Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 16, 2014

RI Supreme Court Holds That Absent a “Lot Frontage” Requirement in a Zoning Ordinance the Court Will Not Infer that One Exists.

Petitioner Ladevaia submitted an application to the Scituate Building Official to build a single-family home on the unimproved, and the building official denied petitioner’s request. The building official cited numerous deficiencies with petitioner’s proposed plans, including a lack of street frontage. The building official found that the unimproved lot had no street frontage, and therefore no width, making the lot not eligible for a Building Permit under Article IV–Section 3 of the Zoning Ordinance. The petitioner then filed a complaint in Superior Court appealing the zoning board’s denial of both his appeal of the building official’s decision and his request for a dimensional variance, and the trial justice issued a written decision upholding both of the zoning board’s rulings. The trial justice agreed with the zoning board’s interpretation of the ordinance as requiring frontage and found that petitioner’s parcel did not have the frontage required and the zoning board had correctly concluded that petitioner’s unimproved lot was not a buildable lot because the plan commission did not create a lot for purposes of the zoning ordinance.
By defining the term “lot frontage,” the ordinance acknowledges a frontage requirement for certain properties. Although the ordinance explicitly requires that certain other classes of properties contain minimum frontage, the dimensional requirements for zoning district RR–120 omitted any reference to frontage. Because the ordinance clearly requires frontage in certain situations, the omission of a frontage requirement in district RR–120 led the court to conclude that no such frontage requirement exists. The court declined to read into the ordinance a requirement that the drafters of the ordinance omitted.

The court vacated the judgment of the Superior Court and further held that the zoning board should treat the unimproved lot as a separate lot, and not apply a frontage requirement to the petitioner’s application for a building permit.

Ladevaia v. Town of Scituate Zoning Bd. of Rev., 2013 WL 6795231 (R.I. 12/23/2013)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.courts.ri.gov/Courts/SupremeCourt/Opinions/11-338.pdf


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