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Becker v. Town of Hampton Falls

Supreme Court of New Hampshire Rockingham
May 31, 1977
117 N.H. 437 (N.H. 1977)

Summary

concluding heavy commercial equipment storage not incidental and subordinate to residential use

Summary of this case from Town of Salem v. Wickson

Opinion

No. 7559

Decided May 31, 1977

1. Zoning — Accessory Use — Residences Use of barn on lot adjacent to owner's residence, for storage of road grader used in owner's commercial enterprise, was not "customarily appurtenant to" a principal residential use in area zoned for residential and agricultural uses and would not qualify as an "accessory use" permitted by town's zoning ordinance.

2. Zoning — Accessory Use — Residences Whether a disputed use was sufficiently subordinate to residential use of defendant's property so as to qualify as an accessory use permitted by town's zoning ordinance was a question of law, and on appeal trial court was not bound by conclusions of zoning board.

3. Zoning — Accessory Use Definition of accessory use in town zoning ordinance as "customarily incidental and subordinate" involves several distinct elements; "incidental and subordinate" incorporates requirements that accessory use bear a reasonable relationship to primary use, and "customarily" imposes additional requirement that accessory use habitually has been established as reasonably associated with primary use.

4. Zoning — Accessory Use — Residences Master properly ruled as a matter of law that storage of road grader in barn on lot adjacent to owner's residence, the grader being used in his commercial enterprise, could not be said to bear a reasonable relationship to residential use and to constitute a use customarily incidental thereto.

5. Zoning — Accessory Use — Residences Evidence that in town of 800 registered voters, about eight other property owners used their premises, in area zoned for residential use, for storage of commercial vehicles, where there was no indication of proportion of business men engaged in that practice, failed to establish that use by defendant of barn on lot adjacent to his residence for storage of road grader he used in his commercial enterprise was commonly, habitually and by long practice reasonably associated with primary residential use in town.

6. Zoning — Enforcement That zoning ordinance is not being enforced in certain instances cannot alter meaning of ordinance.

Perkins, Holland, Donovan Beckett and Thomas D. Welch, Jr., of Exeter (Mr. Welch orally), for the plaintiffs.

Casassa, Mulherrin Ryan, of Hampton (Mr. John J. Ryan orally), for the defendant.


The issue in this zoning case is whether the Hampton Falls Board of Adjustment erred in permitting a property owner in a "residential and agricultural" zone to construct on his property a barn for the storage of "primary industrial equipment," namely, a road grader used by the property owner in a commercial enterprise. Resolution of the issue turns on whether the storage of the equipment qualifies as an "accessory use" under the town zoning ordinance. The Superior Court (Loughlin, J.), after a hearing with a view and a recommendation by a Master (Alvin E. Taylor, Esq.), decreed that an accessory use had not been established and that the board of adjustment's decision must be reversed. The exceptions of the town have been reserved and transferred by Mullavey, J. We affirm the ruling of the superior court.

The plaintiffs in this action are property owners in proximity to the barn who find the equipment storage offensive. The evidence regarding construction of the barn is undisputed and shows that it was constructed by Mr. Paul Fitzgerald on a lot he and his wife had acquired adjacent to their residential lot. Mr. Fitzgerald operates his own road construction business and the barn was constructed expressly for the purpose of housing the heavy equipment he uses. The equipment is moved back and forth between barn and work site numerous times over the course of the year, and the considerable noise from these moving operations is disturbing to the plaintiffs. There was evidence that certain other inhabitants of the residential and agricultural zone maintain commercial vehicles on their property.

The town zoning ordinance permits "[a]ccessory uses and buildings customarily appurtenant to a principal permitted use such as incidental storage facilities." The ordinance defines "accessory use" as "[a] use customarily incidental and subordinate to the principal use or building located on the same lot with such principal use or building." An accessory building is defined as "[a] detached building on the same lot with the primary building, the use of which is clearly incidental to that of the primary building or use of the land."

The plaintiffs argue that the use of the barn for storage of the road grader is not "customarily appurtenant to" a primary residential use. Alternatively, plaintiffs argue that even if the use were deemed "customarily appurtenant," it would not qualify as an accessory use in view of the fact the storage facility is not "located on the same lot with such principal use or building." We have no need to consider this latter argument, since we agree with plaintiff's initial contention that the commercial storage here is not customarily appurtenant to the principal residential use.

Whether the disputed use is "sufficiently subordinate to the residential use of the defendant's property so as to qualify as an accessory use is a question of law upon which the court is not bound by the conclusions of the zoning board." Gratton v. Pellegrino, 115 N.H. 619, 621, 348 A.2d 349, 351 (1975); RSA 31:78.

