Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
by
The Benoits sought to set aside a 2008 judgment under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5). The Benoits owned real property in the City of St. Albans, Vermont, which they purchased from the Hayfords in 2003. The property had a main building with multiple rental units and a separate building in the rear of the property. In 1987, the Hayfords converted the rear building to an additional residential unit without first obtaining a zoning permit or site-plan approval, as required by the applicable zoning regulations. The City adopted new zoning regulations in 1998, which made the property more nonconforming in several respects. Both the denial of the certificate of occupancy and a subsequent denial of the Hayfords’ request for variances were not appealed and became final. In 2001, the zoning administrator issued a notice of violation (NOV), alleging that only four of the six residential units on the property had been approved. The Hayfords appealed to the Development Review Board and again applied for variances. The Board upheld the NOV and denied the variance requests based on the unappealed 1998 decision. The Hayfords then appealed to the environmental court, which in 2003 decision, the court upheld the variance denial and upheld the NOV with respect to the sixth residential unit in the rear building. The Hayfords, and later the Benoits, nonetheless “continued to rent out the sixth residence in the rear building despite the notice of violation.” In 2004, the City brought an enforcement action against the Benoits and the Hayfords. The Benoits and Hayfords argued that the actions were barred by the fifteen-year statute of limitations in 24 V.S.A. § 4454(a). The environmental court concluded that “although the Hayfords’ failure to obtain a permit and site-plan approval in 1987 occurred more than fifteen years before the instant enforcement action, a new and independent violation occurred in 1998 when the City adopted its new zoning regulations.” It ordered the Hayfords and the Benoits to stop using the rear building as a residential unit and imposed fines. Appealing the 2004 judgment, an order was issued in 2008, leading to the underlying issue on appeal here: the Benoits contended that decision was effectively overruled by a later case involving different parties. The Environmental Division denied their request and the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed its decision. View "In re Benoit Conversion Application" on Justia Law

by
Neighbors appealed an Environmental Division order vacating a municipal notice of violation (NOV) alleging owners were using a two-unit building as an unpermitted duplex. The Environmental Division concluded that a 2006 amendment to the City of Burlington’s zoning ordinance did not automatically reclassify the status or use of the building from a duplex to a single-family home with an accessory dwelling. It also held that a 2014 interior reconfiguration by owners did not change the property’s use, and the zoning statute of limitations, 24 V.S.A. § 4454(a), barred the City’s enforcement action in any case. Finding no reversible error in this judgement, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Burns 12 Weston Street NOV" on Justia Law

by
The Town of Albany, Vermont, appealed an order granting summary judgment to a surviving relative of the grantors who had quitclaimed undeveloped property to the Town subject to certain conditions. The civil division found that the deed was ambiguous, considered extrinsic evidence to discern the grantors’ intent, and concluded that a logging operation overseen by the Town violated the deed. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the deed was unambiguous, and the logging was not a violation. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Sanville v. Town of Albany" on Justia Law

by
The Town of Sheldon appealed a hearing officer’s valuation of the subject property, a hydroelectric generating facility, as of April 1, 2019. It challenged the hearing officer’s application of the Income Approach to determine the property’s fair market value and his rejection of the Town’s Direct Sale Comparison approach. The Town essentially argued that the hearing officer’s findings were insufficient to support his conclusions. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the valuation. View "Missisquoi Assoc. Hydro c/o Enel Green Power v. Town of Sheldon" on Justia Law

by
The Vermont Environmental Division concluded that Snowstone, LLC, did not need an Act 250 permit to operate a small dimensional-stone extraction operation on a 0.93-acre parcel of land to be purchased from landowners Justin and Maureen Savage. It found the proposed sale between landowners and Snowstone was an arm’s-length transaction and that neither party would exercise “control” over the land to be held by the other such that they should be considered one “person” for Act 250 purposes. Neighbors challenged these conclusions on appeal, and challenged other aspects of the court’s merits decision as well. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division. View "In re Snowstone, LLC Act 250 Jurisdictional Opinion (Michael Harrington, et al., Appellants)" on Justia Law

by
Landowner Daniel Banyai appealed an Environmental Division decision upholding a notice of violation, granting a permanent injunction, and assessing $46,600 in fines, relating to alleged zoning violations and the construction of a firearms training facility in the Town of Pawlet. Banyai argued he had a valid permit, certain exhibits were improperly admitted at the merits hearing, and the fines were excessive. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division's decision. View "Town of Pawlet v. Banyai" on Justia Law

