If you are concerned about a potential or impending land use change in your area, which will diminish the natural resources in your community, there are a few steps you can take.
Get the Information:
- If your municipality has staff that deals with this kind of issue, see what they can tell you about the situation. Find out what type of development is planned and when the application was made. What is the current zoning for this area? Has the proposal been approved and by what committee or council?
- Find out if your town's conservation commission is aware of the issue and if they have an opinion or position about it. Conservation Commission contact information is available in the Department of Transportation publication City and Town Officials of the State of New Hampshire (3.4 MB PDF)
- Find out if your town's planning board is aware of the issue. If it is something they have to vote on, find out the status of the application and project. Determine if and when they plan to hold a public meeting or hearing to see if you can comment on the project.
- If you find that any state approval is needed for the project (such as approval for substantial modification to wetlands), find out from the relevant state agency (often the Department of Environmental Services) what the status of the application is.
Find Your Allies:
- Explore whether there are others who share your concern who can band together to learn more about the situation and express their concerns more effectively as a group. Organized groups can often be more effective in presenting opposing opinions and are often taken more seriously by town officials than individuals.
- If the land you are concerned about abuts or is near conserved land, see if the conservation entity that protects that land is aware of the impending change. (You can learn a lot about conserved land in your community at the state's electronic mapping system, GRANITView.)
- See if a land trust serving the area of concern is aware of the situation and has any ability to assist. Land trusts may not be in a position to oppose development, but they may be able to offer ecological data about a site that could help the planning board make a more informed decision.
Examine and Evaluate:
- Compare the information you received with your local ordinance and state law. Is the proposal consistent with the current policy? Is the municipality overlooking something?
- Summarize the sites natural significance and gather more information on the status of the area. Does the New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau have this area listed as significant? Does NH Fish and Game include this area in their Wildlife Action Plan? Is the property located on a scenic road or highway or does the property contain prime wetlands?
- Write a letter to your mayor or select board to express your concerns. Make sure you ask questions about the proposal in your letter. The select board or council will be obliged to respond in some manner to your questions and provide information.
- If you need to present information to the planning board, conservation commission, or other group, collect as much factual information as you can, understand the format of the meeting you will attend, and be prepared to present your testimony in the most clear and concise way you can. Refer if possible to parts of accepted municipal documents, for instance a Town Master Plan or wetland ordinance, to emphasize the fit between your point(s) and those that the municipality has endorsed in the past.
- Hold a group meeting to determine your opportunities and establish an attainable solution to your problem. You may need to be flexible about how to accomplish your plans.
- If the municipality is making or has made a decision that you think is clearly incorrect, you can explore state and federal regulations that support your opinion/data. You may also want to seek legal advice to see what else your group could do; you might find that the best option is to challenge the decision in court.
Contact the Center for Land Conservation Assistance to see if there are other strategies that apply to the situation you observe. CLCA has worked with many towns throughout NH and may have examples of groups that have faced similar situations. These stories may inspire and help guide you in protecting your special place.