Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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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

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Plaintiff New Hampshire Alpha of SAE Trust (SAE), appealed a superior court order upholding a Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) decision in favor of defendant Town of Hanover (Town), that the use of SAE’s property at 38 College Street (the property) violated the Town’s zoning ordinance. SAE built the property in the late 1920s specifically to accommodate the Dartmouth College (College) chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Fraternity members continuously occupied the property since 1931. SAE’s use of the property as a student residence was permitted as of right from the time the Town adopted its first zoning ordinance in 1931 until the ordinance was amended in 1976. Since the 1976 amendment, the property was zoned in the “‘I’ Institution” district. Student residences were not permitted as of right, but could be permitted by special exception. In February 2016, the College revoked its official recognition of SAE after learning that the national charter of the Dartmouth chapter had been suspended. As a result, the College no longer recognized the fraternity as a college-approved housing facility or provided insurance coverage. The College then notified the Town that it no longer recognized the fraternity as a student organization. In light of the College’s derecognition, the zoning administrator informed SAE that its use of the property as a student residence was now violating the zoning ordinance because it was not operating “in conjunction with an institutional use,” and, if continued, would subject SAE to daily fines. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the ZBA on all issues addressed except that of whether SAE itself qualified as an “Institution” in its own right under the zoning ordinance. As to that issue, the Court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "New Hampshire Alpha of SAE Trust v. Town of Hanover" on Justia Law

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The Town of Belmont appealed a New Hampshire Board of Tax and Land Appeals (BTLA) decision that, pursuant to RSA 72:36-a (2012) respondent Robin M. Nordle 2013 Trust was entitled to a 100% real estate tax exemption for a homestead in Belmont. RSA 72:36-a provided that a person who met certain qualifications set forth in the statute, and “who owns a specially adapted homestead which has been acquired with the assistance of the Veterans Administration,” qualified for a property tax exemption. Louis Nordle served during the Vietnam War and was honorably discharged in 1969. In 1998, Louis and his wife, Robin Nordle, purchased a summer camp in Belmont. In 2007, the Nordles demolished the original home and built a new home. The house was later transferred to the Robin M. Nordle 2013 Trust, in which Louis had a life estate in the trust and Robin was the trustee. In 2015, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs determined that Louis was totally and permanently disabled due to his service-connected disabilities. In 2016, Louis received a “Specially Adapted Housing Grant” from the Veterans Administration (VA), and used the funds to modify his home to accommodate his disability. The town originally denied Nordle's application for tax-exempt status, determining that the “home was not ‘acquired’ or ‘purchased’ by or with the assistance of a VA loan.” In making its determination, the town relied upon advice from the New Hampshire Department of Revenue that, in order to be entitled to the property tax exemption, the VA “had to help ‘purchase’ the home not adapt it.” The BTLA reasoned that “the word ‘acquired’ in the statute had a plain meaning broader than simply ‘purchased,’” and that because Louis “obtained, and is now in possession of, a specially adapted homestead . . . only because of the financial assistance he received from the VA,” the taxpayer was entitled to the tax exemption set forth in RSA 72:36-a. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined that once the remodeling was completed, the taxpayer owned a specially adapted homestead which was “acquired with the assistance of the Veterans Administration.” and affirmed the BTLA’s determination that the taxpayer was entitled to a 100% real estate tax exemption for the homestead in Belmont. View "Appeal of Town of Belmont" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs David and Katherine Dietz appealed a superior court order that upheld a zoning board of adjustment (ZBA) decision for defendant Town of Tuftonboro, which granted intervenor Sawyer Point Realty, LLC (collectively with Sawyer Point Realty Trust, its predecessor in interest, Sawyer Point), two equitable waivers related to two additions Sawyer Point constructed on its house in violation of the Town’s zoning ordinance requiring a fifty-foot setback from Lake Winnipesaukee. Sawyer Point’s house was located along the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee and within the Town’s Lakefront Residential Zoning District (District); the Dietzes owned the abutting property, also within the District. In 1999, Sawyer Point added a second floor addition over the eastern portion of the first floor of its house, aware that the existing structure was located within the setback, and that a second floor addition would also be within the setback. Prior to construction, Sawyer Point submitted a building permit application to the Town containing a rough sketch of the existing house, which also showed that the house was situated less than fifty feet from the lake. The Town’s building inspector granted the building permit, noting the addition would cause “no change in footprint.” In 2008-2009, Sawyer Point constructed a second addition to its house, again receiving permission from the Town to construct. In February 2014, Sawyer Point commissioned a survey which revealed, in regard to the 2008 Addition, more of the new structure was within the setback than had been represented to the ZBA. In December 2014, the Dietzes, after learning of this discrepancy, sought injunctive relief against Sawyer Point, claiming that Sawyer Point had built within the setback without obtaining the required approvals, and requesting that the court order the removal of the unlawful construction. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err when it sustained the ZBA and declined to weigh the cumulative effect of building within the lakefront setback throughout the Town. Moreover, relying on the evidence before it, the trial court agreed with the ZBA that there was little or no public benefit to be gained by correcting the violations. Because the Dietzes have failed to show that this finding was unreasonable or unsupported by the evidence, the trial court's decision was upheld. View "Dietz v. Town of Tuftonboro" on Justia Law