Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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Sung-Hee Chung (neighbor) appealed the Environmental Division’s grant of summary judgment to Lori and Richard Mathez (applicants). The appeal concerned whether the District Commission exceeded its authority by issuing a second notice for a final Act 250 permit when, due to applicants’ failure, neighbor did not receive notice of the permit before it became final, and neighbor failed to timely appeal. Applicants sought an Act 250 permit to build a 75’ by 100’ steel building for a commercial vehicle repair and body shop, a “minor application” under the Act. Finding that the Environmental Division had jurisdiction over the appeal, and that the District Commission had no authority to issue a second notice of a final permit, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of applicants. View "In re Mathez Act 250 LU Permit (Sung-Hee Chung, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richard Hayes developed a subdivision called Mountain View Estates on land jointly owned by him and his wife, Nadine Hayes, in the Town of Manchester. The subdivision grew to include forty residential homes, a school building, and a chiropractic clinic on forty-four lots. From the sale of the first lot in about 1981 until his death in 2004, Richard Hayes paid for maintenance and plowing of the roads that ran through the subdivision and maintained the subdivision’s sewer system and the portion of the water system that he and his wife still owned, without charge to the homeowners. Following the Hayes’ deaths in 2004, a probate proceeding was opened and the Hayes’ adult children, Jeffrey Hayes and Deborah Hayes McGraw, were appointed coadministrators of their estates. The co-administrators sent a letter to the homeowners in the subdivision stating that effective immediately, the homeowners would be responsible for maintaining and plowing the subdivision’s roads. The homeowners refused to assume responsibility for the road maintenance. The homeowners intervened in the probate proceedings of the Hayes’ estates to protect their rights regarding the subdivision. The estates appealed the trial court’s decision that the estates were obligated, based on an agreement between the developers and the homeowners, to continue to maintain and repair the roads and water and sewer systems until the town accepted the dedication of the infrastructure. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the court’s findings and conclusions, and remanded the matter to the trial court for remand to the probate division for further proceedings. View "Hayes v. Mountain View Estates Homeowners Association" on Justia Law

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The District 5 Commission denied Korrow Real Estate LLC’s as-built application for an Act 250 permit to construct a barn on property alongside the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers, finding the project failed to comply with Act 250 Criteria 1(D) and 1(F). In doing so, the Commission construed key terms as defined by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). On appeal, the Environmental Division reversed the decision and remanded the matter to the Commission with instructions to grant an as-built permit for the project. The Vermont Natural Resources Board appealed the decision, arguing the court failed to accord proper deference to the ANR’s statutory authority and expertise, and that the project failed to comply with the necessary Act 250 permitting criteria. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. The Supreme Court found the ANR determined the Korrow project was within the Act 250 “floodway” based on the project’s location relative to the FEH area surrounding the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers. The Environmental Division erred when it determined that the methodology applied by Korrow’s expert, or the methodology of the court, was superior to that employed by the ANR. In applying the ANR definition, the Supreme Court found Korrow’s project was within the “floodway” under 10 V.S.A. 6001(6), triggering analysis of project compliance with Act 250 Criterion 1(D). Even though the court erroneously found that the project was located outside the “floodway,” there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(D). With respect to Criterior 1(F), the Supreme Court found two flaws in the lower court’s findings: (1) interpreting the scope of land “adjacent” to the rivers was essential to determining whether a project was on a “shoreline,” no definition of “adjacent” was provided; and (2) even applying the court’s contextual, rather than distance-based, analysis of the project’s location in relation to the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers, the court’s conclusion that the project was not on the “shoreline” was based on insufficient evidence. The Supreme Court could not determine, based on the trial court record, whether the project at issue here was constructed on a “shoreline” and, if so, whether the project complied with the subcriteria required by statute. As such, the Environmental Division’s conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(F) was reversed and this issue remanded to the court for further findings. Because the question of what was meant by “adjacent” was critical to the shoreline determination and had not been briefed or argued, the parties were directed upon remand to brief this issue for the court. The Supreme Court reversed the Environmental Division’s ruling defining the term “floodway,” but affirmed its conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(D). The Court reversed and remanded to the Environmental Division for further proceedings to determine whether this project involved a “shoreline” and, if so, the project’s compliance with Criterion 1(F). View "In re Korrow Real Estate, LLC Act 250 Permit Amendment Application" on Justia Law

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Applicant Chris Khamnei appealed a superior court decision affirming the Burlington Public Works Commission’s denial of his request for permits to complete plumbing work in a building he owned because he failed to identify the name of a licensed professional plumber who would perform the work. On appeal, applicant argued the applicable statute and accompanying regulations allowed property owners to perform this type of work without a plumbing license. Finding no reversible error in the Commission's decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Khamnei v. Burlington Public Works Commission" on Justia Law

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Neighbors appealed the Environmental Division’s order dismissing as untimely their appeal to that court from a decision of the Town of Jericho Development Review Board (DRB) granting a conditional use permit to applicant Kevin Mahar. In late April 2015, applicant sought a conditional use permit for a detached accessory structure and apartment at his single-family home in Jericho. On appeal, neighbors argued the appeal was timely because they did not receive proper notice of either the hearing before the DRB or the resulting DRB decision. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that at least some neighbors adequately raised a sufficient basis to reopen the appeal period and timely filed an appeal. Therefore, the Court reversed the dismissal and remanded to the Environmental Division for resolution of the motion to reopen the appeal period and, if grounds are found, an adjudication on the merits of neighbors’ appeal. View "In re Mahar Conditional Use Permit" on Justia Law

