Michael Klass confirmed for Superior Court’s new Land Use Review Docket 

Sign Up For Our FREE Daily eNews!

Story Produced by NH Bar News, a member of

Copy of


CONCORD, NH – In response to the growing need to address the state’s land use cases, the legislature took a proactive step last year and introduced House Bill 347, which establishes a Land Use Review Docket in the New Hampshire Superior Court. The specialized docket went into effect on January 1, 2024. A new judgeship has been created for this docket, and Attorney Michael A. Klass was confirmed for the position on November 29, 2023, by a unanimous vote from the Executive Council.

“My cumulative professional experience provides me with a background and set of skills that fulfill the Land Use Review Docket’s requirement; that its justice shall be qualified by knowledge and experience in land use and real property law,” Klass said at his November 8 nomination hearing. “Moreover, I very much enjoy this type of work.”

After receiving his JD from Vermont Law School, Klass was admitted to practice in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. For two years, he clerked at the Massachusetts Land Court in Boston for retired Justice Alexander Sand, III. Klass then moved to private practice, dealing in civil litigation with a focus on land use and real property matters. 

Screenshot 2024 01 07 at 10.58.40 PM
Attorney Michael Klass

During this time, Klass regularly appeared before local zoning and planning boards on behalf of individuals and companies, represented property owners concerned about land use proposals, and appealed to the courts when needed. In 2017, he joined the Office of Strategic Initiatives where he advised stakeholders on matters of land use planning and worked with officials and others on the land use process, including offering outreach and education on such issues.

Currently, Klass is the sole attorney member of the state’s Housing Appeals Board, a Supreme Court-appointed three-person board that hears land use appeals related to housing. 

Now confirmed, Klass will join the Superior Court next month when the new docket goes into effect. Klass will handle all land use cases brought to the court and will sit in Hillsborough North in Manchester.

Initially, his work will focus strictly on these issues, gradually expanding to a more diversified docket based on workload and consultation with court authorities.

“I’ve had the opportunity to speak to [Klass] on a couple of occasions,” says New Hampshire Superior Court Chief Justice Mark Howard. “He sounds – and by his record is very – experienced in these issues. He has experience with these boards and what these cases actually look like. I am very excited to have his expertise in the Superior Court.” 

In land use planning cases, decisions made by municipal planning and zoning boards are appealable to the Superior Court. Each year, there are approximately 60 zoning and planning appeals filed. When a case is filed, the court reviews the appealed decisions to determine if they are reasonable and lawful. If they are, the decision is affirmed and if they are not, the case is sent back to the local land use boards to re-assess the matter based on the findings. 

As of November, there are 72 pending appeals in the Superior Court. The court is in the process of determining what stage each case is in, and whether those will be assigned to Klass or brought to conclusion by the judges handling them now.

Currently, appealed cases are being handled by Superior Court judges in the various counties where issues arise and can take up to a year to be resolved. The new docket will enhance the current process and more effectively resolve land use issues, with one experienced judge dedicated to them. 

“The primary goal for the new docket is to resolve these cases expeditiously,” says Justice Howard. “Those goals, for the most part, are set by the legislature in the statute. The statute lays out what I think is a reasonable but also aggressive timeline for resolving these cases.”

The new legislation mandates an expedited timeline for resolving land use cases, emphasizing a conference within 30 days of an appeal’s notice, a hearing within 60 days of the certified record filing, and an order within 60 days of the hearing. The aim is to significantly reduce the typical eight-to-12-month timeframe for resolving such cases. With this timeline, cases would be resolved in five or six months, which Justice Howard describes as quick. 

The motivation behind this legislation is to resolve cases quickly given the housing crisis in New Hampshire. According to the 2023 New Hampshire Statewide Housing Needs Assessment, the state falls short of its housing needs by roughly 23,500 units. This has caused a push for development over the last few years, meaning more land use issues are brought forth to the Superior Court.

Justice Howard anticipates that not only will these cases be resolved more swiftly, but there will also be more predictability in decision-making. It is expected to eliminate inconsistencies that might arise when different judges handle similar issues in various locations across the state.

However, challenges arise, particularly for litigants in distant counties like Grafton, Coos, and Carroll, where traveling to Manchester for hearings can be difficult and costly. The court is considering options, including having Klass travel to these counties for hearings to ensure fairness.

Klass expects to take the bench on January 16, 2024, after completing his work at the Housing Appeals Board. 

“I am confident that I will be able to seize the opportunity and quickly transition to efficiently resolving land use appeals in the Superior Court,” Klass said. “I’m excited by the opportunity to draw upon the skills I have developed throughout my career to decide matters before me based on the law as applied to the facts of the case, in a fair and expeditious manner.”


GSNC 2 ColorThese articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org. 

 

Subscribe Now and Never Miss Another Thing!

About this Author