‘Legal Precision’ Not Required of Petitioned Zoning Amendments

Lower Bartlett Water Precinct v. Rick Murnik & a.
Lower Bartlett Water Precinct v. Rick Murnik & a.
No. 2004-161
Wednesday, March 31, 2004

This case presents an appeal of a superior court ruling that a voter petition to repeal the village district zoning ordinance was defective because the wording of the question did not match the wording set forth in the relevant statute RSA 675:3 (method of enactment in certain towns and village districts). The superior court ruled that certain wording was statutorily required, citing RSA 675:4, IV.

RSA 675:3, VII sets forth wording for the adoption (amendment or repeal) of zoning ordinances when such question is to be placed on an official ballot. RSA 675:3, VII primarily provides direction to the village district clerk on ballot preparation. RSA 675:4 sets forth the procedure by which voters may enact (amend or repeal) a zoning ordinance by petition. That statute provides, “The petition shall be in correct warrant article form, as determined by the…village district commissioners.” The main dispute in this case was whether, by requiring “correct warrant article form,” the law requires a voter petition to set forth the question using only the language provided in RSA 675:4.

The Supreme Court concluded that the statutes should not be read to that result, that the petition was not invalid for failure to conform to the cited wording, and remanded the case to the superior court. The Court concluded that RSA 675:4 only directs the clerk as to how to prepare a ballot and does not direct voters as to how to prepare a petition. It further noted that “selectmen should not expect legal precision from persons petitioning for zoning ordinance changes.”