River Run Company, Inc., owner of the Attitash Mountain Village resort in Bartlett, New Hampshire, applied in September 2009 for a permit to place a sign along a local highway to advertise suites at the resort. River Run’s application was approved by the Town of Bartlett Zoning Board of Adjustment in January 2010, and the company erected the sign as planned at the resort’s west entrance. Some time thereafter, a smaller sign was added directing that the registration office was located 0.3 miles back on the left, where patrons could register for a suite at the resort. The lot on which the registration office is located is separate from the lot where the sign attachment was located, in violation of a local ordinance barring off-premises signs.
The Town’s Board of Selectmen informed River Run about the violation, prompting River Run to submit an amended sign permit application for the smaller registration sign, which the Selectboard denied. River Run tried to argue that the sign did not violate the ordinance because it was a “directory sign” under an Ordinance exemption, rather than an advertisement sign, but the Selectmen disagreed, finding that the sign was an advertisement for the registration office and, because it was not located on the same property as the registration office, was in violation of the ordinance. River Run appealed to the Town Zoning Board of Adjustment.
On considering the issue, the ZBA debated whether the “off-premises” portion of the ordinance should be construed to mean outside the total landholdings of the sign owner, or whether it must be restricted to merely the parcel on which the advertised location was present. The ZBA concluded that the registration sign in River Run’s case was a directional sign meant to point patrons toward the registration office, not a prohibited off-premise sign, finding against the Board of Selectmen. The Selectboard, after having its request for rehearing before the ZBA denied, filed an action against the ZBA in New Hampshire Superior Court. River Run intervened in the action.
At trial, the Selectboard argued that the ordinance’s reference to directional signs being permitted on the “premises” meant the single lot of land upon which a sign’s subject matter referred, rather than multiple lots under the same ownership, as found by the ZBA. The trial court sided with the ZBA, finding that the sign was a directional sign exempt from the ordinance, and the Selectboard appealed, challenging the trial court’s interpretation of the term “premises” to mean multiple lots in common ownership as part of a resort complex, and challenging the trial court’s conclusion that River Run’s sign was a directional sign subject to exemption from the Town’s sign ordinance. After discussing at length the definition of the term “premises,” the appellate court concluded that “premises” included the buildings and grounds associated with the Attitash Mountain Village resort, including all of the lots owned by River Run regardless of whether they were separate related lots or one large parcel. The court could find no compelling reason among the Board of Selectmen’s arguments to conclude that premises should be interpreted in as narrow a fashion as the Selectmen advocated, and no reason to overturn the trial court’s holding. For that reason, the appellate court agreed that the registration sign in question was a directional sign exempt from the sign ordinance, holding in favor of the ZBA and River Run.
Town of Bartlett Board of Selectmen v. Town of Bartlett Zoning Board of Adjustment, 2013 WL 1497323 (N.H. 4/12/13)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme/opinions/2013/2013031bartlett.pdf