New Hampshire Town and City
Zoning Ordinance Changes
New Hampshire Town and City, January 2003
Q. Who may propose changes to the zoning ordinance?
A. The planning board may propose any new zoning ordinances. Amendments to existing ordinances may be proposed by the planning board, board of selectmen, village district commission (if authorized by law) or by petition of 25 or more registered voters.
Q. When may an ordinance be enacted or modified?
A. A zoning ordinance may be enacted or amended upon a ballot vote of a majority of the voters present and voting at the annual or special meeting where the matter is taken up. Caveat: A properly filed protest petition that meets all of the requirements of RSA 674:5 may result in an increase of the required affirmative vote for enactment to two-thirds of the voters present. A zoning ordinance may be enacted or amended at either the annual town meeting or at a special town meeting, although a voter petitioned amendment (mentioned above) may only be presented at the annual meeting. Charter provisions in cities and town council towns may require additional enactment procedures.
Q. What are the notice requirements?
A. When an amendment is proposed, the proposing body must submit the properly drafted article to the planning board. The planning board must hold at least one public hearing prior to the vote at the annual or special meeting. Notice of the planning board hearing must be posted in two places and published in a locally circulating newspaper. There must be 10 days of notice, not including the day of posting or the day of the planning board hearing. If the planning board anticipates a second hearing on the matter, there must be 14 days between the two hearings, and the ten-day notice requirement again applies. The planning board must provide the town clerk with a final copy of the warrant article not later than the fifth Tuesday before the annual or special meeting.
In summary, to assure compliance with all of the notice requirements, consider the following: the date of the annual or special meeting; the fifth Tuesday before that date; time for two planning board hearings 14 days apart; 10 days of notice before the planning board hearings; the days of circulation of your local newspapers; and that voter petitions must be received between 120 and 90 days before the annual meeting. The town should be mindful of these dates and deadlines to avoid making process related errors.
Q. What is the role of the planning board in this process?
A. RSA 674:1 outlines the “Duties of the Planning Board.” Paragraph V of that statute states that the planning board “...may, from time to time, recommend to the local legislative body amendments of the zoning ordinance...” Pursuant to 675:3, the planning board may make these proposals on its own initiative. If it does so, it may make substantive changes to the subject matter of the proposed ordinance based on input from the public at the public hearing. If the planning board makes any substantive changes, it must have a second public hearing to address the revised text of the proposed ordinance change.
The planning board may also receive proposals from the board of selectmen and voters. The board must hold a public hearing to review these proposals as well. The planning board may only make textual or editorial revisions to these drafts such that the final draft will consist of a properly worded warrant article that expresses the intent of the party that submitted the initial proposal. The board must indicate whether it approves or disapproves of any proposal submitted by another party. Finally, the board must submit the final draft to the clerk by the fifth Tuesday before the annual or special meeting where the matter is to be voted on.
Q. What is the role of the town clerk?
A. The clerk must prepare a special ballot for the zoning question. The ballot must be separate from any officer election ballot. The ballot must present the question to the voters in a manner sufficiently similar to the model wording that can be found in RSA 675:3, VII. The ballot must also indicate who proposed the article and whether the planning board approves or disapproves of the change as proposed. The ballot must have two boxes for the voters to check: YES or NO. Furthermore, if the vote takes place at a special town meeting, the meeting must open no later than noon and must remain open for at least eight hours. The clerk must post a copy of the warrant at the voting place on the voting day.