Hampton Beach Master Plan: The Planning Context

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B. The Planning Context

Hampton Beach is a spectacular barrier spit with broad beaches backed by coastal marshes. Beginning over a century ago, the beach and its surroundings were developed to support a seasonal public demand to

Early 20th century view of the beach in front of the Casino
enjoy and be near the water. The evolution of most of the Beach was long governed by a development company, the Hampton Beach Improvement Company (HBIC), which controlled the location and character of development through a 99-year land lease that began in 1897. Initially, this control created an attractive balance of beachfront homes, hotels, and entertainment facilities that served the summertime vacations of the urban families of New England.

However, many practical concessions were made during the first half of the 1900’s to enhance short-term, economic opportunities and solve immediate issues. Development began to fill every available spot of land, with few controls on the quality or mix of improvements or uses. The automobile overwhelmed the area during peak times, with increasing congestion and unsolved parking needs. Available revenue sources could not keep pace with the need to support the infrastructure and public facilities that were required.

The State of New Hampshire stepped in during the Great Depression to take over fiscal control of the beach and

Ocean Avenue, Looking South
make it a state park facility. The introduction of the state jurisdiction included Ocean Boulevard, and the parking areas that have lined the beach since the early part of the century. Many improvements were made over time to enhance the recreational opportunities, such as the boardwalk, and provide for maintenance and safety.

The tourism market shifted, and the population using the Beach began to change. Once a choice for prolonged vacations, it increasingly became the destination for short stays and day trips. When some significant reinvestment began to occur, newcomers settled in as year-round residents, valuing the waterfront location. At the same time, significant disinvestments occurred in commercial properties, and the image of the Beach started to decline as the market for leisure activities became more competitive.

With the expiration of the original lease in 1997, the Town and related authorities are now the stewards of the developed areas of the Beach through its land use and environmental regulations, and local infrastructure. Much of the infrastructure is outdated or in poor condition, and the regulatory framework has not been consistently effective in meeting public or private sector purposes.

Within this context, there is a critical need for a coordinated vision that will link future State and Town policies and actions, and provide for both public and private sector improvements to create a more positive future.


Planning Area

The planning area for this study is comprised of all the land, activities, and waterfront uses in and around Hampton Beach, including both the Town and State Park areas. This area encompasses approximately 1,500 acres of land. In addition, the study has taken into account, conditions and trends in the surrounding region that have a direct impact on the uses at Hampton Beach.

Planning Area for the Master Plan Study


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