Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Maine Supreme Judicial Court

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In two consolidated land-use matters the Supreme Judicial Court vacated an order entered by the superior court denying a motion for contempt filed by several individuals (the individuals) against the Town of Arundel and others and granting the Town's motion for sanctions in the form of a vexatious litigant order (VLO), holding that the individuals were not properly before the court. The Town filed two complaints against Dubois Livestock, Inc. and Cynthia Dubois (collectively, the Dubois entities) alleging land-use laws violations. The parties agreed to a consent order resolving the issues. One year later, the individuals, who were not parties in the underlying case, filed a motion seeking a contempt order against the Town, the Arundel Planning Board (APB), and individual members of the APB, asserting that they had violated the consent order. The Town moved for sanctions in the form of a VLO against the individuals and the Dubois entities. The superior court denied the motion for contempt and entered a VLO against the individuals. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment below, holding (1) the individuals had no standing to file the motion for contempt; and (2) because the individuals were earlier dismissed as parties to this appeal, the VLO must be vacated as well. View "Town of Arundel v. Dubois Livestock, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court dismissing Appellants' claim for a declaratory judgment in this zoning dispute, holding that the superior court did not err in dismissing the claim as duplicative of Appellants' appeal from a municipal action that was included in the same complaint. Appellants owned a parcel of land that abutted a parcel owned by Landowners. After the zoning board of appeals (ZBA) approved Landowners' application for permission to raze an existing house located on their property and to build a new one Appellants filed a complaint against the Town of Cape Elizabeth and Landowners, asserting, inter alia, a request for judicial review of the ZBA's approval of Appellants' application pursuant to Me. R. Civ. P. 80B and an independent claim for a declaratory judgment that section 19-6-11(E)(2) of the Cape Elizabeth Zoning Ordinance is preempted by the state's Mandatory Shoreland Zoning Act, Me. Rev. Stat. 38, 439-A(4)(C)(1). The superior court dismissed the declaratory judgment claim as duplicative of the Rule 80B appeal. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that because Appellants' claim for declaratory relief was not independent from its Rule 80B, the superior court's dismissal of the declaratory judgment claim as duplicative was not an abuse of discretion. View "Cape Shore House Owners Ass'n v. Town of Cape Elizabeth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court dismissing for lack of subject matter jurisdiction Plaintiffs’ Me. R. Civ. P. 80B complaint for review of factual findings made by the Board of Appeals of the Town of York, holding that the superior court had jurisdiction to review the Board’s decision. Plaintiffs contacted the Town’s Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) to express their concern that their neighbor’s use of his property was not consistent with the previous owner’s nonconforming use. The CEO found no violations. The Board found that the neighbor’s use of the lot did not constitute a change in use but was rather an intensification of the previous use. Plaintiffs appealed to the superior court pursuant to Rule 80B. The court granted the Town’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the Board’s review of the CEO’s decision was advisory and, therefore, unreviewable. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that, absent an express provision in the Town’s ordinance stating that Plaintiffs may not appeal, a determination of whether there has been a violation of the ordinance is reviewable on appeal. View "Raposa v. Town of York" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the order of the superior court dismissing Plaintiffs’ complaint but vacated the order imposing sanctions on Plaintiffs, holding that the superior court abused its discretion in imposing sanctions. After the Town of Arundel Planning Board denied an application to renew a conditional use permit submitted by Dubois Livestock Inc., Plaintiffs - Marcel Dubois and Sol Fedder - filed this complaint against the Town, individual members of the Planning Board, and the Town Planner, alleging that the Planning Board met at an illegal executive session or sessions. The superior court dismissed the complaint for lack of standing and failure to state a claim. The superior court then granted Defendants attorney fees and costs. The Supreme Judicial Court held (1) the superior court did not err in dismissing the complaint because Plaintiffs lacked standing to pursue a Me. R. Civ. P. 80B complaint, and the complaint failed to state a claim under the Freedom of Access Act, Me. Rev. Stat. 1, 400-414; and (2) the superior court’s imposition of sanctions pursuant to Me. R. Civ. P. 11 was an abuse of discretion. View "Dubois v. Town of Arundel" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court finding that the City of Portland had proved that Appellant, the owner of an apartment building, had violated violated fire, electrical, and life safety provisions of Maine statutes and the Portland City Code, holding that the record supported the court’s decision. The City notified Appellant of code violations on eight occasions, but Appellant did not remedy significant violations that endangered her tenants. Ultimately, the City commenced an enforcement action. After a trial that Appellant failed to attend, the court found that the City had proved multiple code violations. The court imposed penalties on Appellant of more than $500,000, plus costs and attorneys fees. On appeal, Appellant challenged the district court’s determination of the penalties. