News & Thought Leadership from Sulloway & Hollis

January 12, 2024

New Hampshire’s Land Use Review Docket

A Comprehensive Overview of RSA 491:7-b

In response to the increasing need for a streamlined approach to address the state’s complex land use cases, both residential and commercial, the New Hampshire Legislature took a significant step forward last year by introducing House Bill 347, which was subsequently enacted as RSA 491:7-b. This landmark legislation paved the way for the New Hampshire Supreme Court to establish a specialized Land Use Review Docket. By Order dated December 18, 2023, the specialized docket was created, and ultimately went into effect on January 1, 2024. This Land Use Review Docket aims to provide a more efficient and focused avenue for handling appeals arising from decisions made by local land use boards, including municipal planning boards, zoning boards, historic district commissions, and conservation commissions.

Attorney Michael A. Klass Assumes New Role

A pivotal aspect of RSA 491:7-b involves the creation of a new judgeship specifically designated for this docket: the Presiding Justice of the Land Use Review Docket. In a unanimous vote on November 29, 2023, the Executive Council confirmed Attorney Michael A. Klass for this new position. Attorney Klass, who has served as a member of the Housing Appeals Board, brings significant real estate legal experience with him to the bench as the first appointee to preside over the Land Use Review Docket.

Increased Superior Court Capacity

To accommodate the establishment of the Land Use Review Docket, RSA 491:7-b also authorizes an expansion of the superior court’s capacity. The number of associate justices of the superior court has increased to 22, ensuring that the court is adequately equipped to handle the additional workload associated with the newly established docket. The Presiding Justice may be assigned to other superior court matters as assigned by the chief justices of the superior and supreme courts.

Land Use Review Docket’s Jurisdiction

As noted above, the Land Use Review Docket is designed to have jurisdiction over appeals stemming from decisions made by various local land use boards. These boards play a crucial role in shaping the development and utilization of land within municipalities. By providing a centralized avenue for appeals, the docket aims to enhance the consistency and fairness of decisions while also promoting a more efficient legal process. Notably, appeals of decisions by State agencies may not be brought before this Docket.

Structuring Conference and Timely Proceedings

The new legislation mandates an accelerated timeline. A structuring conference will be conducted within the first 30 days of receiving the notice of appeal. This conference plays a pivotal role in efficiently organizing the proceedings, including the municipality’s deadline to file the certified record. Hearings on the merits will be held within 60 days of receipt of the certified record from the municipality.

This streamlined approach ensures most cases will be resolved within 5 to 6 months and is a marked improvement over even faster paced land use cases, that typically resolve in 8 to 10 months.

Conclusion

This establishment of the Land Use Review Docket marks a significant milestone in New Hampshire’s legal landscape for real estate matters. With the dedicated docket, a Presiding Justice, and accelerated case structuring procedure, the State is poised to address land use cases with greater precision and efficiency. Attorney Michael A. Klass’s confirmation as the first Presiding Justice is expected to take place on January 16, 2024, after completing his work at the Housing Appeals Board.

Sulloway & Hollis is excited to assist real estate stakeholders navigate this new docket with its expedient legal framework for land use disputes in New Hampshire. If you have any questions regarding this new Land Use Review Docket or land use matters, contact our Real Estate group directly at 603-223-2800 or email Info@Sulloway.com.

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