Francestown rebuffs Housing Appeals Board logic in rehearing motion

  • Francestown town line post with rocks stacked on top. Staff Photo by Abbe Hamilton

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/7/2021 3:24:14 PM

Francestown filed a motion to rehear its case over a rejected subdivision with the Housing Appeals Board on Friday.

Last month, the HAB overturned the Francestown Planning Board’s January decision to deny a four-lot subdivision at the corner of Stevens Road and the 2nd NH Turnpike.

The HAB ruled on May 7 that the Francestown Planning Board had made an “unreasonable” decision in rejecting the subdivision and had not cited any objective zoning ordinance violations in their decision.

In Friday’s motion, Francestown’s representatives argued that the HAB failed to follow its own standard review process, and wrongly interpreted the town’s regulations.

“HAB’s review is not to determine whether it agrees with a planning board’s findings, but to determine whether there is evidence upon which the board could reasonably have based its decision,” the motion read, citing legal precedent.

Planning boards have more authority than simply approving or rejecting a proposal based on whether it meets dimensional requirements, Francestown’s representatives said. Francestown’s own zoning ordinance speaks to that, the motion read, citing it: “conformance to zoning requirements is but one consideration in the approval of a subdivision and the Board may look beyond the issue of zoning compliance and consider other issues, including, but not limited to, the community’s future needs and the current and future fitness of the land for development purposes.”

The HAB’s failure to recognize the full extent of the Planning Board’s authority “may certainly be the first step in a long march to ignore the diversity of local land use regulation,” the motion said, speaking to the Francestown decision being the HAB’s first-ever ruling since its establishment in 2020.

The motion also tackles the subdivision’s vegetative buffer issue. The Shattucks received a permit to clear the land in question and did so in late 2019, prior to applying for a subdivision permit in September 2020. The HAB ruled that the Planning Board didn’t have the authority to require the applicants to plant a dense, fast-growing, vegetative buffer to obscure the houses from the view on Stevens Road, since the trees were already down by the time the subdivision application was filed, and the town’s subdivision regulations only require protection of “existing features” like trees, stone walls, water bodies, and other landmarks and resources.

Francestown’s Friday motion rebuffed that interpretation, arguing that it renders meaningless the intent of the regulation if a landowner can clear land with intention of developing the property, and claim the cleared land as its only existing feature. “In this case, the clearing was in furtherance of the proposed subdivision development. The HAB overlooked this point,” the motion said.


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