John O'Neil Justice, Superior Court
A. Procedural Posture
Petitioner Yvonne Harris brings this Rule 80B appeal from a decision of the Town of York Zoning Board of Appeals. The Board affirmed the Code Enforcement Officer's denial of a building permit.
In 2008, Petitioner Yvonne Harris ("Petitioner" or "Harris") purchased 157 Long Beach Avenue, York, Maine ("the parcel" or "the property"). The property is situated in the RES-7 Base Zone within York's Shoreland Overlay District. The lot size totals 21, 344 sq. ft. and has three buildings: (1) a 1, 574 sq. ft. year-round Victorian structure ("the Victorian"), (2) a 764 sq. ft seasonal structure ("the seasonal building"), and (3) a 504 sq. ft. garage structure ("the garage"). Harris intended to renovate the buildings and convert them into three condominium units at the time she purchased the property.
Harris or persons working for her communicated with Code Enforcement Officers ("CEOs") in 2008 and 2009 about her intended plans. Harris relied on this information to hire contractors to renovate and engineers. In particular, the CEOs represented that Harris could convert the upstairs of the garage into a single-family dwelling unit. (R. 1-3.) A 2008 email states "You had indicated it would be acceptable to renovate the Garage/barn as a single family unit and keep the front house as a single family unit. Is this correct?" CEO Timothy DeCoteau replied: "Setting aside other issues such as setback, lot coverage, flood zone, building codes, etc. it's possible to relocate one of the dwelling units in the front building to over the garage." (R. 2.) A second email from 2009 states "if on the garage you cant [sic] tear it down or add up on existing [sic] structure can you make the garage space and the 2nd floor both residential space" and next to this appears "yes 10/5/09" handwritten with CEO DeCouteau's signature. (R. 1.) Harris proceeded to obtain plumbing and electrical permits and removed one of the dwelling units in the Victorian. She continued to communicate with Town officials, including CEO Benjamin McDougal, who in a 2012 email explained the process for applying for the various permits needed to move forward with the project. (R. 10.)
On May 15, 2014, Amber Harrison, the then-acting York CEO, issued Letter of Denial that denied Harris's building permit application because the expansion did not comply with density and shoreland zone setback requirements. (R. 12.) The RES-7 zone requires 12, 000 sq. ft. per single-family dwelling unit. Because the CEO concluded Harris's proposed renovation would result in three single-family dwelling units, the 21, 344 sq. ft. lot size fell short of the necessary 36, 000 sq. ft. to accommodate three units. Harris timely appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals ("the ZBA").
Harris testified before the ZBA that she had expended about $400, 000 total on plans and renovations, including $75, 000 on the Victorian. Harris communicated with prior CEOs and submitted building applications for the garage, but never obtained the permits. The ZBA affirmed the building permit denial by a 5-0 vote.
A. Rule 80B Standard
This court reviews government agency decisions pursuant to Rule 80B for errors of law, abuse of discretion, or findings not supported by substantial evidence. Aydelott v. City of Portland, 2010 ME 25, ¶ 10, 990 A.2d 1024. The party challenging the decision below has the burden of proof to overturn the decision. Id.
The court reviews the interpretation of municipal ordinances de novo. Nugent v. Town of Camden, 1998 ME 92, ¶ 7, 710 A.2d 245. "The terms or expressions in an ordinance are to be construed reasonably with regard to both the objectives sought to be obtained and the general structure of the ...