Local Land Use Planning Provisions in New Hampshire

Land Use Planning Agencies/Responsibilities

Any city, town, village district, or county (where the county has unincorporated towns or unorganized places) may establish a planning board (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 673:1(I)).

If a planning board is established, it must prepare a master plan to guide development of the municipality (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 674:1(I)). The board must update and amend the plan “from time to time,” with a recommended timeframe of every five to ten years (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 674:1(I); 674:3(II)). The master plan is to serve as a guide to municipal planning boards in performing their duties to achieve “principles of smart growth, wise resource protection, and sound planning.” (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 674:2(I)).

A local legislative body may only adopt a zoning ordinance after the local planning board has adopted the mandatory sections of the master plan as set out in the state statute (see below) (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 674:18). Similarly, local legislative bodies may adopt growth management ordinances to regulate the timing of development only after the local planning board has adopted a master plan (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 674:22).

Mandatory Local Plan Elements Related to Biodiversity

Every master plan must contain a “vision” section and a land use section that “translate[s] the vision statements into physical terms.” (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 674:2(II)). The land use section must show existing conditions and the proposed location and extent of future land use (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 674:2(II)).

Discretionary Local Plan Elements Related to Biodiversity

A master plan may include a natural resources section that inventories critical sensitive areas in order to provide a factual basis for land development regulation to protect natural areas. Such a section also identifies potential conflicts between other portions of the master plan and natural resource conservation. As part of this section, a water resources management plan is recommended (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 674:2(III)(d)).

The master plan may contain a “regional concerns” section describing “specific areas in the municipality of significant regional interest.” (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 674:2(III)(i)). This section may address natural resources and open space resources bordering or shared with neighboring municipalities.

The master plan may also contain an implementation section setting forth specific actions (including adoption of land use regulations) that the municipality may use to monitor the effectiveness of each section of the plan (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 674:2(III)(m)).

Additional Local Authorities and Responsibilities Related to Planning and Biodiversity 

A city or town may establish a conservation commission for the proper utilization and protection of the natural resources and for the protection of watershed resources. A central function of a conservation commission is to keep an index of and collect information about all open space and natural, aesthetic or ecological areas. The commission may recommend to city or state officials a program for the protection, development or better utilization of wetlands resources (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 36-A:2).

Mechanisms for Monitoring and Enforcing Local Compliance 

    a. Funding Restrictions on Localities 

    b. Review of Local Plans

        Municipal planning boards are required to “inform” the OEP during the preparation of a master plan (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 674:3(III)).

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