State Land Use Planning Provisions in New Hampshire

State Planning Agencies/Responsibilities

The Office of Energy and Planning (OEP) within the Governor’s Office is responsible for planning “the orderly development of the state and the wise management of the state's resources.” (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 4-C:1(II)(a)). State law directs OEP to serve as a leader in encouraging smart growth and preserving farmland, open space and traditional village centers (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 4-C:1(II)(h)).

OEP is also charged generally with encouraging the coordination of planning among state agencies (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 4-C:1(II)(d)). The Council on Resources and Development (CORD), made up of representatives from thirteen state agencies and chaired by the director of OEP, is the body through which planning activities among state agencies is coordinated and made consistent (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 162-C:1).

State-Level Planning Goals/State Development Plan

The Governor, with the assistance and advice of the OEP, must develop a comprehensive state development plan, which is to be renewed or revised every four years (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 4-C:2(I)(a); 9-A:2(I); 9-A:1(V)).

The state plan must incorporate several elements, including: policies and principles to maximize smart growth; a land use section addressing the state’s role in land development and in funding land use programs; and a natural resources section addressing land protection, open space, and farmland preservation (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 0-A:1(III)).

The OEP is responsible for monitoring the planning activities of state agencies to ensure that agency plans are consistent with the policies and priorities of the state comprehensive development plan (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9-A:2(III)). 

Inter-Jurisdictional/Regional Elements

 If a regional planning commission does not already exist within an OEP-designated planning region, two or more municipalities that have planning boards may form a regional planning commission (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 36:46(I)). Any municipality in a planning region where a regional planning commission exists may join that commission by an ordinance passed by the municipality’s legislative body (consent of the other member municipalities is not necessary) (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 36:46(II)).

Once formed, a regional planning commission must develop, and update at least every five years, a comprehensive master plan for the area within its jurisdiction (the OEP-designated planning region), including recommendations for appropriate land uses in the region (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 36:47(I)). However, a regional planning commission’s powers are advisory only, and do not infringe on any of the powers of a municipal planning board to develop its local municipality’s master plan (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 36:47(I)). The regional planning commission is authorized to assist local planning boards in implementing the regional plan (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 36:50).

Planning to Protect Specific Areas

State Assistance to Localities

OEP is responsible generally for assisting planning, growth management, and development activities within and among cities and towns, in order to encourage smart growth (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 4-C:1(II)(c)).

State law establishes within OEP a program for municipal and regional assistance in the areas of resource protection and growth management ( N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 4-C:7). The OEP is responsible for providing technical assistance and training to local governments, including offering six hours of training to new members of municipal planning boards (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 4-C:8(II); 673:3-a). In general, though, the regional planning commissions are envisioned in state law as the primary source of technical assistance to municipalities. The OEP is directed to provide technical assistance and financial grants (depending on appropriations) to the regional planning commissions for this purpose (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 4-C:8(I)).

As part of its broader responsibilities for gathering and publishing information to assist state, regional and local planning efforts, the OEP is require to develop and maintain a GIS database and to provide technical assistance to municipalities in using GIS data for planning and growth management (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 4-C:3(V); 4-C:8(IV)).

The OEP administers a housing and conservation planning program, which provides technical assistance grants to municipalities planning for growth and affordable housing opportunities (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 4-C:25). Technical assistance funding is based on consistency with several enumerated program principles, including: integrating housing and conservation plans with a comprehensive growth strategy; understanding the interrelationship between natural resources and housing development; and following smart growth principles set forth in state law (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 4-C:30(I), (II), (VI)).

New Hampshire law directs all state agencies to give due consideration to the state’s smart growth principles “when providing advice or expending state or federal funds, for their own use or as pass-through grants, for public works, transportation, or major capital improvement projects. . . .” (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §9-B:4). The CORD is charged with overseeing state actions in this regard (N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §162-C:2(X)).

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