusion of its proceedings, the Subcommittee voted unanimously that petitioners “failed to demonstrate by a preponderance of evidence that the Project will not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region” and denied the application on February 1, 2018. The New Hampshire Supreme Court reviewed the record and concluded the Subcommittee’s findings were supported by competent evidence and ere not erroneous as a matter of law. Accordingly, the Court held petitioners did not sustain their burden on appeal to show that the Subcommittee’s order was unreasonable or unlawful. View "Appeal of Northern Pass Transmission, LLC & a." on Justia Law

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Defendant David Vincelette appealed a the Superior Court decision finding that he committed criminal contempt by violating a January 2016 trial court order that prohibited him from interfering with the Town of Hanover’s efforts to remove debris from a right of way and Town-owned nature preserve. The Town-owned nature preserve was accessed by a deeded right of way that crossed land where defendant resided. In May 2015, the trial court found that the defendant had “placed numerous objects,” including wood pallets, abandoned vehicles, boats, and appliances on the nature preserve and on the right of way such that the right of way was “narrow[ed] . . . to such a width that it is difficult for a vehicle to access the [T]own’s property.” Defendant argued “[t]he court erred by finding that the State presented sufficient evidence that [he] intentionally violated the court’s order.” Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Hampshire v. Vincelette" on Justia Law

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The Town of Lincoln, New Hampshire, appealed a Water Court order upholding a decision by the Department of Environmental Services (DES) ordering the town to repair the Pemigewasset River Levee. The Water Counsel determined the Town owned the levee pursuant to RSA 482:11-a(2013), and therefore was obligated to maintain and repair the levee. In support of its position, DES contends that, in the Assurance, the Town “agreed to take responsibility for the [l]evee’s ongoing maintenance and repair.”1 However, the fact that the Town undertook certain maintenance obligations in the Assurance does not mean that the additional obligations of “ownership” under RSA 482:11-a can or should be imposed upon the Town. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that the Water Council’s conclusion the Town “owned” the levee under RSA 482:11-a was dependent on flawed reasoning that Appeal of Michele, 168 N.H. 98 (2015) controlled the outcome of this case. The Supreme Court concluded the Town met its burden to show the Water Council was unreasonable. The Court did not decide the precise degree of ownership that made a person or entity an “owner” for the purposes of RSA 482:11-a, it held that the limited access easement held by the Town in this case fell short of that threshold. Because the Court’s holding on this issue was dispositive of this case, it declined to address the parties’ other arguments. View "Appeal of Town of Lincoln" on Justia Law