Union Leader: KNOW THE LAW – Vacation Home Renovation Permits? – 05/2011

May 1, 2011

Tnis question was answered by Patricia M. Panciocco of the McLane Law Firm

Q:  My family has owned a vacation home in the Lakes Region for many generations.  My siblings and I would like to add a sunroom to the side which faces the lake and remove some trees to improve its view.  Do we need special permits from the State?
A:  If the structure, or the proposed sunroom, will be less than 250 feet from the “reference line” of the lake, you will need a State permit before any work is done.  You should first have a professional survey prepared to confirm exactly how far the property and its structures are from the lake.  This should be done before you have your sunroom plans drafted as the applicable setbacks may bear on its design.

To explain, the State of New Hampshire adopted the Comprehensive Shoreline Protection Act (“Act”) in 1994.  The Act protects the aesthetics and quality of New Hampshire’s public waters, which include lakes with an area greater than 10 acres.  The Act substantially restricts land use within 250 feet of the “reference line” and prohibits the construction or enlargement of structures within 50 feet of that “reference line”.  Since it appears your home was constructed before 1994, the existing structure is likely grandfathered but any changes which enlarge its footprint, such as you are proposing, will require a State permit if close to the lake.

The Act also prohibits any alteration of the earth’s surface prior to State approval in addition to restricting the amount of impervious surface on the lot.  Examples of impervious surfaces include, among other things, roofs, pavement, patios and decks through which runoff cannot percolate. Removal of natural vegetation and pesticide and fertilizer use is also restricted by the Act and expressly forbidden within the first 50 feet of the waters edge, which may impede your ability to remove trees to improve the view, although limb trimming is allowed.  

If the Act’s restrictions are too burdensome, you may request a variance, which acts as a safety valve on land use restrictions.  However, a variance requires the applicant demonstrate hardship as to the land, not its owner, which is a very difficult standard to meet. For this reason, I recommend that once your survey is complete, you try to design and construct in compliance with the Act to the extent you are able.

Patricia Panciocco can be reached at patricia.panciocco@mclane.com.

Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by The McLane Law Firm.
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