“The Rule of Law is the Light of Truth” – Robert Mueller
I’ve been a member of the Salem Zoning Board of Adjustment since 2014, when I was appointed by members of the ZBA to serve as an alternate. In 2016, I was elected to serve as a member of the ZBA in our Municipal Elections. In 2017, and again in 2018, I was elected by other Board members to serve as the Vice Chair of the Board. In an earlier life, I worked for an attorney. I wrote a number of deeds, including drafting some from subdivision plans, which was good training for interpreting the documents that we receive when a variance to our zoning laws is being requested.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment has to make some hard decisions sometimes. One that comes up frequently: Do we allow yet another property to be developed? Sometimes we don’t like the answers we have to render.
In the opening remarks, we, the ZBA members, as well as the petitioners, the abutters, and the audience (both in the room and on TV), are reminded that this is a “quasi-judicial board.”
There is a lot more to serving on the ZBA than meets the eye. We have to visit the site, and look at it, and the surrounding neighborhood. We have to read old documents and new, including previous minutes pertaining to the property, deeds, plot plans, tax cards, which the public often doesn’t see.
We might be aware that some, or even many, abutters or other people in town, may not like our decisions, but it’s not a popularity contest. We have to examine the law, and we MUST rule based on how we interpret that law.
One of our jobs is to give the property owner relief from our zoning ordinances, when appropriate. Another part of our job is to protect the town. We have to consider the five criteria, as well as the decisions of similar case laws that have been tried in the court of law. We have to make appropriate, well-documented decisions that can stand up in a court of law, should the petitioner try to sue the town.
Board members might not like all of the decisions we make, but we must make those rulings based on how we interpret the law.
NH’s RSA (Revised Statutes Annotate) — our state laws — affect both the ZBA and the Planning Board, as well as other land use commissions. Those laws can be found at: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/rsa/html/NHTOC/NHTOC-LXIV.htm Ordinances specific to Salem can be found at https://www.ecode360.com/27551953