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Fryeburg Trust v. Town of Fryeburg

Supreme Court of Maine

December 1, 2016

FRYEBURG TRUST
v.
TOWN OF FRYEBURG et al.

          Submitted On Briefs: September 29, 2016

         On the briefs:

          Edward L. Dilworth, III, Esq., Dows Law Office, P.A., Norway, for appellant Fryeburg Trust

          Mary E. Costigan, Esq., Bernstein Shur, Portland, for cross-appellant Fryeburg Academy

          The Town of Fryeburg did not file a brief

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          GORMAN, J.

         [¶1] The Fryeburg Trust appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Oxford County, Clifford, J.) affirming, pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B, the decisions of the Town of Fryeburg Planning Board and Board of Appeals on the Trusts challenge to a Town decision allowing Fryeburg Academy to use a parcel of land as an outdoor classroom. The Academy and Town of Fryeburg cross-appeal from the same judgment vacating, also pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B, the Towns decision to allow the Academy to use a building on a second parcel of land to house administrative offices. The parties challenge the interpretation of the definition of secondary school in Fryeburgs Land Use Ordinance. We affirm the decision of the Planning Board.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The parties do not dispute the facts of this case. On October 10, 2014, the Academy, a private secondary school, applied to the Planning Board for permits authorizing changes in the use of two parcels of leased land. The Academy proposed to use one parcel (the Land Lot), which had previously been used for agricultural purposes, to teach-primarily outdoors-environmental science, conservation studies, agricultural studies, physical education, and recreation, and also for related storage. It proposed to use another parcel (the House Lot), which had previously been used for residential purposes, as offices for its admissions and advancement departments and for related storage. The Academy asserted that each use was permitted as an educational use pursuant to the Ordinance.

         [¶3] Following a public hearing, the Planning Board approved the Academys applications for both parcels. The Planning Boards approvals were based on its conclusions that the proposed uses qualified as secondary school uses pursuant to the Ordinance and were, therefore, allowed in the lots respective zoning districts. The Trust, which owns property abutting both lots, appealed from the Planning Boards decisions to the Board of Appeals. The Board of Appeals denied both appeals.

         [¶4] The Trust filed two timely appeals in the Superior Court, pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B, in which it contended that the Planning Board had committed an error of law in interpreting the definition of secondary school contained in the Ordinance. The Superior Court affirmed the Planning Boards decision to grant the Land Lot permit, concluding that, pursuant to the Ordinance, the proposed use of the Land Lot was an educational use because classes would be taught there. The court vacated the Planning Boards decision to grant the House Lot permit, however, based on its conclusion that the proposed use of the House Lot was not an educational use because classes would not be taught there. The Trust timely appeals from the courts decision affirming the Land Lot permit. The Academy and Town timely cross-appeal from the courts decision vacating the House Lot permit.

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶5] We review local land use decisions "for error of law, abuse of discretion or findings not supported by substantial evidence in the record, " and review local interpretations of local ordinances de novo as a question of law.[1]Aydelott v. City of Portland,2010 ME 25, ¶ 10, 990 A.2d 1024 (quotation marks omitted). The characterization of proposed uses in applications for local land use permits presents a "mixed question of law and fact." Jordan v. City of Ellsworth, 2003 ME 82, ¶ 8, 828 A.2d 768. Here, the parties dispute whether the Academys proposed use of each lot falls within the Ordinances definition of "School, Public or Private Elementary or Secondary" (hereinafter "secondary school").[2] Fryeburg, Me., Land Use Ordinance § 25-17 (June 2014). As always, we first evaluate the plain meaning of the Ordinance and, if the meaning is clear, "need not look beyond the words themselves." Wister v. Town of Mt. Desert,2009 ME 66, ¶ 17, 974 A.2d 903. We construe the terms of an ordinance ...


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