Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 22, 2016

NC Appeals Court Finds Decision to Approve Proposed Subdivision was Quasi-Judicial in Nature

Farmbound Holdings, LLC (the “Developer”) submitted an application to the City of Asheville to develop a major residential subdivision known as the Brynn Subdivision. In its application, the Developer requested that the subdivision be approved with a modification which would allow for the city streets within the proposed subdivision to be narrower in width than otherwise required by City regulations. The City of Asheville’s Planning and Zoning Commission convened a public meeting and heard a presentation by the City urban planner explaining the proposed project as well as the report of the City’s Technical Review Committee recommending that the subdivision be approved with the modification. The Commission also allowed for public comment from concerned citizens who opposed approval, including the Neighbors (“Petitioners”). Ultimately, the Commission voted to approve the Brynn Subdivision preliminary plat, five to one, with the requested street-width modification. The Neighbors filed a petition for certiorari in Buncombe County Superior Court, seeking review of the Commission’s decision. Respondents moved for dismissal, which the trial court granted.

On appeal, the Neighbors contended that the trial court erred in concluding that the City was not required to afford them all fair trial rights before approving the Developer’s subdivision preliminary plat. Specifically, the Neighbors contended that the approval of the street-width modification required the Commission to exercise discretion and, therefore, rendered the Commission’s approval process quasi-judicial in nature, and not ministerial/administrative in nature. Here, notwithstanding the provisions of the Asheville Code suggesting otherwise, the decision regarding the Developer’s proposed modification required a determination of whether the Developer would suffer “physical hardship” if the modification was not allowed. Thus, the court held that this determination required an exercise of discretion in the application of this generally stated standard, rendering the Commission’s decision quasi-judicial in nature.

Having found that the Commission’s decision to approve the proposed subdivision was quasi-judicial in nature, the court held that the trial court erred in dismissing the Neighbor’s petition for certiorari, and remanded the matter to the trial court for further remand to the Commission so that a hearing with “fair trial standards” could be had.

Butterworth v. City of Asheville, 2016 WL 2865128 (NC App. 5/17/2016)

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