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LLC v. Town of Naples

Supreme Court of Maine

January 5, 2017

21 SEABRAN, LLC
v.
TOWN OF NAPLES

          Argued: October 27, 2016

          David A. Goldman, Esq. (orally), Norman, Hanson & Detroy, LLC, Portland, for appellant 21 Seabran, LLC

          Sally J. Daggett, Esq. (orally), Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry, Portland, for appellee Town of Naples

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

          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] 21 Seabran, LLC, appeals from a judgment entered in the Superior Court (Cumberland County, Cole, C.J.) pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B following a hearing affirming a decision of the Town of Naples Board of Appeals. The Board denied 21 Seabrans appeal from the Town of Naples Code Enforcement Officers denial of two permits necessary to renovate a garage on a lakefront parcel based on its conclusion that the parcel would have insufficient shore frontage to comply with state and local law. 21 Seabran argues that the Board erroneously concluded that the proposed renovation would add to the parcel a second "residential dwelling unit, " as defined by the Town of Naples Shoreland Zoning Ordinance, and that the Board misapplied applicable state authority to reach its conclusion that the renovation would render the parcel noncompliant. We agree and vacate the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] 21 Seabran, LLC, owns a parcel of property on Brandy Pond in Naples. The parcel has about 200 feet of shore frontage, and is currently improved with a three-bedroom single-family home and a thirty-foot by forty-foot detached garage, both of which are in the shoreland zone.

         [¶3] In September 2014, Mills Whitaker Architects of Arlington, Massachusetts, submitted applications to the Town of Naples Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) on behalf of 21 Seabran for a building permit and a subsurface wastewater disposal system permit in connection with a proposed renovation to the second floor of the detached garage (the proposed structure). The proposed structure, which 21 Seabran had described as a "bunkhouse, " was to consist of three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sitting room, a washer and dryer, and storage closets; the estimated cost of the project was $100, 000. 21 Seabran also proposed adding a new, separate septic system with a design flow of 270 gallons per day (gpd) to serve the proposed structure. The CEO declined to act on the permits because she found that the proposed structure did not fit within the definition of a bunkhouse in the State of Maine Subsurface Wastewater Disposal Rules (SWDR).[1]

         [¶4] Soon thereafter, Mills Whitaker Architects submitted to the CEO amended building and wastewater disposal system permit applications on behalf of 21 Seabran. The floor plan of the proposed structure remained unchanged, but the use of the proposed structure was changed on the building permit application from a bunkhouse to "3 accessory [bedrooms] and 2 baths on second floor of existing garage."

         [¶5] In a letter dated November 17, 2014, the CEO denied the amended permit applications based on her determination that the proposed structure constituted a "dwelling unit" and her conclusion that the parcel lacked the lot area and shore frontage required to serve two "dwelling units"-the proposed structure and the existing residence-by the Town of Naples Shoreland Zoning Ordinance (SZO), Naples, Me., Shoreland Zoning Ordinance § 15(A) (June 4, 2014); the State of Maine Minimum Lot Size Law, 12 M.R.S. § 4807-A (2015); and Minimum Lot Size Rules, 16 C.M.R. 10 144 243-2 § 1001.1 (2005).[2]

         [¶6] 21 Seabran filed an administrative appeal with the Town of Naples Board of Appeals regarding the denial of both permits. At a public hearing held by the Board on February 24, 2015, 21 Seabran argued that there is no plan for a kitchen in the proposed structure, and it was not a separate residential dwelling unit.[3] The CEO argued that neither the Minimum Lot Size Rules nor the SWDR definitions of a "dwelling unit" or "single family residential unit" include a requirement that a structure contain a kitchen, and although there are currently no plans for a kitchen in the proposed structure, someone could potentially set up a hot plate or microwave oven and those items would not appear on a floor plan.

         [¶7] The Board voted 3-0 to deny the appeal. In its March 3, 2015, written decision, the Board agreed with the CEO that the proposed structure is a dwelling unit, reasoning that "Maine Supreme Court cases involving the definition of a dwelling unit . . . make it clear that municipal administrative boards are allowed to use their common sense in their interpretation of what specific facts fit the definition of a dwelling unit." Citing the SZO, which requires that a parcel have 200 feet of shore frontage for each residential dwelling unit on the property, the Board determined that the parcel "needs at least 400 feet of shore frontage (200 feet for every 300 gpd of wastewater) in order to comply with the Minimum Lot Size Law and Rules." The Board concluded that because the parcel did not have that much frontage, the CEO properly denied 21 Seabrans permit applications.

         [¶8] 21 Seabran appealed to the Superior Court pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B. Following a hearing on November 30, 2015, the court affirmed the Boards decision. The court gave deference to the Boards determination that the proposed structure was a residential dwelling unit pursuant to the SZO and agreed with its conclusion that the property must have 400 feet of frontage to comply with the SZO. This appeal followed. See M.R. Civ. P. 80B(n); M.R.App. P. 2.

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶9] "In a Rule 80B appeal, the Superior Court acts in an appellate capacity, and, therefore, we review the agencys decision directly." Logan v. City of Biddeford, 2006 ME 102, ¶ 8, 905 A.2d 293. In this case, "we review the decision of the Board rather than that of the CEO, because ... the Board heard evidence and conducted a de novo review, and the [SZO] did not explicitly limit that capacity, and therefore the Board acted as fact-finder and decision-maker." Rudolph v. Golick, 2010 ME 106, ¶ 7, 8 A.3d 684 (quotation marks and citation omitted); see Naples, Me., Shoreland Zoning Ordinance § 16(F)(3).

         [¶10] We review the Boards decision "for error of law, abuse of discretion or findings not supported by substantial evidence in the record." Aydelott v. City of Portland, 2010 ME 25, ¶ 10, 990 A.2d 1024 (quotation marks omitted). "Substantial evidence exists if there is any competent evidence in the record to support a decision." Fitanides v. City of Saco, 2004 ME 32, ¶ 23, 843 A.2d 8 (quotation marks omitted). 21 Seabran bears the burden of persuasion on appeal because it seeks to overturn the Boards decision. See Bizier v. Town of Turner, 2011 ME 116, ¶ 8, 32 A.3d 1048.

         A. Whether the Proposed Structure is a "Residential Dwelling Unit" Pursuant to the SZO

         [¶11] 21 Seabran argues that the Board improperly determined that the proposed structure was a "residential dwelling unit" pursuant to the zoning ordinance because the Board did not apply the language of the SZO, which expressly requires that a residential dwelling unit contain cooking facilities, and instead used a "common sense" approach to determine what constitutes a residential dwelling unit.

         [¶12] We review the interpretation of a local ordinance de novo as a question of law. Aydelott, 2010 ME 25, ¶ 10, 990 A.2d 1024. When we interpret an ordinance, we look first to the plain meaning of its language, and if the meaning of the ordinance is clear, "we need not look beyond the words themselves." Duffy v. Town of Berwick, 2013 ME 105, ¶ 23, 82 A.3d 148 (quotation marks omitted). Additionally, if a term is specifically defined in an ordinance, we will not redefine it. Rudolph, 2010 ME 106, ¶ 9, 8 A.3d 684.

         [¶13] The SZO provides that a lot must have at least 60, 000 square feet of area and 200 feet of shore frontage per residential dwelling unit. Naples, Me., Shoreland Zoning Ordinance § 15(A), (A)(4). In the Town of Naples Definitional ...


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