Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 21, 2017

ME Supreme Judicial Court Holds City Council’s Decision to Rezone Property was in Basic Harmony with Comprehensive Zoning Plan

Friends of the Motherhouse, a nonprofit corporation, and Raymond Foote and Barbara Weed appealed from a summary judgment entered by the Superior Court in favor of the defendant City of Portland and intervenors Sea Coast at Baxter Woods Associates, LLC, and Motherhouse Associates LP (collectively “Sea Coast”). Following the Council’s rezoning action, Sea Coast applied to the Planning Board for a four-lot subdivision of the entire property, as well as a subdivision in the Motherhouse consisting of sixty-six affordable and twenty-two market-rate senior housing units. Friends filed a two-count complaint for declaratory judgment in the Superior Court seeking to invalidate the Council’s rezoning action. The complaint asserted that the comprehensive plan required that R–5A zones be created only by contractual or conditional rezoning, and that the map and textual amendments were “substantively inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan’s goals and policies for the Deering Center/Stevens Avenue neighborhood.” The trial court denied Friends’ complaint that the Portland City Council’s rezoning of a parcel owned by Sea Coast was invalid.

At the outset, the court noted that a zoning or rezoning action may be in basic harmony with the comprehension zoning plan so long as it strikes a reasonable balance among the municipality’s various zoning goals or overlaps considerably with the plan. On appeal, Friends argued that the amendments were inconsistent with the comprehensive plan because the Council did not employ conditional or contract zoning. The court disagreed, finding that the comprehensive plan did not specify a particular method for rezoning a property as R–5A, and was silent regarding conditional or contract zoning in the section defining the R–5A zone. Instead, the comprehensive plan merely stated that “the R–5a is applied though rezoning when a site and development proposal meets the intent of this zoning classification.”

The court determined that basic harmony with the comprehensive plan, rather than harmony with the former zoning ordinance, was the test that the court should apply when reviewing the Council’s zoning decision.  Because that test was satisfied in this case, the court affirmed the trial court’s holding that Sea Coast was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Friends of Motherhouse v. City of Portland, 152 A.3d 159 (ME 12/8/016)


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