Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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Plaintiffs R.L. Vallee, Inc. (Vallee) and Timberlake Associates, LLP (Timberlake) appealed various aspects of three decisions that culminated in the environmental division granting the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) Act 250 and stormwater discharge permits for a highway project involving the reconfiguration of an interstate exit. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the environmental division erred in dismissing Vallee’s questions regarding Criterion 1 of Act 250; in all other respects, the Court affirmed. Accordingly,issuance of the stormwater permit was upheld, issuance of the Act 250 permit was reversed, and the matter remanded for the environmental division to consider Vallee’s questions concerning Criterion 1. View "In re Diverging Diamond Interchange SW Permit, Diverging Diamond Interchange A250" on Justia Law

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Sam Conant owned 204 North Avenue from 1979 to 2002. The City of Burlington, Vermont assessed the property as a duplex in 1985. Conant converted the structure on the property from a duplex to a triplex in 1992 and began renting its three units in 1993. He obtained a building permit prior to construction, but he never obtained the required certificate of occupancy. In October 1993, City assessors inspected the property and found that the building contained three units. Pierre Gingue purchased 204 North Avenue from Conant in 2002 and continued to rent out the three apartments. The City issued a notice of violation to Gingue in July 2017 for “a change of use from a duplex to a triplex without zoning approval,” which the City stated was in violation of the City’s Comprehensive Development Ordinance. Gingue did not dispute that the property is in violation of the ordinance, rather, that the statute of limitations in 24 V.S.A. 4454(a) barred the NOV. Based on the plain language of the statute, the Vermont Supreme Court held the statute of limitations did bar the NOV and reversed the trial court’s decision. View "In re 204 North Avenue NOV" on Justia Law

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Luke Purvis appealed the Environmental Division’s denial of his motion for relief under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1) and (2). In September 2014, the City of Burlington Code Enforcement Office notified Purvis that it had received a complaint regarding unpermitted expansion of the parking area on his property. It ordered Purvis to restore the area to green space. Purvis appealed to the Development Review Board, arguing that the expansion of the parking area was an unenforceable permit because the expansion first occurred over fifteen years prior. After reviewing various affidavits, drawings, photos, and other exhibits submitted by the City and Purvis, the Board found no violation because it concluded that parking in the area had stopped. Because it found that parking in the area had ceased for a period in excess of sixty days, it held that Purvis had lost the benefit of the fifteen-year limitation on enforcement actions under 24 V.S.A. 4454 and any potential claim to reestablish the right to expanded parking. Purvis appealed that determination to the Environmental Division in May 2015. In August 2016, the parties entered into a settlement agreement, which provided that the parties would dismiss the suit without prejudice. It also provided that the City and Purvis would meet again in another mediation no later than January 15, 2017, to attempt to resolve all disputes. That mediation never took place; no party moved to reopen or extend before August 1, 2017. In March 2018, Purvis moved for relief from the Stipulated Order pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6), arguing that he should be granted relief because he had been represented by conflicted counsel at the time he entered into the Settlement Agreement and submitted the Stipulated Order, and because he had relied on the City’s expressed willingness to mediate after the August 2017 deadline. The Environmental Division held that the motion for relief was unwarranted because Purvis did not file a motion to reopen or extend the time for such a motion before the August 1, 2017 deadline contemplated in the Stipulated Order. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Purvis argued his motion was not time-barred because the order from which he sought relief was not actually a final judgment. Finding no reversible error in the Environmental Division's judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Purvis Nonconforming Use" on Justia Law

