Brief summaries of recent R.I. Supreme Court zoning cases
2017 Rhode Island zoning cases Date of decision Court's opinion Summary
Bellevue-Ochre Point Neighborhood Assoc. v. Preservation Society of Newport County 1/9/17 PDF Rejecting use of declaratory judgment action to decide zoning issues involved in proposed addition of "welcome center" to museum in residential neighborhood, notwithstanding claim by neighborhood association that museum was nonconforming use, since local zoning boards possess the authority to interpret zoning ordinances.
Key v. Brown University 6/27/17 PDF Although unable to compel city to enforce zoning ordinance, abutters alleged that they had suffered an articulable injury in fact from university's reconstruction of athletic field and therefore they had standing to bring declaratory judgment action to decide whether ordinance was being violated, notwithstanding their failure to pursue administrative remedies.
Preservation Society of Newport County v. City Council of Newport 3/15/17 PDF Since city council members "chose to embark on a detour into zoning concerns" instead of focusing on health and/or safety concerns as required by victualing license ordinance, Supreme Court reversed council's denial of licenses for two museums in residential district.
Preston v. Zoning Bd. of Hopkinton 2/27/17 PDF Zoning board's decision allowing four alpacas on residential property was fatally defective because it was limited to present alpaca owners and did not run with land. Strong concurrence argued that Court should decide whether alpacas were prohibited “farm animals” or "domestic animals" allowed as pets.
2016 Rhode Island zoning cases Date of decision Court's opinion Summary
CCF, LLC v. Pimental 1/12/16 PDF Although neither the parties nor local officials realized that the zoning ordinance had been amended to permit restaurants with a drive-through window as a matter of right in a commercial highway zone, a Superior Court justice relied on the amendment to reject a challenge to construction of such a restaurant, and the Supreme Court affirmed.
Kenlin Properties, LLC v. City of East Providence 6/23/16 PDF Upholding zoning board's use of testimony and documents to affirm violations of use variance (apart from any violations of conditions in the variance), stating that although conditions must be "specifically and clearly stated in the record," the scope of a use variance may be construed by referring to the entire public record, including application, exhibits, and hearing transcripts.
Tarbox v. Zoning Bd. of Jamestown 3/15/16 PDF Zoning board denied dimensional variance on 2-3 minority vote, despite absence of objectors or contrary evidence, and made no findings supporting denial. Superior Court reversed but denied appellant's motion for litigation expenses under Equal Access to Justice Act. On appeal treated as petition for certiorari, Supreme Court held Equal Access Act applied.
2015 Rhode Island zoning cases Date of decision Court's opinion Summary
Hines Road, LLC v. Hall 4/28/15 PDF In a dispute over a retaining wall, an abutter tried to intervene in Superior Court, not from an appeal of a zoning board decision approving or disapproving the retaining wall, but in a separate lawsuit based on an agreement about the wall between the landowner that had built it and the town. The court held that the abutter had no legal interest in that agreement.
2013 Rhode Island zoning cases Date of decision Court's opinion Summary
Anolik v. Zoning Bd. of Newport 4/2/13 PDF Open Meetings Act was violated when zoning board agenda, under "Communications," listed "Request for Extension" by petitioner without identifying specific property, giving reason for or duration of requested extension, or stating whether it would be acted on at meeting.
Cigarrilha v. City of Providence 5/15/13 PDF Upholding decision of zoning board and Super-
ior Court that house constructed before adop-
tion of zoning was not legally nonconforming for use as three-family residence.
Iadevaia v. Town of Scituate Zoning Bd. 12/23/13 PDF Reversing zoning board decision, upheld by Superior Court, that found merger of adjacent lots, denied building permit for lack of frontage on landlocked lot, and denied dimensional variance to cure defect. Supreme Court also held that petitioner was not judicially estopped.
Lloyd v. Zoning Bd. of Newport 3/29/13 PDF Upholding special-use permit for two-story addition to house with three existing variances, where addition replaced low deck, reducing existing lot coverage by two percentage points, and did not affect other variances.
2012 Rhode Island zoning cases Date of decision Court's opinion Summary
MCF Communications, LLC v. Town of Portsmouth 12/26/12 PDF Denial of special-use permit for cell tower on farm was "plainly deficient" since zoning board did not cite facts allowing court to evaluate evidence supporting its conclusions, but relied instead on conclusory statement that proposal violated town's comprehensive plan and was not in harmony with its rural character.
Reynolds v. Town of Jamestown 6/18/12 PDF Division of one lot into two did not constitute illegal subdivision, even though new lot had no frontage on public way and used preexisting rights-of-way for access, since under existing regulations, subdivision required creation of street.
2011 Rhode Island zoning cases Date of decision Court's opinion Summary
Campbell v. Tiverton Yacht Club 3/25/11 PDF (1) Zoning amendment changing yacht club's nonconforming use into permitted use rendered its appeal from decision prohibiting expansion of nonconforming use moot; (2) order prohibiting yacht club from operating marina on separate lot zoned to permit marina use was erroneous; (3) denial of attorney's fees under Equal Access to Justice Act affirmed.
Generation Realty, LLC v. Cantanzaro 5/27/11 PDF Ordinance comprehensively overhauling town's zoning framework was general, not specific, amendment of zoning ordinance under R.I.G.L. § 45-24-53, requiring only public notice.
North End Realty, LLC v. Mattos 7/8/11 PDF East Greenwich could not legally impose fee-in-lieu of developing affordable housing in absence of enabling authority from General Assembly
Shelter Harbor Conservation Society v. Rogers 6/17/11 PDF Finding, as matter of law, that zoning map unambiguously depicted subject property as three lots, not twelve, and were exempt from merger under Westerly Zoning Ordinance because they exceeded area requirement of least restrictive zoning district.
Town of Coventry v. Baird Properties, LLC 2/2/11 PDF Allowing abutters to intervene under Superior Court Rule 24A in zoning enforcement action initiated by town.
West v. McDonald 5/6/11 PDF Where there is a conflict between a municipality's comprehensive plan and its zoning ordinance, the comprehensive plan controls and must be followed.
2010 Rhode Island zoning cases Date of decision Court's opinion Summary
Karousos v. Pardee 4/23/10 PDF Even if neighbor had no right to appeal zoning certificates, he was immune from liability for abuse of process under anti-SLAPP law because his motivation was not subjectively baseless.
Parker v. Byrne 6/16/10 PDF Zoning certificate erroneously stating that two lots could not be sold separately, coupled with town solicitor's warning that town could take enforcement action, justified buyers' refusal to purchase property when sellers failed to resolve issue.
2009 Rhode Island zoning cases Date of decision Court's opinion Summary
City of Providence v. Estate of Tarro 7/2/09 PDF Although historic school was unsafe, mandamus should not have been issued to compel its demolition but to compel building official to exercise his discretion
Cohen v. Duncan 5/21/09 PDF Reversing Superior Court decision that held certain changes to hotel to be illegal alterations to nonconforming use
Martel Management Group, LLC v. Town of Richmond 11/9/09 PDF Despite having issued building permit, town was not estopped to enforce amendment barring adult entertainment where developer had not obtained development plan review
Muschiano v. Travers 6/26/09 PDF Applicant who failed to appeal denial of building permit to zoning board was not entitled to mandamus
Tucker Estates Charlestown, LLC v. Town of Charlestown 2/27/09 PDF Allowing challenge to zoning amendments under Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act years after expiration of right to appeal
Vono v. Lewis, 594 F.Supp.2d 189 (D. R.I. 2009) 1/27/09 PDF Federal case holding Rhode Island law prohibiting off-premise noncommercial signs unconstitutional