Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 14, 2015

CT Supreme Court Reverses Lower Court’s Enjoinment of Construction of Subdivision on Property Under the Environmental Protection Act

The plaintiff, Hunter Ridge, LLC, applied for a subdivision permit from the defendant, the Planning and Zoning Commission of the Town of Newtown, seeking to develop a parcel of land that bordered Taunton Lake. The commission denied the application on the ground that Hunter Ridge’s subdivision plan did not meet the open space requirements in the town’s subdivision regulations. Hunter Ridge appealed to the trial court, claiming that the commission improperly applied the open space requirements, that the requirements were unenforceable, and that the town’s demand for open space amounted to a taking without compensation. Spencer Taylor intervened in the appeal to the trial court, raising concerns related to the environmental impact of the proposed subdivision. Intervenor sought permission to present to the trial court additional evidence that was not included in the administrative record. The trial court used this evidence, decided that the intervenor had made out a prima facie case on his environmental claims, and remanded the matter back to the commission. The commission found Hunter Ridge’s proposed subdivision plan would not “unreasonably pollute, impair or destroy the natural resources on the property.” The Superior Court, set aside the commission’s findings, enjoined development of the property without prior approval of the court.

The court addressed whether General Statute § 22a–18(a) gives a trial court independent authority to enter an injunction in an administrative appeal involving an intervention under § 22a–19. The intervenor claimed that this grant of power was found in § 22a–18(a), which authorizes a court to enter temporary and permanent equitable relief as necessary to protect natural resources from unreasonable destruction. The court noted that § 22a–19 simply allows an intervenor to raise environmental concerns within the statutory limitations placed on the agency; however, If the environmental concerns that a party wishes to raise are not within the scope of the agency’s statutory power, the party must bring a separate action under § 22a–16. Consequently, the court reasoned that by permitting an intervenor to raise claims for injunctive relief in an administrative or zoning appeal, the character of the proceedings would be changed by potentially requiring the trial court to engage in fact-finding and empowering it to grant sweeping relief not otherwise permitted in such a limited proceeding.

Accordingly, the court found that a trial court can adjudicate facts relating to environmental matters raised by an intervenor only if the underlying proceeding gives the trial court authority to adjudicate such factual issues. The judgment was therefore reversed and remanded.

Hunter Ridge, LLC v Planning and Zoning Commission of Newtown, 318 Conn. 431 (CT 9/1/2015)

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