Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 24, 2015

CT Appeals Court Finds No Conflict of Interest Where Father-in-Law of ZBA Chair’s Son was Personal Attorney for Applicant

Daniel Epifano, acting through David S. Huntington, submitted an application to the Fairfield Zoning Board of Appeals for variances that would permit the construction of a single-family residence on an unimproved parcel in a flood plain zone. Ultimately, however, they sought permission for the construction of a three story commercial building located entirely within the flood zone. On the close of a public hearing, the Board approved the requested variances and the decision was published in a newspaper circulated within the community. Eight residents of Old Damn Road (Plaintiffs) then appealed the decision.

In an unreported decision, the court first held that that five of the eight residents had standing due to the close proximity of their property to the subject parcel.
The court next determined that the defendant’s property was not entitled to preexisting nonconforming use status because the previous use had been abandoned for years.

The court rejected the argument that the chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals had a conflict of interest when he voted for the defendant’s application because the father of his son-in-law was the personal attorney for the defendant. In finding that the municipal governments would be seriously handicapped if remote or speculative interests required the disqualifications of a zoning official, the court said that there were no personal or pecuniary interests in the subject matter of the application, or any relationship with any of the parties who were before the Zoning Board of Appeals. Further, the court said that the chairman was not related, by blood or marriage, to the defendant, was not a part owner of the parcel on question, and the fact that his daughter was married to the son of the personal attorney and cousin of an owner to the property was too attenuated to provide the basis for a personal interest claim against the chairman. Therefore, there was no conflict of interest.

Finally, the court found that the defendant presented a showing of hardship in his request for variances because the specific topography of the property in dispute allowed for construction on only 3,200 square feet, and the building of a residential property is a permitted use in a flood plain district upon the approval of a special permit by the zoning commission. The court concluded in saying that the absence of any vote concerning a Coastal Area Management application does not impact the decision to grant the requested variances.

Coppola v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Town of Fairfield, 2014 WL 2055635 (CT. Sup. unrep. 1/24/2014)


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