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Taxpayer TransCanada Hydro appealed a superior court decision that valued flow easements that taxpayer owned over land in the Town of Newbury at $1,532,211 for property tax purposes. Taxpayer owned and operated the Wilder Dam on the Connecticut River in Hartford, Vermont, downstream from Newbury, and the flow easements gave taxpayer the right to flood land abutting the river in Newbury. Taxpayer argued the valuation was unsupported by the admissible evidence and the court’s reasoning. Finding no reversible error in the superior court’s valuation, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "TransCanada Hydro Northeast, Inc. v. Town of Newbury" on Justia Law

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The Environmental Division approved a conditional use permit for Confluence Behavioral Health, LLC’s proposed community therapeutic residence in Thetford. A group of neighbors appealed the decision, arguing the Environmental Division improperly concluded that Confluence’s therapeutic community residence (the Project) was a health care facility, and thus was an allowed conditional use under the Thetford zoning ordinance. Neighbors also argued the Project’s residential use required separate permitting and that it impermissibly established a nonconforming use. Finding no abuse of discretion or reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Confluence Behavioral Health, LLC Conditional Use Permit" on Justia Law

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Two consolidated appeals challenged the Environmental Division’s decisions concerning applications for site-plan approval and an Act 250 permit for the proposed construction of a Hannaford’s supermarket in the Town of Hinesburg. In challenging the trial court’s site-plan approval, Neighbors argued: (1) the trial court erred in declining to enforce a setback limit reflected in the final plat plan for the subdivision as approved in 1987; (2) Hannaford’s site-plan application violated “front yard” parking restrictions set forth in the Town’s 2009 zoning regulations; (3) the east-west swale proposed in the site-plan application will not control and treat stormwater as predicted by Hannaford’s expert; and (4) Hannaford did not satisfy its burden regarding stormwater control because part of the discharge system was proposed to be located on land outside of its control. In cross-appeals, Hannaford and the Town challenged the trial court’s condition requiring Hannaford to install a traffic signal before the project may be completed, and the Town challenged the court’s elimination in its amended decision of a condition requiring Hannaford to perform a post-development traffic study. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded Hannaford’s proposed site plan violated the setback limit in the final plat plan approved in 1987; and Hannaford’s parking scheme did not violate the site-plan approval standards in the applicable zoning regulations. The Court did not reach issues raised in that appeal concerning the east-west swale and traffic control. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Environmental Division’s approval of the site plan. Regarding the Act 250 appeal, the Court concluded the project did not violate a requirement in the original approved subdivision permit that development be primarily “small scale,” and that the proposed project would not materially interfere with the public’s use and enjoyment of the canal path. The case was remanded for further development of evidence concerning the east-west swale and traffic issues. View "In re Hinesburg Hannaford Act 250 Permit / In re Hinesburg Hannaford Site Plan Approval" on Justia Law

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In May 2008, the Town of Granville established an Ancient Roads Committee and Process for identifying “ancient roads,” all roads that were at one time established as public highways and had not been officially discontinued. In August 2009, the Committee recommended that certain roads, including Sabin Homestead Road, be added to the Town Highway Map. Sabin Homestead Road crosses defendant Joseph Loprete’s land for about 100 feet. In December 2009, after notice to defendant and several public hearings, the selectboard adopted the Committee’s revised recommendation to add Sabin Homestead Road back to the Town Highway Map. The road appeared on the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s official Town Highway Map. In late 2012, defendant blocked Sabin Homestead Road by putting a large storage container in the right-of-way. He refused to move the container, even after the selectboard asked him to do so. Plaintiffs then filed a declaratory judgment action asking the court to declare Sabin Homestead Road an existing town highway and public road that was properly established in 1850 following the statutory procedures required at that time. The Town moved for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed facts established that in 1850 the selectboard took official action to lay out the road and that they created and recorded a survey. The trial court denied summary judgment based on the Town’s failure to demonstrate that it met the third requirement: that in connection with the creation of the road, the town had filed a certificate of opening. The parties subsequently agreed that the court could decide this question based on undisputed facts and they filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The parties agreed that no certificate of opening could be found. Defendant argued that this disposed of the case. However, the court concluded that the Town’s circumstantial evidence, along with the explanations provided by the Town’s affiants for the inability to locate an actual certificate of opening in the town records, supported a finding that a certificate of opening was in fact created and recorded, but had since been lost or destroyed. It thus determined that the road had been properly created and granted summary judgment to the Town. Defendant argued on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court that the Town was required, and failed, to produce sufficient evidence that the Town certified the road as open for public travel in 1850. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Town met its burden of proof, and it was entitled to summary judgment in its favor. View "Town of Granville v. Loprete" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Vermont Supreme Court in this appeal was whether land dedicated to a public use could be condemned for another public use when the new use did not materially interfere with the prior use. Intervenors, a group of Hinesburg residents who use Geprags Park, appealed the Public Service Board’s order authorizing Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. (VGS) to condemn an easement through the park for the purpose of installing a natural gas pipeline. They argued the Board erred in authorizing the condemnation in light of the fact that the park was already dedicated to a public use, and in concluding that the condemnation was necessary under 30 V.S.A. section 110(a)(2). The Supreme Court affirmed the Board’s decision, but remanded for a minor correction to the order relating to the terms of the easement. View "In re Vermont Gas Systems, Inc." on Justia Law