Zoning: HB1291 is NOT HB44 On Steroids – JP
HB1291 reduces the power of our consistently anti-liberty zoning boards to write anti-liberty rules where there is no basis. A typical town’s 1.8-acre minimum lot size has been justified by the scarcity of water and septic capacity and was adopted in an era of poorer understanding and technology.
HB1291 simply limits the ability of town zoning to impose this restriction when water and sewer are not an issue. The previous bill freed lots that are on town water and sewer; the current bill frees those lots, plus lots for which engineering ensures adequate water and septic capacity. That is not exactly “HB44 on steroids,” as the Coalition of NH Taxpayers claimed here on Saturday.
I did check the bill’s sponsors, as that article requested. One is my own Representative, Josh Yokela, rated 100% and Legislator of the Year by the NH Liberty Alliance. Another is nearby Scott Wallace (93.8%, grade A), for whom I have voted. Even prime sponsor Ellen Read (27.1%) is not quite rated a Constitutional Threat.
The text of the bill, as introduced, is available on the General Court website. That version does not permit minimum-acreage lots to be “chopped up” into four lots, as the CNHT article states. It permits one “accessory dwelling unit” as a matter of right and one more subject to the usual restrictions for subdivisions, including “aesthetic standards,” but only as applied to ordinary lots.
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The conflict between zoning and liberty plays out across the state. I hung out with some sign carriers outside the polls a couple of years ago and was astonished to be arguing for liberty AGAINST my comrades. You see, a landowner here is planning a huge subdivision of riverfront condos. (“He’s not even from New Hampshire,” my homies whisper.) The development will have a drastic impact on traffic and on our “rural character,” as development always does. So the goal of local “conservatives” is to use our gunpoint apparatus to shut the flatlander down: to deny him his preferred use of what is his land, no matter if he recently bought it to develop it.
New Hampshire’s unaffordable housing is legend and is caused by insufficient supply to meet demand, driving up home prices and rents. The key reason we can’t meet demand is municipal regulation. HB1291 limits this regulation in cases where it is clearly senseless. It is a dainty amendment of RSA 674:71. I would instead have taken a chainsaw to a power originally granted to protect against contaminating adjacent water but now corrupted to let town busybodies dictate “aesthetic standards.”
And lack of “affordable workforce housing” has been deemed a “crisis,” and towns are now required to ensure that they provide a suitable amount, now written into law (RSA 674:58). That’s a big-government solution to the problem. HB1291 is a small-government solution.
Preserving the “rural character” of a town is a value. It’s not everyone’s value. My town has a board that uses tax money to achieve “conservation” – and another board tasked to lure new business. A politician’s “vision” for a town or the state should always face a key question: Do we have to make this decision as a collective? Do we have to have a single “vision” and use the threat of armed force to restrain nonconformists?
And how does restraining town zoning boards become a key issue for a “taxpayer coalition” at all? Ah yes, the newcomers, certainly illegals from Brazil with twelve kids apiece, will burden our government schools. But this is a consequence of New Hampshire providing free instruction as an entitlement. Declaring something a right, with its price set to zero, results in overuse and calls to and by conservatives to regulate unrelated things that might drive up the cost of providing that “right” – just as “free health care” gave Washington a rationale to punish unhealthy lifestyles.
Who should decide? In this case, the landowner should decide. That is the essence and the huge benefit of having private property.