by
Appellants Keith Aaron and Weston Street Trust appealed a trial court’s summary judgment upholding a Notice of Violation (NOV) concerning the Trust’s property on grounds it was occupied by more than four unrelated adults in violation of applicable zoning restrictions. The property at issue was an individual unit (unit #1) within a three-unit building (the property) located in the City of Burlington’s Residential Low Density Zoning District (RL District). In the context of cross motions for summary judgment, the Trust did not deny that more than four unrelated adults lived in unit #1, and did not contest that the applicable zoning ordinance prohibited such a use in the RL District. The Trust argued that the violation was unenforceable because it first occurred more than fifteen years ago or, in the alternative, that this enforcement action was barred by claim preclusion. The Environmental Division granted summary judgment to the City, upholding the NOV. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the City was not precluded from enforcing the zoning violation on account of 24 V.S.A. 4454 because a valid municipal ordinance established that if an unlawful use is discontinued for more than sixty days, resumption of the unlawful use constituted a new violation, and the Supreme Court rejected the Trust’s alternate argument that its use was a lawful preexisting nonconforming use based on the preclusive effect of permitting proceedings in 1972 and 1994. View "In re 15-17 Weston Street NOV" on Justia Law

by
Applicants Marian Wright and Greg Boester and their neighbors, Day Patterson and Janet Showers, owned abutting parcels of land on the shore of Caspian Lake in Greensboro, Vermont. Neighbors appealed an Environmental Division decision granting applicants a permit to tear down and reconstruct a lakeside structure on their parcel in accordance with a revised plan they submitted just prior to trial. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the court erred both when it determined that the structure at issue was properly designated an “accessory structure” rather than a “boathouse” under the applicable zoning bylaws, and when it declined to remand the materially revised proposal for consideration by the municipal developmental review board in the first instance. View "In Wright & Boester Conditional Use Application (Patterson and Showers, Appellants)" on Justia Law

by
Island Industrial, LLC, appealed a trial court decision granting the Town of Grand Isle’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. In 2004, in connection with the development of a subdivision known as Island Industrial Park, Island Industrial constructed a private road called Island Circle. In 2014, Island Industrial petitioned the Town to accept Island Circle as a public road. At a September 2016 meeting, the selectboard, as recommended by the road commissioner, unanimously approved a motion to accept Island Circle as a public road after a two-year period to ensure the pavement would hold up during frost and thaw periods. At the end of the two-year period, Island Industrial executed an irrevocable offer of dedication, in which it agreed to execute and deliver deeds conveying Island Circle to the Town. In 2018, Island Industrial received an email from the Town, explaining that a special meeting was being held two days later to discuss the Town’s acceptance of Island Circle as a public road. The selectboard held two special meetings to discuss rescinding its 2016 motion to accept Island Circle as a public road. Following an executive session, the selectboard rescinded the 2016 motion and provided three reasons for its decision: (1) Island Circle would only provide benefits to the Town in the future but not at this time; (2) the road would be expensive to maintain; and (3) safety concerns. A few days later, Island Industrial received a letter from the selectboard reaffirming that the Town rescinded the 2016 motion. Island Industrial appealed the selectboard’s decision rescinding the 2016 motion pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 75, and asked the superior court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the Town to accept Island Circle as a public road. Appealing the denial of mandamus relief, Island Industrial argued to the Vermont Supreme Court that the trial court erred in considering the Town’s motion for judgment on the pleadings when Island Industrial spent time and resources responding to the Town’s previously filed summary-judgment motion. Alternatively, Island Industrial argued that the Town was not entitled to judgment on the pleadings because the allegations in the complaint, if proven, demonstrated that Island Industrial was entitled to mandamus relief. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Island Industrial, LLC v. Town of Grand Isle" on Justia Law

by
Neighbors appealed three Vermont Environmental Division rulings related to their appeal of the Agency of Natural Resources’ (ANR) decision to authorize Snowstone, LLC, to discharge stormwater at a proposed project site pursuant to a multi-sector general permit (MSGP). The court dismissed for lack of statutory standing most of neighbors’ questions on appeal and dismissed the remaining questions as not properly before the court. In addition, the court concluded that neighbors’ motion for a limited site visit was moot, given its dismissal of neighbors’ appeal. Finally, the court granted landowners Justin and Maureen Savage’s motion to intervene in the proceedings. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that neighbors had standing to appeal the ANR’s authorization to act under a MSGP, and that their motion for a limited site visit was not moot. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the court acted within its discretion to allow landowners to intervene. Accordingly, dismissal of neighbors’ appeal was reversed, as was the dismissal of the motion for a site visit, and the court’s decision to grant landowners intervention was affirmed. View "In re Snowstone Stormwater Discharge Authorization (Harrington et al., Appellants)" on Justia Law