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the court correctly applied the statute governing penalties, Me. Rev. Stat. 30-A, 4452(3)(E). View "City of Portland v. Chau" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the district court in favor of the Town of Mount Vernon on its land use violation complaint filed pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 30-A, 4452 and Me. R. Civ. P. 80K, holding that a generator on Landowners’ property was a structure and thus must meet the requirements of the Town’s Land Use Ordinance regarding structures. On appeal from a decision of the Town’s code enforcement officer, the Mount Vernon Board of Appeals determined that a relatively large generator that Landowners had installed on their small lot was a “structure” under the Ordinance. When Landowners failed to comply with the Towns’ request for the removal of the generator, the Town filed a land use violation complaint. The district court determined that the Board’s decision was res judicata as to whether the generator met the definition of “structure” in the Ordinance and found Landowners in violation of the Ordinance, assessing penalty and attorney fees. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly determined that the Board’s decision was binding on Landowners; and (2) the court did not err in finding that Landowners were in violation of the Ordinance and assessing a penalty. View "Town of Mount Vernon v. Landherr" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court affirming, pursuant to Me. R. Civ. P. 80B, the Town of Wiscasset Planning Board’s approval of Allen and Melissa Cohen’s application to expand a building used for the Cohens’ business and dismissed the appeal of the judgments entered for the Town on Kathleen and Thomas Bryant’s independent claims. After the Planning Board approved the Cohens’ site plan review application, the Bryants appealed. The Board of Appeals denied the Bryants’ appeal. The Bryants appealed the Planning Board’s decision to the superior court pursuant to Rule 80B. They also brought three independent claims - two separate counts alleging that the Town had violated their due process rights by denying them notice and an opportunity to be heard and a third count seeking declaratory relief. The superior court affirmed the Planning Board’s decision on the Braynts’ Rule 80B appeal, entered judgments for the Town on the violation of due process claims, and dismissed the count seeking declaratory relief for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Judicial Court (1) affirmed with respect to the Rule 80B appeal, holding that the Planning Board did not err in approving the Cohens’ application; and (2) dismissed as moot the appeals with respect to the judgments on the independent claims. View "Bryant v. Town of Wiscasset" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court affirming a decision of the Cape Elizabeth Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which determined that the Cape Elizabeth Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) had properly issued a building permit to Cunner Lane LLC. An abutting property owner appealed. The court remanded the case for the CEO to deny the application, holding that there was no competent evidence in the record showing that Cunner Lane LLC’s permit application met the requirements of Cape Elizabeth, Me. Zoning Ordinance 19-7-9(A)(2). View "Fissmer v. Town of Cape Elizabeth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court affirming the Cape Elizabeth Code Enforcement Officer’s (CEO) issuance of a building permit, holding that the CEO’s decision granting the permit lacked sufficient factual findings to permit meaningful review. The owner of property abutting the property at issue appealed the CEO’s grant of the building permit to the Town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The ZBA affirmed the CEO’s decision. The superior court affirmed. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the superior court’s judgment and remanded the matter, holding that the COE’s grant of the building permit was the operative decision and that decision lacked sufficient factual findings to permit meaningful appellate review. View "Appletree Cottage, LLC v. Town of Cape Elizabeth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court affirming a decision of the Town of North Haven Board of Appeals that upheld a permit issued by the Town of North Haven Planning Board to Nebo Lodge, Inc. and Nebo Real Estate, LLC. The court held (1) the North Haven Board of Appeals (BOA) did not err in interpreting various provisions in North Haven’s ordinance; and (2) the permit review process did not violate the due process rights of Steven Wolfram, who opposed the applications, because there was a dearth of evidence that the BOA decision was the product of bias or procedural unfairness. View "Wolfram v. Town of North Haven" on Justia Law