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Sununu rejects bill making it more difficult to obtain zoning variances

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

July 13. 2017 1:11AM
Gov. Chris Sununu on Wednesday signed Senate Bill 191 into law requiring full day kindergarten at Penacook Elementary School in Penacook. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD ­— In his first veto, Gov. Chris Sununu rejected a bill that would make it more difficult for property owners to obtain variances from zoning boards.

The bill, HB 86, requires zoning boards to vote separately on each of the five criteria outlined in state law for property owners who want to do something inconsistent with zoning for their parcel.

The five criteria are that the variance will not be contrary to the public interest; the spirit of the ordinance is observed; substantial justice is done; the values of surrounding properties are not diminished; and literal enforcement of the ordinance would result in an unnecessary hardship.

The bill states, “The board shall grant a variance only if each of the five criteria receives at least three votes in the affirmative.”

That was a bridge too far for Sununu.

In his July 10 veto message, he said current law that allows zoning boards to take one vote that covers all five criteria offers “a streamlined procedure which many boards have chosen to utilize.”

For the state to mandate five separate votes, “needlessly imposes on local control and is inconsistent with my commitment to remove excess regulation and streamline development and economic growth,” according to Sununu.

“If a community wishes to require its zoning board to take a separate vote on each of the five variance criteria, that community may do so by including that requirement in its own zoning ordinance,” he said.

Supporters of the bill argued that each criteria deserves separate consideration, and variances approved that way would have a better chance of surviving court challenges.

“The conditions for granting variances are not specified in local ordinances. Instead, there are five conditions in state law, each with its own rationale. Zoning boards must consider these conditions carefully, and not set aside adopted ordinances lightly,” said Rep. Bruce Tatro, D-Swanzy, who spoke on behalf of the Municipal and County Government Committee, which endorsed the measure 15-0, when it came before the full House.

“Voting on all five at once does not guarantee due consideration,” he said, “and the decision made would be difficult to support in any legal action taken against (the board).”

The state Association of Realtors opposed the bill this session and, in a slightly different form, in 2016.

“Realtors applaud the governor’s veto of HB 86, which would have created unnecessary and potentially costly hurdles for both residential and commercial property owners seeking a variance,” said NHAR President Rachel Eames. “Housing is already too expensive in New Hampshire, and the bill would have simply added to the cost of development.”

It’s not clear whether supporters of the bill can muster enough votes to override Sununu’s veto. The bill passed without much debate on voice votes in both the House and Senate.

Bills signed into law

The governor signed several bills into law this week, including:

SB 191, the “Keno-garten” bill, introducing state-sanctioned Keno games, with the tax receipts to provide a minimum $1,100 per-student state grant for the second half of a kindergarten day in those communities that choose to offer full-day kindergarten.

HB 25, the capital budget for 2018-19, with upgrades to state computer systems, new courthouses in Milford and Hampton, and renovation of the Creteau Regional Technology Center in Rochester.

SB 157, which adds treatment for substance use disorders to the definition of network adequacy for health insurance carriers.

SB 131, establishing a cross-border drug interdiction program in cooperation with Massachusetts.

SB 57, making an appropriation to the department of environmental services to fund eligible drinking water and wastewater projects to address water contamination.

SB 38, spending nearly $37 million in surplus funds from 2017 on local road and bridge projects.

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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