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The Firing Range Neighborhood Group, LLC (Neighborhood Group) appealed an environmental court decision declining to find Act 250 jurisdiction over a firing range operated by the Laberge family (Laberge). Neighborhood Group argued the environmental court erred by: (1) allowing Laberge's untimely appeal; (2) concluding that because Laberge did not rely on donations, it was not operating for a commercial purpose; and (3) granting preclusive effect to a 1995 jurisdictional opinion. The Laberge family owned and operated a 287-acre farm, of which ten acres have been used as a shooting range since the 1950s by Laberge and the public. In November 2015, the recently formed Neighborhood Group requested a new jurisdictional opinion from the Commission. Neighborhood Group argued that since 1995, the range had begun operating with a "commercial purpose," citing the continued acceptance of donations and 2012 berm placements and bench repairs. Members complained of a sharp increase in the volume, intensity, and hours of shooting noise over the years since. In February 2016, the Commission issued a jurisdictional opinion (2016 JO), finding that, due to regular donations from municipalities, the range was now operating for a commercial purpose such that the construction of berms and shooting benches subjected the range to Act 250 jurisdiction. The environmental court declined to impose Act 250 jurisdiction, finding that Neighborhood Group had "fail[ed] to meet its burden of proof showing that cash donations are necessary for the [r]ange to operate" or that "there has been a change in donations to the [r]ange since the 1995 JO was issued that would create a commercial purpose where none existed before." The Vermont Supreme Court determined the environmental court did not abuse its discretion in finding excusable neglect and allowing Laberge's untimely appeal. Neither did it err when it concluded that Laberge, which had never charged for the use of the range and did not rely on donations for its operation, was not operating for a commercial purpose within the meaning of Act 250. "Laberge's range, consisting of a farm field with several benches and earthen berms, is not operating for a commercial purpose any more than a backyard corn maze or community garden space offered to the public free of charge. Act 250 sought to protect Vermont's unique environmental and cultural heritage at a time when the rapid proliferation of large-scale developments was dramatically altering many landscapes and communities around the nation. The text and spirit of Act 250, consistent with our prior decisions, informs our conclusion that the Act was not intended to apply to a family dairy farm that allows the community to target practice on its fields free of charge." View "In re Laberge Shooting Range (Firing Range Neighborhood Group, LLC, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Quaker Valley Farms, LLC (Quaker Valley) owned approximately 120 acres of deed-restricted farmland in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. As part of New Jersey’s Farmland Preservation Program, the State purchased an easement on the property that prohibited any activity on the property that was detrimental to soil conservation, but permitted the construction of new buildings for agricultural purposes. Quaker Valley excavated and leveled twenty acres of the farm previously used for the production of crops, to erect hoop houses (temporary greenhouses) in which it would grow flowers. In the process, Quaker Valley destroyed the land’s prime quality soil. At issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether Quaker Valley’s excavation activities violated its deed of easement and the Agriculture Retention and Development Act (ARDA). The Supreme Court determined Quaker Valley had the right to erect hoop houses, but did not have the authority to permanently damage a wide swath of premier quality soil in doing so. Accordingly, the judgment of the Appellate Division, which overturned the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the State Agriculture Development Committee, was reversed. “Those who own deed-restricted farmland must have well delineated guidelines that will permit them to make informed decisions about the permissible limits of their activities.” View "New Jersey v. Quaker Valley Farms, LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a tax lienholder has standing to challenge a planning board’s approval of a land use application for a neighboring property. The Court concluded that, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-4, a tax lienholder who can show that its “right to use, acquire or enjoy property is or may be affected” if the application is granted is an interested party, and therefore may have standing to challenge a planning board’s approval of a land use application. View "Cherokee LCP Land, LLC v. City of Linden Planning Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Montclair State University (MSU) has attempted to create a third egress from its campus onto a county road. MSU consulted with both the County of Passaic, New Jersey (County) and the City of Clifton (City), ultimately satisfying most of their concerns about the project. When the County failed to respond to MSU’s permit applications, MSU filed this action, seeking a judgment declaring that no permit or local approval was required, or alternatively, an order compelling the County to issue all necessary permits. The trial court