Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court
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Plaintiffs sought permits from the City of Providence so they might restore electrical meters at the property they owned. The property was located in an area of the City that was zoned for no more than two-family dwelling units. The City conducted an inspection of the property, which revealed the property was being used as a three-family dwelling, and therefore, it was not in compliance with zoning ordinances. Plaintiffs filed an appeal of the City official's determination that their property was an illegal three-family dwelling. The zoning board affirmed. Plaintiffs appealed and sought a declaration that their use of the property was a legal nonconforming use. The trial justice denied relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice (1) did not abuse his discretion in declining to declare that Plaintiffs' property was a legal nonconforming use; (2) did not err in declining to apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel against the City; and (3) did not err in declining to allow Plaintiffs to rely upon the doctrine of laches as a basis for ruling that the City should not be permitted to enforce the provision of the zoning ordinance that prohibits using the property in a three-family manner. View "Cigarrilha v. City of Providence" on Justia Law

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This case involved a mediated settlement agreement between two of the heirs of Alfredo and the executrix of his estate, Maria. The superior court ordered Plaintiffs, Lucilio and Patricia, to execute general releases and pay attorney's fees incurred by Maria in seeking to enforce the settlement agreement. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the superior court erred in ordering them to execute general releases with terms that were materially different from those contemplated during settlement negotiations, and in assessing attorney's fees. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court, holding (1) the trial justice erred in ordering Plaintiffs to execute the general release where the general release's language exceeded the clear and unambiguous terms of the settlement agreement; and (2) the superior court erred in awarding attorney's fees to Defendant pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws 9-1-45, as the statute's threshold requirement that the party to receive the attorney's fees award be the "prevailing party" had not been met. View "Furtado v. Goncalves" on Justia Law

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Defendants, the city zoning board of review and the members of that board voted at a February 23, 2009 meeting to approve a request for an extension of time in which to substantially complete certain improvements to property. The request was referenced in one of the items contained in the agenda posted with respect to the board's meeting. Plaintiffs alleged that the agenda item violated the Rhode Island Open Meeting Act because it was a vague and indefinite notice to the public and one lacking in specificity. The superior court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding that the agenda item provided sufficient notice and thus did not violate the Act. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court, holding that the agenda item did not fairly inform the public of the nature of the business to be discussed or acted upon, and thus the agenda item did not comply with the standard established by the Act. Remanded for entry of summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs with instructions that the action taken by the zoning board be declared null and void. View "Anolik v. Zoning Bd. of Review of City of Newport" on Justia Law

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The Lloyds owned property abutting property owned by the Bardorfs. Both properties were zoned R-10. The Bardorfs filed an application for a special-use permit proposing the removal of a deck and an existing two-story addition on the rear of their home and the construction of an addition and a deck. The Lloyds objected to the application. The city's zoning board of review (board) granted the special-use permit. The superior court affirmed the board's decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the board and trial justice did not err in applying the standard governing a special-use permit to the Bardorfs' application, as the appropriate form of relief for a party seeking to expand a dimensionally noncomforming structure is a special-use permit; (2) neither the superior court nor the board erred in allowing the Bardorfs to utilize expanded lot coverage authorized by a 1992 dimensional variance; (3) because the zoning ordinance does not contemplate a calculation of building mass or three-dimensional spaces in the criteria for alterations of dimensionally noncomforming structures, the trial justice did not err in finding the addition would intensify the nonconformity associated with lot building coverage; and (4) legally competent evidence supported the trial justice's findings. View "Lloyd v. Zoning Bd. of Review for City of Newport" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was a 1966 property division that created Lot 733, an undeveloped parcel owned by Plaintiffs. When Plaintiffs requested a zoning certificate from the zoning enforcement officer for the town, the officer refused based on his belief that Lot 733 resulted from an illegal subdivision in contravention of the town zoning and subdivision regulations in force in 1966. The zoning board dismissed Plaintiffs' appeal. Plaintiffs then filed suit requesting that the zoning board's decision be overturned and that the court declare that Lot 733 was a lawful lot. The trial justice determined that the 1966 property division that created the disputed lot was proper. Defendants, owners of property adjoining Lot 733, appealed, arguing that the property division constituted an illegal subdivision because it lacked adequate street access. The Supreme Court affirmed the superior court but on different grounds, holding that the creation of Lot 733 was not a subdivision. View "Reynolds v. Town of Jamestown" on Justia Law

