[Plan-link] Irregular Lot Shapes
Thu Feb 16 17:43:38 EST 2006
If geometry doesn’t diminish the urge to regulate the irregular, see also Metzger v. Brentwood, 117 NH 497 (1977) and Hannigan v. City of Concord, 144 NH 68 (1999).
While these two cases address the purpose and intent of frontage requirements, their rationale is congruent for non-rectilinear plats.
Per the cases, frontage rules are meant to encourage (a) safe access from the house site to a town-maintained road; (b) adequate latitudinal space on the lot for a building envelope and separation of houses; and (c) management of density (in combination with minimum lot size). It’s difficult to see a rationale for regulating lot irregularity where the purported evil does not undercut these policies, and I guess I don’t see how it could, provided your town looks at building envelopes as part of subdivision approval.
In Metzger, the plaintiff had an oversized, perhaps irregular lot with only 123 feet of frontage in a 200-foot frontage zone. The town denied the plaintiff’s application to build. The plaintiff sued and showed his lot satisfied all three policies above. The Supremes held that the attempt to enforce the frontage rule on these facts was constitutionally invalid:
"When the restriction as applied to a particular piece of land is unnecessary to accomplish a legitimate public purpose or the gain to the public is slight but the harm to the citizen and his property is great, the exercise of the police power becomes arbitrary and unreasonable and this court will afford relief under the constitution of this state. This is such a case. Here so long as the driveway leads from the qualifying part of the road, access to any residence plaintiffs may build upon this property is unaffected by the fact that they have 123 feet on a qualifying road instead of 200 feet. We hold, therefore, that the ordinance is unconstitutional as applied to plaintiffs’ land question."
That was then, this is now. My guess is today’s Supremes would probably let towns "just say no" to new subdivisions of irregular lots on the basis that, for example, they are aesthetically displeasing. That’s a "rational basis", particularly for a town whose voters have Cartesian proclivities. It’d be fun to watch the Supremes squirm around Metzger, though.
Ah, the good old days, when lots could be irregular, property rights were not, and gastrointestinal quackery was only a healthcare issue …