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Estate of Robbins v. Town of Cumberland

Supreme Court of Maine

January 26, 2017

ESTATE OF MERRILL P. ROBBINS
v.
TOWN OF CUMBERLAND et al.

          Argued: September 15, 2016

          Scott D. Anderson, Esq. (orally), and Juliet T. Browne, Esq., Verrill Dana, LLP, Portland, for appellant Estate of Merrill P. Robbins

          Natalie L. Burns, Esq. (orally) and Alyssa C. Tibbetts, Esq., Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry, Portland, for appellee Town of Cumberland

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

          JABAR, J.

         [¶l] The Estate of Merrill P. Robbins appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Cumberland County, Mills, J.) affirming the Town of Cumberland Board of Adjustment and Appeals' determination that the Town's proposed development is permitted within the Low Density Residential district as a "municipal use."[1] Because the plain language of the Cumberland Zoning Ordinance supports the Board's interpretation, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] In 2014, the Town of Cumberland purchased property located in Cumberland known as the Broad Cove Reserve. The property is located in the Low Density Residential district (LDR zone). In the spring of 2015, the Town submitted to the Cumberland Planning Board an application for site plan review for a proposed development involving the Broad Cove Reserve property. In its application, the Town stated that the purpose of the development was "to provide low-impact passive recreation along the Casco Bay shoreline for the residents of Cumberland." Specifically, the Town endeavored to create public access walking trails, construct a parking lot, and relocate an existing bathhouse.

         [¶3] On July 16, 2015, the Cumberland Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) determined that the Town's proposed use was permitted in the LDR zone as a "municipal use, " a designation defined in the ordinance. Cumberland, Me., Zoning Ordinance § 315-4 (Mar. 26, 2012). The CEO submitted his comments to the Planning Board, and after a public hearing, the Board approved the Town's application. The Estate, which owns land abutting the Broad Cove Reserve property, subsequently appealed the CEO's decision, arguing that the Town's development constituted an "outdoor recreational facility, " and was thus prohibited in the LDR zone under the terms of the ordinance. The Board of Adjustment and Appeals agreed with the CEO's interpretation and determined that the Town's proposed facility was permissible within the LDR zone as a "municipal use." The Estate subsequently appealed to the Superior Court, and the court affirmed, concluding that the plain language of the ordinance supported the Board of Adjustment and Appeals' determination that the Town's proposed use of the Broad Cove Reserve property was a "municipal use, " and was thus permissible within the LDR zone. The Estate appeals.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         [¶4] On appeal, the parties do not dispute the description or the physical characteristics of the Town's proposed facility, nor do they contest its proper characterization under the ordinance as an "outdoor recreational facility." Rather, they offer competing interpretations of the zoning ordinance, specifically with regard to how it is applied to the Town's proposed facility. The interpretation of a zoning ordinance is a question of law, and we review the relevant portions of the Town of Cumberland Zoning Ordinance de novo. Kittery Retail Ventures, LLC v. Town of Kittery, 2004 ME 65, ¶ 10, 856 A.2d 1183.

         B. The Town of Cumberland Zoning Ordinance

         [¶5] The Estate argues that because the Town's proposed facility may be characterized as either a "municipal use" or an "outdoor recreational facility, " and because a "municipal use, " but not an "outdoor recreational facility, " is permitted in the LDR zone, the relevant provisions of the ordinance are in conflict. Further, the Estate argues that because of this asserted conflict, we must look beyond the plain language of the ordinance to interpret the conflicting provisions. And because the provisions here cannot be harmonized, the Estate argues, we must ...


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