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Durant v. Town of Dunbarton

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff requested Defendant to approve her plans for a subdivision, which the Defendant’s planning board denied. The Plaintiff appealed the denial.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The regulations of local planning boards are given a broad scope and generally may include provisions, which will tend to create conditions favorable to health, safety, convenience or prosperity.

    Facts. Plaintiff requested Defendant planning to approve her plans for a subdivision, which the Defendant’s planning board denied. The Plaintiff appealed the denial. The board refused to approve the Plaintiff’s plans for three reasons: 1) potential disruption of natural watercourses; 2) potential sight distance problems from the driveways exiting onto a State highway; and 3) potential problems with the subsurface septic systems due to an unusually high water table in the area.

    Issue. Was the board within its rights to deny the Plaintiff’s plans for a new subdivision for the reasons stated?

    Held. Yes. Affirmed.
    The court cited a statute, which authorized municipalities to grant their planning boards discretionary authority to approve or disapprove subdivision plans. Under the statute, the regulations of local planning boards are given a broad scope and generally may include provisions, which will tend to create conditions favorable to health, safety, convenience or prosperity.
    Under the specific grant of authority for the Defendant, the denial could issue for lands, which were such that they could not be used safely for building purposes because of an exceptional danger to health. Also, the sub-divider was tasked with the responsibility to make sure that the land could have adequate septic systems.
    The Plaintiff argued that the requirements of the planning board were unenforceable due to vagueness. The court found the regulations to be adequately specific to inform the sub-divider of the need to provide the planning board with enough information to show that no danger is posed by the subdivision proposed and that the septic systems can be supported.
    The evidence showed that the New Hampshire Water Supply and Pollution Control Commission had approved of the subdivision plans prior to the planning board’s denial. However, the court found that the planning board was entitled to rely on its own investigation of the plans in denying the plans and that the denial was not arbitrary.

    Discussion. This case is an example of the great amount of power placed in the hands of local municipalities in determining the character of land use. Unless the action of the planning board could be shown to be unreasonable, the Plaintiff could not prevail.


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