denied relief sought. Relying on Rutgers v. Piluso, 60 N.J. 142 (1972), the court reasoned that the parties had to exchange updated traffic studies, consult further, and appear before the local planning boards. Although MSU agreed to make more changes to its plan, the impasse remained. The principal point of contention was the design speed of the campus roadway, which the County and City claimed was unsafe. MSU declined to make the change proposed by the County and the City, relying on its experts’ conclusion that the road’s planned design speed and posted speed would be safe, and that the alternative design was unsafe. The matter returned to the trial court, which dismissed MSU’s complaint because MSU had not returned to the local planning boards to develop the record further. In reversing the trial court, the Appellate Division held MSU enjoyed a limited immunity but that Rutgers controlled here and prohibits MSU from exercising its power in an “unreasonable fashion.” The panel remanded the matter, instructing that the trial court determine whether MSU had adequately and reasonably consulted with the County and City. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that in circumstances such as were presented here, a judicial finding that the cited public safety concern has been reasonably addressed was a necessary additional requirement before a court could either compel local regulatory action or grant declaratory relief that the planned action is exempt from land use regulation. The appellate court did not specify what record warranted such a finding in every case. “Rather, the trial court should determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether it could make such a finding via a summary proceeding or whether a more fulsome proceeding is necessary.” View "Montclair State University v. County of Passaic" on Justia Law

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The issue at the center of this decades-long water rights case involved the Pojoaque Basin of New Mexico. A settlement was reached among many of the parties involved. The district court overruled the objectors and entered a final judgment. The objecting parties appealed, arguing the settlement was contrary to law because it altered the state-law priority system, and the New Mexico Attorney General could not agree to enforce the settlement without the state legislature's approval. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined, as provided in the agreement, the State Engineer promulgated rules for the administration of water rights in the Basin. Those rules explicitly provided that non-settling parties “have the same rights and benefits that would be available without the settlement agreement” and that those rights “shall only be curtailed . . . to the extent such curtailment would occur without the settlement agreement.” However, though the settlement preserved their rights, it did not confer the objector-appellants standing to challenge it. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the case for dismissal of the objections for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "New Mexico v. Aamodt" on Justia Law

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Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town (“AQTT”) appeals several orders entered in favor of the United States, the Secretary and Associate Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (“DOI”), the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation (the “Creek Nation”). AQTT was a federally recognized Indian Tribe organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act (“OIWA”). AQTT filed a complaint against the United States and several federal officials (collectively, the “Federal Defendants”) alleging property known as the Wetumka Project lands were purchased under OIWA for the benefit of AQTT. It requested a declaratory judgment and an order compelling the government to assign the Wetumka Project lands to AQTT and provide AQTT with a full and complete accounting of related trust funds and assets. On the Federal Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings, the district court dismissed AQTT’s claim for land assignment and denied the motion as to an accounting of trust assets. The parties then promptly filed cross-motions for summary judgment. All were denied. The case was remanded to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (“IBIA”) for further development of the trust accounting issue. After the IBIA decided that the government did not hold any funds in trust for AQTT, the case returned to district court. AQTT filed an amended complaint, adding the Creek Nation as a defendant and arguing that the IBIA’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. The Creek Nation moved to dismiss, and that motion was granted on sovereign immunity grounds. In the amended complaint, AQTT also attempted to revive its land assignment claim based on newly discovered evidence. The district court again dismissed the claim. AQTT and the Federal Defendants then renewed their crossmotions for summary judgment. The district court upheld the IBIA’s decision. In granting the government’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, the district court dismissed AQTT’s claims for assignment of the Wetumka Project lands for failure to join the Creek Nation, an indispensable party because the IBIA determined the Creek Nation, not AQTT, was the legal beneficiary of the funds related to the Wetumka Project lands. In affirming the district court, the