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Grant v. Town of Belgrade

Supreme Court of Maine

December 5, 2019

SHAWN A. GRANT
v.
TOWN OF BELGRADE

          Argued: October 9, 2019

          Edmond J. Bearor, Esq. (orally), Jonathan P. Hunter, Esq., and Stephen W. Wagner, Esq., Rudman Winchell, Bangor, for appellant Shawn A. Grant

          Michael A. Hodgins, Esq. (orally), Eaton Peabody, Bangor, for appellee Town of Belgrade

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

          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] Shawn A. Grant appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Kennebec County, Stokes, /.) pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 8OB, affirming a decision of the Town of Belgrade Zoning Board of Appeals (BOA), which denied Grant's application for commercial use of his property at 24 Hulin Road. Because the court did not err in affirming the BOA's decision, we affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts are drawn from the BOA's findings, which are supported by the record. See M.R. Civ. P. 8OB(f). Grant's property comprises two addresses spanning three lots in Belgrade. Grant resides at 21 Hulin Road (Map 26, Lot 58). The land at issue in this appeal is located across the street from 21 Hulin Road at 24 Hulin Road (Map 26, Lots 33 and 34). Combined, lots 33 and 34 cover approximately 25, 000 square feet in area and have 200 feet of shore frontage on Great Pond. The 24 Hulin Road property is located in the Limited Commercial District within Belgrade's Shoreland Zone. The 24 Hulin Road property has long supported a residence, which Grant rents to a tenant.

         [¶3] In 2008, the Town's Planning Board approved Grant's application for a home occupation permit to conduct "[b]oat cleaning, painting and varnishing" for his new business, "Brightside Boat Services," at 21 Hulin Road. Over the next decade, Grant expanded his business beyond boat restoration. He installed docks extending from his property at 24 Hulin Road into Great Pond and rented out boat slips, kayaks, and paddle boards. Customers use the 24 Hulin Road property to park, access the docks, and launch small watercraft.

         [¶4] In 2018, Grant submitted applications to the Planning Board for a seasonal dock and boat rental business at the 24 Hulin Road property under the Commercial Development Review Ordinance (CDRO) and the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance (SZO).[1] Belgrade, Me., Commercial Development Review Ordinance § 5 (Mar. 17, 2017); Belgrade, Me., Shoreland Zoning Ordinance § 16 (June 7, 2011). The Planning Board denied both applications, concluding that the property failed to meet the minimum lot standards provided in Section 15(A) of the SZO. See Belgrade, Me., Shoreland Zoning Ordinance § 15(A).

         [¶5] Grant filed an appeal with the BOA on May 3, 2018, arguing that the Planning Board misinterpreted the SZO. The BOA conducted a de novo hearing, considering all potentially applicable Town Ordinances-the SZO, CDRO, and Minimum Lot Size Ordinance (MLSO). Belgrade, Me., Shoreland Zoning Ordinance; Belgrade, Me., Commercial Development Review Ordinance; Belgrade, Me., Minimum Lot Size Ordinance (Mar. 19, 2010). During the hearing, Grant offered to discontinue residential use of 24 Hulin Road so that the property would have a single principal use (commercial) rather than two principal uses (commercial and residential). However, the BOA determined that even if the sole principal use was commercial, the property failed to meet the square footage and shore frontage requirements found in the SZO and MLSO. Belgrade, Me., Shoreland Zoning Ordinance § 15(A)(1)(b); Belgrade, Me., Minimum Lot Size Ordinance § 5(D)(1)(a).

         [¶6] The BOA's key conclusions were as follows: Grant's use of 24 Hulin Road for Brightside's activities constitutes a commercial use; Section 11 of the SZO prevents a change in use from residential to commercial that is not grandfathered under the SZO; Section 12(E) of the SZO, which allows for nonconforming lots, does not allow changes in use on a nonconforming lot when minimum lot standards are not met; and the MLSO prevents a change in use that renders a nonconforming lot less conforming. As to the CDRO permit, the BOA's sole basis for denial was that the 24 Hulin Road property failed to conform to the requirements of other Ordinances, namely the SZO and MLSO.

         [¶7] Grant appealed the BOA's decision to the Superior Court pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 8OB. In a judgment entered on February 22, 2019, the court affirmed the BOA's decision. Grant now appeals to us. He argues that (1) the BOA erred when it determined that his waterfront activities constituted a new commercial use requiring permits and that (2) the BOA misinterpreted the SZO when it concluded that 24 Hulin Road, comprising legally nonconforming lots, was subject to the SZO's dimensional requirements.

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶8] When the Superior Court acts as an intermediate appellate court, we review directly the operative decision of the municipality for "abuse of discretion, errors of law, or findings not supported by the substantial evidence in the record." Gensheimer v. Town of Phippsburg, 2005 ME 22, ¶¶ 7, 16, 868 A.2d 161 (quotation marks omitted).

[W]hether the operative decision of the municipality is the Planning Board decision or the decision of the Board of Appeals depends on the type of review that the Board of Appeals is authorized to undertake and what kind of review that Board actually performs: If the Board of Appeals acted as a tribunal of original jurisdiction, that is, as factfinder and decision maker, we review its decision directly. If, however, ...

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