Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 11, 2010

CT Supreme Court Holds that Zoning Boards Have Authority to Hear Appeals Regarding Compliance with Stipulation Judgments

The plaintiff owned a seasonal cottage which was constructed prior to Old Saybrook’s creation of the present zoning regulations, and the plaintiff’s house had many non-conformities. When the Plaintiff sought and was denied variances to make renovations to his cottage.  Later, a stipulation judgment was reached between the plaintiff, Watstein (an adjacent property owner) and the Town. This stipulation contained plans for the alterations to the house. The plaintiff made the changes to his plan and received a certificate from the zoning enforcement officer, but Watstein appealed the certificate, and the ZBA agreed with him, on the grounds that the plaintiff’s new plan was not in conformity with the stipulation plan. Plaintiff then started this action, claiming that the ZBA lacked the jurisdiction over Watstein’s appeal of the certificate granted by the enforcement officer.

The Court first concluded that the zoning board had jurisdiction since the officer who granted the certificate was an officer charged with enforcement of the law, the granting of the certificate was a decision as contemplated by the law, and Watstein’s claim concerned an error. Therefore, the plain language of the statute was satisfied. The plaintiff argued that since the appeal regarded a stipulation and not zoning regulations, that the ZBA did not have jurisdiction over the appeal. The court rejected this argument finding that under the applicable statute, the ZBA is given broad authority over the actions of the enforcement officer, which the court concludes encompasses actions taken based on stipulation judgments.

The court also disagreed with the plaintiff’s assertion that the mention of Chapter 124 in General Statutes § 8-6(a)(1), which states “any bylaw, ordinance or regulation adopted under the provisions of [that] chapter,” limits jurisdiction. The court stated this reference was not used with regards to limit the jurisdiction of the ZBA, but to help define officials whose decisions are appealable to the ZBA.  The court noted that even if they did agree with the restrictive meaning given by the plaintiff, the outcome would be no different as stipulated judgments become part of and may alter zoning regulations to the specific property.

Also, based on the logic of a previous case (Avalon Bay Communities, Inc. v. Planing & Zoning Commission, 260 Conn. 232 (2002)) the trial court did have concurrent jurisdiction with the ZBA, and not as the plaintiff asserted, that the trial court should have sole jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Connecticut stated there may be procedural issues regarding this, but since the defendant, Watstein, followed the traditional route of appealing to the ZBA, these issues do not arise.

The plaintiff lastly contended that the ZBA should not have jurisdiction over the appeal, and the trial court should have sole jurisdiction, because the ZBA was party to the stipulation judgment and may be biased against the plaintiff. The court rejected this argument as it is common practice for an administrative decision to be reversed and then remanded back to the same administrative body for further proceedings.  Also it is presumed that administrative board members are not biased. Furthermore, if there is any abuse by the ZBA, the plaintiff could appeal to the courts to remedy the situation.

Hasychak v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Old Saybrook, 2010 WL 195801 (Conn. 5/25/2010).

The opinion can be accessed here

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