Tenth Circuit concluded the IBIA’s determination was supported by substantial evidence and was not arbitrary or capricious: the deeds of conveyance for the Wetumka Project lands plainly placed the land in trust for the Creek Nation, and did not create a vested beneficial interest in any other entity. View "Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the City of Brookhaven, holding that its ordinance regulating adult businesses was not unconstitutional. The city passed the ordinance for the stated purpose of preventing the negative secondary effects of such businesses. As a preliminary matter, the court held that res judicata did not preclude Stardust from litigating its claims in this appeal. On the merits, the court held that the ordinance did not impermissibly restrict Stardust's constitutionally protected speech; the ordinance was not unconstitutionally vague in violation of due process; the City's enforcement of the ordinance did not violate Stardust's equal protection rights; and the ordinance did not impermissibly infringe on individuals' substantive due process right to intimate sexual activity. View "Stardust, 3007 LLC v. City of Brookhaven" on Justia Law

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Fremont approved a development project in its Niles historical district, which is characterized by unusual trees and historic buildings. The historic overlay district was intended to preserve its “small town character.” The six-acre site was vacant; the developer proposed building 85 residential townhomes in its southern portion and mixed residential and retail in the northern portion. Opponents objected that some three-story buildings might block hill views; to the architectural style and choice of colors and materials on building exteriors; and to the Project’s density as a generator of traffic and parking problems. The city adopted a mitigated negative declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act, rather than prepare an environmental impact report, finding the Project as mitigated would have no significant adverse environmental impact. The trial court granted the objectors’ petition and ordered the city to vacate its approvals "absent compliance with CEQA in the preparation of an EIR.” The court of appeal affirmed, stating the Project’s compatibility with the historical district is properly analyzed as aesthetic impacts. Substantial evidence supports a fair argument of a significant aesthetic impact and a fair argument of significant traffic impacts, notwithstanding a professional traffic study concluding the anticipated adverse impacts fell below the city’s predetermined thresholds of significance. View "Protect Niles v. City of Fremont" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the circuit court did not err when it found that an automobile graveyard was a lawful nonconforming use because the use began prior to the enactment of the county’s zoning ordinances and had not been discontinued. The Acting Zoning Administrator of Price William County determined that the use of one parcel as an automobile graveyard was not a lawful nonconforming use. The Prince William County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) upheld the Administrator’s denial of the non-conforming use verification for the parcel. The circuit court reversed the BZA’s decision, finding that the use of the parcel as an automobile salvage business operation predated the zoning ordinances of Prince William County and that the pre-existing lawful nonconforming use was never abandoned or discontinued. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the lawful nonconforming use of the parcel as an automobile graveyard was not terminated by discontinuance of the use. View "Prince William Board of County Supervisors v. Archie" on Justia Law

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At issue before the South Carolina Supreme court was the propriety of the grant of partial summary judgment in a condemnation action. The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court's ruling that the landowner, David Powell, was not entitled to compensation for any diminution in value of his remaining property due to the rerouting of a major highway which previously was easily accessible from his property. South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) condemned a portion of Powell's 2.5 acre property in connection with its upgrade to U.S. Highway 17 Bypass (the Bypass) near the Backgate area of Myrtle Beach. His unimproved parcel, located on the corner of Emory Road and Old Socastee Highway, was originally separated from the Bypass by a power line easement and a frontage road; access to that major thoroughfare was via Emory Road, which intersected with the Bypass. Because Powell's property was zoned "highly commercial," his easy access to the Bypass significantly enhanced its value. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial. The record contained evidence the condemnation of Powell's property, the closure of the intersection, and the curving of the frontage road over the condemned parcel were all integrally connected components of the project, creating a material issue of fact as to which of these acts was a direct and proximate cause of the taking, thus rendering summary judgment improper. Employing the clear language of our just compensation statute, the Court held that a jury should have been permitted to hear evidence on the diminution in value to the remaining property. View "SCDOT v. Powell" on Justia Law