Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 12, 2016

ME Supreme Court Upholds Planning Board’s Grant of Permits to School with Outdoor Classrooms

On October 10, 2014, the Academy, a private secondary school, applied to the Planning Board for permits authorizing changes in the use of two parcels of leased land. The Academy proposed to use one parcel, which had previously been used for agricultural purposes, to teach environmental science, conservation studies, agricultural studies, physical education, and recreation, and also for related storage. These classes would be primarily taught outdoors. Academy also proposed to use another parcel, which had previously been used for residential purposes, as offices for its admissions and advancement departments and for related storage. The Academy asserted that each use was permitted as an educational use pursuant to the Ordinance.

The Fryeburg Trust appealed from the judgment of the Superior Court affirming, pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B, the decisions of the Town of Fryeburg Planning Board and Board of Appeals on the Trust’s challenge to a Town decision allowing Fryeburg Academy to use a parcel of land as an outdoor classroom. The Academy and Town of Fryeburg cross-appealed from the same judgment vacating the Town’s decision to allow the Academy to use a building on a second parcel of land to house administrative offices.

The court first reviewed the Trust’s argument regarding the use of the Land Lot as an outdoor classroom. Trust contended that the proposed use of the lot by the Academy was not permissible pursuant to the Ordinance because “no complete courses will be taught there, much less all mandated courses.” However, after reading the plain language of the Ordinance together with the State educational requirements, the court determined Academy’s proposed use of the Land Lot to teach courses, including physical education and science, to students attending a secondary school fit squarely within the definition in question.

The court next analyzed the Academy’s and Town’s argument regarding the use of the House Lot for school administrative offices. They alleged that the proposed use of the Lot by the Academy’s admissions and advancement departments was so integral to the functioning of the school that it was indistinguishable from the school and permissible under the Ordinance. The court afforded substantial deference to the Planning Board’s ultimate characterization of the proposal under a local land use ordinance, and therefore found it did not err in finding the proposed use of the lot for the school’s administrative offices was part of a secondary school’s educational functions.

Fryeburg Trust v. Town of Fryeburg, 2016 WL 7010513(ME 12/2/2016)

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