The New England Prayer Center submitted a request to the Zoning Commission of the Town of Easton (Commission) seeking a place of worship in a residential community. The request was granted, but residents within the community filed an appeal claiming that the Center’s use of a parking lot in front of their Church’s property violated the Easton zoning regulations. The Commission maintained that the zoning regulations allowed for minimum fifty-foot setback, and that a strict application of the statute would create an unreasonable burden on religious applicants under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The trial court acknowledged that the residents were aggrieved and that they had standing, but ultimately dismissed the appeal because the zoning ordinance explicitly allows parking in front of a structure in some circumstances.
The appellate court noted that the applicable sections of the statute did not provide a definition of “front yard,” and therefore they applied the common definition of frontage (a word similar to “front yard”) and found that the common usage of “front yard” appears to be the area in front of a structure, between the structure and the street. In regards to the section of the statute which allowed for parking in front of the structure, the court found that the superior court quoted the language of the ordinance in its analysis, but failed to take into consideration the plain language of the statute which only allowed up to ten percent of the off-street parking. Therefore, the court found the dismissal of the appeal to be improper, and remanded the case for the court to determine whether the conditional exception of the statute was met.
Michos v Planning and Zoning Commission of the Town of Easton, 2014 WL 3057114 (CT App. 7/15/2014)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP151/151AP413.pdf