Lot 733, the property in question, was once part of a larger parcel. By deed, the older lot was divided into Lot 733 and 297, owned by the defendants. Lot 733 has no frontage on any road but there are two preexisting and contiguous rights-of-way that provide Lot 733 with access to the main road. In 1990, the plaintiffs began to consider building on Lot 733. In 2003, the enforcement officer for the town advised them that building on Lot 733 would require a variance from frontage requirements. The officer refused to issue a zoning certificate believing that Lot 733 was a result of an illegal subdivision. The officer explained to the plaintiffs that a subdivision of land must provide for a street. The plaintiffs appealed to the zoning board but were dismissed. The plaintiffs brought action in Superior Court contending “no street was necessary when the lot was divided because the two rights-of-way were already laid out, and legal, valid enforceable means of access to the lot existed as of its division in 1966.” The plaintiff’s witness stated that the definition of “street” in the town regulations was very broad and should encompass the right-of-ways. There was also testimony that prior to 2004, no town representative suggested that the property division was improper. The trial court declared that the division was not an illegal subdivision and that the subdivision definition was inapplicable to the plaintiffs. The trial court also held that the ordinance in effect at the time of creation did not require any street frontage. The defendants appealed.
The Court held that “a trial justice has discretion to grant or deny declaratory relief under the Uniform Declaratory Judgment Act … and his or her decision will not be disturbed absent clear abuse of discretion or commission of any error of law.” The Court noted that in 1966 “Jamestown’s subdivision regulation defined subdivision as the division of a lot, tract or parcel of land into two or more lots, sites or other division of land in such a manner as to require provisions for a street, for the purpose, whether immediate or future, or sale or of building development.” The Court held that Lot 733 was not divided in a manner to require a street because of the stand-alone easement that afforded access to the Lot over the “coterminous rights-of way.” Also, in 1966, Jamestown did not require road frontage. Accordingly, the creation of Lot 733 did not meet the definition of a subdivision and the Superior Court was affirmed.
Reynolds v. Jamestown, 2012 WL 2317651 (RI 6/18/2012)
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