Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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McGinnis Auto & Mobile Home Salvage, LLC salvaged discarded and dilapidated mobile homes on its property in Kent County, Delaware. According to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), a large and unsightly waste pile, possibly contaminated with asbestos, had accumulated over time. DNREC cited McGinnis for environmental violations and for operating a reclamation facility without a permit. DNREC gave McGinnis a chance to bring the property into compliance, but McGinnis failed to do so. DNREC responded by issuing a cease and desist order requiring McGinnis to remove the waste pile from the property in an environmentally responsible manner. McGinnis appealed the order to the Environmental Appeals Board, arguing that DNREC could order the illegal activity to stop, but could not order McGinnis to take affirmative action to remove the waste pile from the property. The EAB agreed with McGinnis, finding that the order exceeded the scope of its authority. The Superior Court affirmed the EAB’s decision, finding that DNREC did not have the authority under its cease and desist power to require McGinnis to remove the waste pile, direct how the waste had to be removed, or demand documentation. On appeal, DNREC contended that the EAB and Superior Court took too narrow of a view of DNREC’s cease and desist authority. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed: "it follows that the only way to cease and desist from the violation is to remove the contaminated debris from the site. ... the Secretary can require a violator to cease and desist from continuing the illegal storage of solid waste. If the violator ignores the Secretary’s order, Section 6005 provides the possible remedies for a violation of 'any order of the Secretary.' The Secretary may impose monetary penalties. The Secretary may seek injunctive relief in the Court of Chancery. And, in his discretion, the Secretary may opt for conciliation. None of the possible remedies is mandatory or inconsistent with the Secretary’s authority to enter a cease and desist order." View "DNREC v. McGinnis Auto & Mobile Home Salvage, LLC" on Justia Law

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The City of Lewes and its Historic Preservation Commission approved Ernest and Deborah Nepa’s plans to renovate a house in the historic district. The Nepas violated the conditions of the approvals by building a two story addition on the back of the house and increasing its already nonconforming setbacks from neighboring properties. After the City discovered the violations and issued a stop work order, the Nepas applied to the City’s board of adjustment for three area variances to complete the unauthorized addition; the board turned them down. The Nepas appealed the variance denials to the Superior Court, arguing that the City Code provision used by the board to evaluate their variance applications conflicted with a more lenient state law addressing municipal variances. The Superior Court agreed and reversed the board’s decision. On appeal, the City argued the Superior Court erred because the state statute relied on, 22 Del. C. 327(a)(3), only prohibited the City from loosening the state law requirements for granting a variance. The City was thus free to require stricter standards. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the City and reversed the Superior Court’s decision. “As long as the variance standards applied by the City of Lewes’ board of adjustment meet the minimum state statutory standards, nothing in the state statute prohibits the City, through its board of adjustment, from applying variance standards stricter than those set by the State.” View "City of Lewes & The Board of Adjustment v. Nepa" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, at issue before the Delaware Supreme Court was whether stipulated court orders agreed to in 2005 by a property owner and the Town of Cheswold prevented the Town from enacting new ordinances affecting the property. Applying res judicata, the Superior Court found that they did, and entered a judgment prohibiting the Town from enacting any ordinance impairing the property owner’s existing development rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the 2005 stipulated orders did not prohibit the Town from enacting future ordinances affecting the property. "If the Town eventually adopts a new ordinance, any future litigation over the property owner’s vested rights should be resolved by applying the balancing test in In re 244.5 Acres of Land, 808 A.2d 753 (Del. 2002)." View "Town of Cheswold v. Central Delaware Business Park" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, Mary DiFebo argued that the Superior Court erred by dismissing her amended petition seeking review of a Board of Adjustment decision that granted a variance application for two land plots located near DiFebo's home to be subdivided into four flag lots. The Superior Court had two related reasons for dismissing the amended petition: (1) that DiFebo had not named the owners of the two properties that were the subject of the Board's proceeding within the thirty-day statute of limitations for commencing a petition challenging a Board decision, and for that reason alone she was foreclosed from proceeding; (2) alternatively, the court found that DiFebo had not met the requirements for relation back under Superior Court Civil Rule 15(c)(3). The Supreme Court concluded that the Superior Court correctly determined that DiFebo did not satisfy all of Rule 15(c)(3)'s requirements to have her amended petition relate back to her initial filing. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of DiFebo's amended petition. View "DiFebo v. Board of Adjustment of New Castle County, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellant John Nichols appealed a final Superior Court judgment affirming the order of the State Coastal Zone Industrial Board granting motions to dismiss filed by appellees Diamond State Generation Partners LLC and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in response to Nichols' appeal of the grant of a Coastal Zone industrial permit application. Nichols raised two claims on appeal: (1) the Board's vote on whether Nichols had standing to pursue the appeal failed due to the lack of a five-vote majority; and (2) that he possessed standing under the "any person aggrieved" standard of title 7, section 7007(b) of the Delaware Code, or, in the alternative, as a matter of common law. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded both of Nichols' arguments lacked merit and therefore affirmed the Superior Court. View "Nichols v. State Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a trial court judge erred in finding that a state agency complied with the state's Real Property Acquisition Act before it moved to condemn petitioners' property. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was reversed, the orders vacated and the case remanded with instructions to dismiss the condemnation action without prejudice. View "Lawson v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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A group of Dewey Beach property owners appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit against the Town. They sued to challenge the town's authority to enter into what they characterized as a "private zoning arrangement" to violate certain longstanding zoning requirements. The Court of Chancery dismissed the complaint finding it was not filed within 60 days of the notice given following approval of the developer's record plan. Finding that the Court of Chancery lacked jurisdiction, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Murray v. Town of Dewey Beach" on Justia Law