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The underlying action in this case concerned real property located in the City of Warwick that Defendant, Felix Carlone, dedicated to the City in 1979. Plaintiffs, Warwick Sewer Authority (WSA) and the City, brought a complaint for a declaratory judgment concerning the City's ownership of the property. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. Defendant appealed, contending that he dedicated the property on the condition that it be used as open space, that he maintained a reversionary interest in it, and that, therefore, genuine issues of material facts should have precluded the hearing justice from granting summary judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because no ambiguity existed on the face of the writings in this case, the parol evidence that Defendant presented rightly was not entertained by the hearing justice to vary the writings' terms; and (2) the property restrictions filed by Defendant with the City did not operate to restrict WSA from rezoning the dedicated land from open space to residential. View "Warwick Sewer Auth. v. Carlone" on Justia Law

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A justice of the superior court found Defendant guilty of having violated section 16-93 of the Providence Code of Ordinances for allowing the emanation of loud music from his vehicle. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) section 16-93 was not preempted by state law because it was not in direct conflict with state statutes regulating noise and also because it did not constitute an impermissible invasion of a field of regulation that was fully occupied by state law; (2) the statute was not unconstitutional for being impermissibly vague; and (3) the statute was not unconstitutional for being overly broad. View "State ex rel. City of Providence v. Auger " on Justia Law

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Plaintiff North End Realty, a developer, filed a complaint in superior court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants, the town planner, finance director, and members of the town council of East Greenwich, after the town mandated that North End pay a $200,000 fee-in-lieu before it could record any subdivision approval it might receive from the planning board and begin to develop property. The hearing justice ruled that North End had failed to establish there was a likelihood of success of its claim and entered judgment in favor of defendants. On appeal, North End made several arguments, one of which was that the town did not have the requisite statutory authority to impose the fee-in-lieu. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court, holding that the town may not legally impose a fee-in-lieu in the absence of enabling authority from the general assembly. Remanded with directions to issue an order enjoining the town from imposing, assessing, or collecting the fee-in-lieu.

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Three property owner companies filed with the planning board an application for a land development project on their property. The planning board denied the plaintiffs' application after members of the state advisory commission on historical cemeteries identified certain features on the plaintiffs' property as historical cemeteries and notified the town as to the existence of the cemeteries. Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the advisory commission in superior court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court dismissed the action. One property owner (appellant) appealed, alleging that (1) the advisory commission exceeded its authority under R.I. Gen. Laws 23-18.3-1 by registering the features as historical cemeteries, (2) the advisory commission violated plaintiffs' procedural and substantive due process rights, and (3) the trial justice erred when he failed to recognize a slander of title claim against defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the advisory commission's role is purely advisory and therefore it could not register the historical cemetery within the meaning of the statute or violate plaintiffs' due process rights, and (2) because plaintiffs did not suffer a pecuniary loss as a result of the advisory committee's actions, appellant failed to establish an essential element of its slander of title claim.

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In 2001, the planning board of the town of East Greenwich granted final plan approval to plaintiff Carmine D'Ellena's proposed subdivision. In 2004, plaintiff's attorney requested a time extension, which the planning board granted. A condition to the extension was that plaintiff connect the development to a public water supply. In 2008, plaintiff filed a petition in the superior court, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and asking the court to declare the board's decision regarding the extension null and void. In support of his petition, plaintiff alleged that the planning board (1) violated state law by amending a final decision without application for and notice to plaintiff, (2) violated the notice rules by failing to provide notice to the plaintiff of its action, and (3) violated the open meetings law by failing to provide notice. The superior court denied the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that plaintiff voluntarily relinquished and thereby waived whatever procedural and statutory rights were his regarding the 2004 board meeting when he took the action of telling his attorney that he agreed to add the condition of public water.