Recent letters to the Grapevine critical of zoning enforcement do not square with basic civics. John Adams, a Founding Father and our second President observed that we are nation of laws, and not of men. That is, whether or not one agrees with the law one is bound by it, no matter who they are or think they are. The New Hampshire Constitution says that “When men enter into a state of society, they surrender up some of their natural rights to that society, in order to ensure the protection of others; and, without such an equivalent, the surrender is void.” NH Const. Part. I, Art. 3.
One of the ‘surrenders of natural rights’ that we, the people of the Town of Mason, have made, willingly and through the political process, is the adoption of zoning laws in 1967, a building code in 1957, subdivision regulations in 1974, and site plan review regulations in 1986. The constitutional “equivalent” we enjoy is the orderly development of Mason, and freedom from having noxious property uses next door to quiet residential uses.
All our zoing ordinances and planning regulations are available for review at the Mann House, and online at www.mason-nh.org. You can purchase an up to date copy of the zoning ordinance and building code at the Selectmen’s office. There are very few places in our state without land use ordinances and regulations, and no one should be surprised that such laws exist and apply to their land.
The recent letters, one regarding radio towers and the other regarding fire debris, both relate to matters that are, at least on their face, clearly addressed by the zoning ordinance.
Article IXX of the zoning ordinance, adopted in 2005, governs telecommunications facilities. Amateur radio towers are exempt under Federal law, as noted in Item 5 of the ordinance. Application for commercial telecommunication towers must be made to the planning board. Under some circumstances a special exception and/or site plan may also be required for commercial use of the property. Article IV, Section B, of the zoning ordinance states that “No owner or occupant of land shall permit fire or other ruins to be left, but shall remove the same within one year.” In deference to the letter writers, there may be valid reasons these laws do not apply to their situation, such as misinterpretation of the law or the facts, which brings up another fundamental civic concept, due process of law. Due process is your right to a legal process by which you can contest the action of the government against your person or your property. Due process is guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth amendments of the United States Constitution and Article 14 of the New Hampshire Constitution. If you receive a cease and desist order for a zoning violation, and you believe that it was wrongfully issued, or was based on an unconstitutional or improperly enacted law, you have a right to
be heard. In most cases, there is a clear process from the local level to the State courts that must be followed. Anyone aggrieved by a decision of our Board of Selectmen has the right to contest the decision through the legal process, all the way up to the Supreme Court if necessary.
In Mason, the Board of Selectmen is responsible for enforcement of the zoning ordinances. We are fortunate to have a hard working and diligent board. On behalf of various clients, I have fought, won, lost, and settled various zoning disputes with the Mason Selectmen. Throughout those sometimes vigorously debated contests, I have never found the Selectmen, or Town Counsel, Silas Little, to be in any way unprofessional, vindictive or arbitrary in their efforts. I do not feel that Mason’s Selectmen deserve the excoriation delivered in last month’s letters. Those complainants appear to be, and may actually be, in violation of the zoning law. By enforcing the zoning laws, the Selectmen are not only doing their jobs, they are doing the will of the people as expressed in the zoning laws. We should all be glad of that.
Charles V. Moser