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New Cingular Wireless PCS (now known as "AT&T") filed an application with the Sussex County Board of Adjustment ("the Board") for a special use exception to construct a 100-foot telecommunications cell tower on a commercially zoned property located just outside of Bethany Beach. A special use exception was required before a cell tower may be erected within 500 feet of a residential zone. The Sea Pines Village Condominium Association of Owners, along with individual residents who lived near the proposed location opposed the application. The Board ultimately denied AT&T's application. On appeal to the Superior Court, the court acknowledged in its opinion that while this appeal was pending "Bethany voted unanimously to reject AT&T's request to use [Bethany's] water tower as an antenna location" and that "Bethany was in fact unwilling to negotiate with AT&T." The trial court did not explain its reasoning for refusing to allow a collocation on the Bethany water tower. The Superior Court affirmed based on the record presented. In its written decision denying AT&T's application, the Board concluded that AT&T "had not met its burden [under the Sussex County Code] of proving that the proposed use would not affect adversely the uses of adjacent and neighboring properties." The Superior Court explained AT&T's burden with similar language. But the Sussex County Code required a lesser burden, "special use exceptions shall be granted unless the Board finds such exceptions will not substantially affect adversely the uses of adjacent and neighboring property." AT&T argued that the Board's decision should have been reversed because the Board failed to apply the correct legal standard. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS v. Sussex County Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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The Board appealed from a Superior Court decision reversing the Board's denial of the area variance application of appellants. Appellants had purchased the property at issue, made renovations and improvements on the property, including adding a barbecue area and building a shed in the setback area. The Board denied the application on grounds that appellants did not satisfy the statutory requirements of title 9, section 6917 of the Delaware Code. The court held that the plain language of title 9, section 6917 precluded the Board from granting a variance where, as here, appellants created the exceptional practical difficulty. The court also held that the decision of the Board that the property was being reasonably utilized without the non-conforming structures was supported by substantial evidence and was free from legal error. Accordingly, the court reversed the decision of the Superior Court. View "The Board of Adjustment of Sussex County v. Verleysen & Kotowski" on Justia Law

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Sussex County filed a complaint against DNREC asserting that it exceeded its constitutional and statutory authority in promulgating the PCS Regulations, which were promulgated in 2008 to effect DNREC's Pollution Control Strategy for the Inland Bays Watershed. At issue was the validity of Sections 4 and 5 of the PCS Regulations. The Superior Court held that Section 4, which established the water quality buffer, and the related stormwater control provisions of Section 5, constituted "zoning," and thus directly conflicted with the Sussex County Zoning Ordinance. The Superior Court held those portions of the PCS Regulations were void and ordered that they be stricken. The court concluded that DNREC's "no zoning" argument was contradicted by language in those portions of the PCS Regulations that were at issue. Therefore, the judgment of the Superior Court was affirmed. View "DE Dept. of Natural Resources & Environmental Control v. Sussex County, et. al." on Justia Law