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Abbott v. Town of Cape Elizabeth

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

May 6, 2016

MARK ABBOTT & REBECCA BLOCH, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
TOWN OF CAPE ELIZABETH & ANDREW & DANIELLE CURRIER, Defendants-Appellees.

ORDER ON RULE 80B APPEAL

Lance Walker Justice Superior Court

Plaintiffs-Appellants Mark Abbott and Rebecca Bloch appeal from a decision by the Town of Cape Elizabeth Zoning Board of Appeals (the "ZBA") pursuant to Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 80B. Based on the following, Abbott and Bloch's appeal is granted and the decision of the Town of Cape Elizabeth Zoning Board of Appeals is vacated and remanded for further consideration.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendants-Appellees Andrew and Danielle Currier (the "Curriers") reside at 17 Ocean View Road in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. (R. 3 at 1.) The Curriers home sits on a nonconforming lot that does not meet the minimum lot-size requirement of the applicable zoning ordinance. (R. 3 at 2, 4.) The Curriers home is also a nonconforming structure because it is not in compliance with the setback requirements of the applicable ordinance. (R. 3 at 4-5.) Mr. Abbott and Ms. Bloch are neighbors who reside at 19 Ocean View Road, which directly abuts the Curriers' lot. (Id.)

On April 12, 2015, the Curriers filed an application with the ZBA seeking approval to enlarge their home by adding a second story. (R. 1 at 1-3; R. 3 at 1.) The Curriers filed their application under § 19-4-3.B.3 of the ordinance, which governs the reconstruction or replacement of nonconforming structures. (R. 3 at 1.)

On May 22, 2015, counsel for Mr. Abbott and Ms. Bloch submitted a letter to the ZBA asserting that the Curriers' application was being reviewed under the wrong ordinance. (R. 2 at 1.) Counsel asserted that, because the Curriers' lot was a nonconforming lot, the Curriers' application should be reviewed under § 19-4-3.A.2.a, which governs the enlargement or modification of a principal structure on a nonconforming lot. (Id.) Counsel also argued that § 19-4-3.B.3 did not apply to the Curriers' application because their home has not been removed, or damaged or destroyed. (R. 2 at 2.)

A meeting of the ZBA was held on May 26, 2015. (R. 3 at 1.) The Curriers appeared at the ZBA meeting and explained that they sought to build a "modest addition" to their home. (Id.) Mr. Abbott, Ms. Bloch, and their counsel also spoke at the ZBA meeting and objected to the Curriers application. (R. 3 at 2.) Counsel asserted that, because the Curriers' lot was a nonconforming lot, the Curriers' application should be reviewed under § 19-4-3.A.2.a. (Id.) The ZBA approved the Curriers' application under § 19-4-3.B.3. (R. 3 at 4-5; R. 4 at 1.) The ZBA found that the Curriers request was an application "to reconstruct a nonconforming structure base on Section 19-4-3.B.3 of the Zoning Ordinance." (Id.)

On July 2, 2015, Mr. Abbott and Ms. Bloch filed a complaint for review of the ZBA's action pursuant to Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 80B. Mr. Abbott and Ms. Bloch filed their brief on August 11, 2015. The Town of Cape Elizabeth ("the Town") filed their opposition brief on September 9, 2015. Mr. Abbott and Ms. Bloch filed a reply brief on September 24, 2015. The Curriers filed an appearance to appear pro se on July 31, 2015. However, the Curriers did not file a brief in this action.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When reviewing the decision of a municipal agency pursuant to Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 80B, the court reviews the decision "for abuse of discretion, errors of law, or findings not supported by the substantial evidence in the record." Wyman v. Town of Phippsburg, 2009 ME 77, ¶ 8, 976 A.2d 985 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The party seeking to vacate the municipal agency's decision bears the burden of persuasion on appeal. Bizier v. Town of Turner, 2011 ME 116, ¶ 8, 32 A.3d 1048.

The interpretation of local ordinances is a question of law that the court reviews de novo. Rudolph v. Golick, 2010 ME 106, ¶ 8, 8 A.3d 684. The court examines ordinances for their plain meaning and construes the terms of ordinances reasonably "in light of the purposes and objectives of the ordinance and its general structure." Id. ¶ 9. Court must also give the words in the ordinance their "plain and ordinary meaning" and must not be construe the ordinance "to create absurd, inconsistent, unreasonable, or illogical results." Duffy v. Town of Berwick, 2013 ME 105, ¶ 23, 82 A.3d 148 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). If the meaning of an ordinance is clear on its face, the court looks no further. Rudolph, 2010 ME 106, ¶ 9, 8 A.3d 684.

The "spirit" of the zoning ordinances is "to restrict rather than to increase any nonconforming uses." Lewis v. Town of Rockport, 1998 ME 144, ¶ 12, 712 A.2d 1047 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). Thus, zoning ordinances permitting the continuation nonconforming uses are strictly construed. Id.

III. ANALYSIS

Mr. Abbott and Ms. Bloch assert that the ZBA erred as a matter of law in approving the Curriers' application. (PI. Br. 1.) Abbott and Bloch raise two arguments: (1) that ZBA incorrectly applied § 19-4-3.B.3 to the Curriers' applicant to enlarge a nonconforming structure, and (2) even if the ZBA correctly applied § 19-4-3.B.3 the Curriers' application, the proposed enlargement is not ...


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