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Appellants, Neighbors for Healthy Communities (Neighbors), appealed the Environmental Division’s decision to grant an Act 250 permit application to appellees, North East Materials Group, LLC (NEMG) and Rock of Ages Corp. (ROA), for a rock-crushing operation in Graniteville in the Town of Barre. Neighbors argued the court erred in granting NEMG’s application because the proposed operation does not comply with either Act 250 Criterion 1, with respect to air pollution due to silica dust, or Criterion 8, with respect to noise from off-site truck traffic. The Vermont Supreme Court found the trial court committed no error in concluding that NEMG’s rock-crushing operation complied with Act 250 Criterion 1 and Criterion 8. View "In re North East Materials Group, LLC/Rock of Ages Corp. Act 250 Permit" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jeffrey Severson appealed the trial court’s decision to grant appellees’ the City of Burlington (the City) and the Burlington Conservation Board (the Board) motion to dismiss pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). The Burlington Town Center Project (the Project) was a large real estate project that proposed to redevelop the downtown district of the City. The Board met several times to review various aspects of the Project’s permit application. In early October 2017, nearly ten months after the meeting, Severson emailed the Board’s chair and raised concerns over a January 9 meeting. He asserted that the meeting had violated the Open Meeting Law because it had occurred behind locked doors. Severson requested that the Board cure the violation by holding a meeting in compliance with the Open Meeting Law to conduct a review of the most current version of the Project’s plan and to ratify the other, non-Project related Board actions taken at the January 9 meeting. The Board met on November 13, during which it reviewed a memorandum prepared by the City’s legal counsel and the relevant facts of Severson’s allegations, including information on the staffing procedure of the library on nights when public meetings were scheduled there. The Board determined that no Open Meeting Law violation had occurred. Severson filed suit, and when his case was dismissed, he appealed, arguing the trial court erred when it determined he, as a member of the Board, did not have standing because he did not allege an injury that was actionable under Vermont’s Open Meeting Law. The Vermont Supreme Court found that dismissal of Severson’s claim was proper, and thus affirmed. View "Severson v. City of Burlington & Burlington Conservation Board" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from an Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) decision to extend the City of Burlington’s 2011 Conditional Use Determination (2011 CUD), which permitted the City to commence construction on the Champlain Parkway project. Appellant Fortieth Burlington, LLC (Fortieth) challenged ANR’s approval of the permit extension, and the Environmental Division’s subsequent affirmance of that decision, on grounds that the City failed to adhere to several project conditions outlined in the 2011 CUD and was required to redelineate and reevaluate the wetlands impacted by the project prior to receiving an extension, among other reasons. The Environmental Division dismissed Fortieth’s claims, concluding that the project complied with the 2011 CUD’s limited requirements for seeking a permit extension and that Fortieth’s other claims were collateral attacks against the underlying permit and were impermissible. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Champlain Parkway Wetland Conditional Use Determination (Fortieth Burlington, LLC)" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Coalition for a Livable City (CLC) appealed the denial of its Public Records Act (PRA) and its request to the City of Burlington for an unredacted financial feasibility study provided by a private developer to a contractor hired by the City of Burlington to help the City assess the viability of the developer’s plans. The development plans included some public improvements to be financed with tax dollars. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the redacted information fell under the PRA trade-secrets exemption, and as such, was exempt from disclosure. View "Long v. City of Burlington" on Justia Law

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The Firing Range Neighborhood Group, LLC (Neighborhood Group) appealed an environmental court decision declining to find Act 250 jurisdiction over a firing range operated by the Laberge family (Laberge). Neighborhood Group argued the environmental court erred by: (1) allowing Laberge's untimely appeal; (2) concluding that because Laberge did not rely on donations, it was not operating for a commercial purpose; and (3) granting preclusive effect to a 1995 jurisdictional opinion. The Laberge family owned and operated a 287-acre farm, of which ten acres have been used as a shooting range since the 1950s by Laberge and the public. In November 2015, the recently formed Neighborhood Group requested a new jurisdictional opinion from the Commission. Neighborhood Group argued that since 1995, the range had begun operating with a "commercial purpose," citing the continued acceptance of donations and 2012 berm placements and bench repairs. Members complained of a sharp increase in the volume, intensity, and hours of shooting noise over the years since. In February 2016, the Commission issued a jurisdictional opinion (2016 JO), finding that, due to regular donations from municipalities, the range was now operating for a commercial purpose such that the construction of berms and shooting benches subjected the range to Act 250 jurisdiction. The environmental court declined to impose Act 250 jurisdiction, finding that Neighborhood Group had "fail[ed] to meet its burden of proof showing that cash donations are necessary for the [r]ange to operate" or that "there has been a change in donations to the [r]ange since the 1995 JO was issued that would create a commercial purpose where none existed before." The Vermont Supreme Court determined the environmental court did not abuse its discretion in finding excusable neglect and allowing Laberge's untimely appeal. Neither did it err when it concluded that Laberge, which had never charged for the use of the range and did not rely on donations for its operation, was not operating for a commercial purpose within the meaning of Act 250. "Laberge's range, consisting of a farm field with several benches and earthen berms, is not operating for a commercial purpose any more than a backyard corn maze or community garden space offered to the public free of charge. Act 250 sought to protect Vermont's unique environmental and cultural heritage at a time when the rapid proliferation of large-scale developments was dramatically altering many landscapes and communities around the nation. The text and spirit of Act 250, consistent with our prior decisions, informs our conclusion that the Act was not intended to apply to a family dairy farm that allows the community to target practice on its fields free of charge." View "In re Laberge Shooting Range (Firing Range Neighborhood Group, LLC, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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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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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