"An `accessory use' has been defined as `one which is dependent on or pertaining to the permitted principal use,' i.e., a subordinate use of the property `occasioned by the main use, and an incident of it, rather than a principal use of itself.'" Gratton v. Pelligrino, 115 N.H. 619, 621, 348 A.2d 349, 351 (1975); Perron v. Concord, 102 N.H. 32, 35, 150 A.2d 403, 406 (1959). The definition of accessory use in the town ordinance ("customarily incidental and subordinant" [sic]) involves several distinct elements. "Incidental and subordinate" incorporates the requirements that the accessory use be minor in relation to the permitted use and that the accessory use bear a reasonable relationship to the primary use. Lawrence v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 158 Conn. 509, 512, 264 A.2d 552, 554 (1969); Harvard v. Maxant, 360 Mass. 432, 275 N.E.2d 347 (1971). "Customarily" imposes an additional requirement that the accessory use habitually has been established as reasonably associated with the primary use. Id.; Lawrence v. Zoning Board of Appeals supra; see Gratton v. Pellegrino supra; Perron v. Concord supra; In re Diamond St. Telephone Co., 49 Del. 13, 108 A.2d 667 (1954).

We hold that the master properly ruled as a matter of law that the storage of heavy commercial construction equipment cannot be said to bear a reasonable relationship to a residential we and to constitute a use customarily incidental thereto. Dumais v. Somersworth, 101 N.H. 111, 134 A.2d 700 (1957). Storage of the equipment is in no way "accessory" to the residential use which the ordinance permits; rather it simply represents an effort by Mr. Fitzgerald to locate a portion of his commercial enterprise near his home.

In a factually similar case, we held that the storage in a three-stall garage of commercial oil trucks could not be deemed a use accessory to a residential dwelling. Dumais v. Somersworth, 101 N.H. 111, 114, 134 A.2d 700, 701 (1957). Similar results have been reached in other jurisdictions. Colabufalo v. Public Buildings Comm'r, 332 Mass. 748, 127 N.E.2d 564 (1955); Warwick v. Campbell, 82 R.I. 300, 107 A.2d 334 (1954); Dolan v. DeCapua, 13 N.J. Super. 500, 80 A.2d 655 (1951); New Rochelle v. Dandry, 79 N.Y.S.2d 126 (City Ct. 1948); People v. Scrafano, 307 Mich. 655, 12 N.W.2d 325 (1943). These cases may be said to reflect the fact that zoning ordinances generally seek "to avoid . . . the infiltration of residential areas with small businesses or their appurtenances." Muskegon Heights v. Wilson, 363 Mich. 263, 267, 109 N.W.2d 768, 771 (1961).

The defendant places considerable reliance on the evidence that, in this town of about 800 registered voters, about eight other property owners used their premises for the storage of commercial vehicles. This evidence was of limited value on the issue of local custom, since there was no indication of the proportion of business men engaged in the practice. It failed to establish that the use complained of has commonly, habitually, and by long practice been established as reasonably associated with the primary residential use in the town. "If the ordinance is not being enforced in certain instances this cannot alter the meaning of the ordinance." Hancock v. Concord, 111 N.H. 413, 414, 285 A.2d 791, 792 (1971). We are of the view that the above evidence could not "bootstrap" to the status of an accessory use a use which has no reasonable relationship to a permitted use. See Harvard v. Maxant, 360 Mass. 432, 440, 275 N.E.2d 347, 352 (1971); Lawrence v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals, 158 Conn. 509, 513, 264 A.2d 552, 554-55 (1969).

There is no contention that the barn itself is offensive. Plaintiffs' objection goes to the storage of commercial vehicles. We affirm the ruling of the superior court that the town zoning ordinance prohibits the use of the barn or property for such storage. See Dumais v. Somersworth, 101 N.H. 111, 115, 134 A.2d 700, 702-03 (1957).

Exceptions overruled.

DOUGLAS, J., did not sit; the others concurred.


Summaries of

Becker v. Town of Hampton Falls

Supreme Court of New Hampshire Rockingham
May 31, 1977
117 N.H. 437 (N.H. 1977)

concluding heavy commercial equipment storage not incidental and subordinate to residential use

Summary of this case from Town of Salem v. Wickson

discussing ordinance that defined accessory uses as those that are “customarily incidental and subordina[te]”

Summary of this case from Forster v. Town of Henniker

examining customary aspect of accessory use based on activity within the municipality

Summary of this case from Forster v. Town of Henniker

referring to “local custom”

Summary of this case from Forster v. Town of Henniker

requiring an accessory use to be incidental to or in relation to the permitted use

Summary of this case from Dykstra v. Municipality of Anchorage
Case details for

Becker v. Town of Hampton Falls

Case Details

Full title:GEORGE W. BECKER a. v. TOWN OF HAMPTON FALLS

Court:Supreme Court of New Hampshire Rockingham

Date published: May 31, 1977

Citations

117 N.H. 437 (N.H. 1977)
374 A.2d 653

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