OPD has the Answer.

  • A large audience of people watching a presentation

With the recent increase in in-migration trends in New Hampshire placing pressure on communities, it’s not surprising that municipalities are taking a closer look at their land use regulations. Studies suggest that the number of people moving to New Hampshire will continue to increase. Conservatively, the state’s 2022 “State, County, and Municipal Population Projections: 2020-2050”, predicts that every half-decade, approximately 50,000 more people will be moving into New Hampshire than leaving the state.

Local zoning ordinances and master plans are two tools that towns and cities use to encourage certain types of growth to meet the community’s changing needs, while discouraging other types of growth that could negatively impact a community’s values and vision. Municipal planning and zoning board members play a central role in the development and implementation of these documents that guide and regulate where and how development can occur within their town boundaries.

Wading through the regulatory framework of what communities can and cannot do, and staying on top of recent trends and growth pressures can seem dauntingly complex for citizens, as well as both new and seasoned board members. Fortunately, the New Hampshire Office of Planning and Development (OPD) provides an array of training and guidance to local officials and citizens on planning and zoning related matters. Just a few resources include in-depth handbooks for local officials, annual conference presentations on duties and best practices, and monthly webinars on emerging issues and trends.

The OPD’s annual Planning and Zoning Conference is a great place to get an overview and/or refresher of New Hampshire’s local land use landscape. For the past few years, the OPD has hosted its annual Planning and Zoning Conference virtually.  This year, the conference was divided into three tracks: a track for planning boards, a track for zoning boards, and a track for historic preservation and housing. The presentations for, and recordings of, each track’s session provide an excellent overview of the powers, duties, roles, responsibilities, best practices and trends of local land use commissions, and are available to view any time on the BEA’s website.

For more specific themes, each month the OPD hosts a series of topical webinars called Planning Lunches at Noon (abbreviated as PLAN – very clever!). Subjects can range from emerging issues like the housing shortage, to current best practices for long range tools like capital improvement plans. If you can’t attend the live events, you can access archived slide decks and recorded presentations any time on the OPD’s website here.

And for a deep dive into the functions and duties of land use boards, the OPD publishes two comprehensive and technical handbooks for local officials, “The Planning Board in New Hampshire: A Handbook For Local Officials” and “The Zoning Board of Adjustment in New Hampshire: A Handbook for Local Officials”..

There are many more tools, resources and maps that the OPD provides to assist board members, planning staff and citizens interested in local land use. Gratefully, many of these resources are accessible to anyone on OPD’s website, including links to great resources from other organizations and agencies like the NH Municipal Association, regional planning commissions, and of course, Cooperative Extension’s Community and Economic Development calendar of events.


Sullivan County
Extension Field Specialist, Community Development
Office: UNH Cooperative Extension Community & Economic Development, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824