Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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In this appeal, Mary DiFebo argued that the Superior Court erred by dismissing her amended petition seeking review of a Board of Adjustment decision that granted a variance application for two land plots located near DiFebo's home to be subdivided into four flag lots. The Superior Court had two related reasons for dismissing the amended petition: (1) that DiFebo had not named the owners of the two properties that were the subject of the Board's proceeding within the thirty-day statute of limitations for commencing a petition challenging a Board decision, and for that reason alone she was foreclosed from proceeding; (2) alternatively, the court found that DiFebo had not met the requirements for relation back under Superior Court Civil Rule 15(c)(3). The Supreme Court concluded that the Superior Court correctly determined that DiFebo did not satisfy all of Rule 15(c)(3)'s requirements to have her amended petition relate back to her initial filing. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of DiFebo's amended petition. View "DiFebo v. Board of Adjustment of New Castle County, et al." on Justia Law

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This case arose when Henry and Mary Lou Black and Blackball Properties, LLC (collectively, the “Blacks”), challenged the Department of Land Use's decision to grant a change of use certificate to neighboring property owners, Gary Staffieri and Adria Charles-Staffieri, to the New Castle County Board of License, Inspection and Review. The Staffieris had rented out the property for use as office space for approximately ten years before deciding to open an automobile detailing shop on the premises, which required them to obtain a change of use certificate from the Department. When the Staffieris first received their certificate from the Department, the Blacks successfully appealed and the Board reversed the Department's decision. But the Staffieris reapplied, the Department once again issued their certificate, and this time, the Board affirmed the Department's decision. The Blacks were unable to appeal the Board's decision to a reviewing court because the General Assembly chose not to provide that right to parties aggrieved by a Board decision. The Blacks therefore sought review by writ of certiorari filed at the Superior Court. The Superior Court granted the writ and affirmed the Board. The Supreme Court, after its review, found no reversible error and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Black v. New Castle Cty. Bd. of License, Inspection & Review" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed without prejudice a condemnation proceeding by plaintiff-appellee, the State of Delaware Department of Transportation (“DelDOT”), against the defendants-appellants, Jack and Mary Ann Lawson. Thereafter, the Lawsons moved for an award of litigation expenses and costs, which the Superior Court denied. The Lawsons appealed that order, claiming they were entitled to reimbursement for the litigation expenses they incurred by virtue of the condemnation proceeding, under both the Real Property Acquisition Act, and the common law bad faith exception to the so-called “American Rule.” They also claimed they were statutorily entitled to an award of costs. As a matter of first impression, the Supreme Court construed certain language in 29 Del. C. 9503, and held that that provision required reimbursement for litigation expenses related to a condemnation proceeding where a court determines that the subject property cannot be acquired by the governmental entity’s particular exercise of its underlying eminent domain power in that specific proceeding. Accordingly, the Court determined that the Superior Court erred by denying the Lawsons' motion for litigation expenses under 29 Del. C. 9503. The Court also concluded, however, that the Superior Court correctly determined that the Lawsons were not entitled to litigation expenses under the bad faith exception to the American Rule. Finally, the Court held that the Superior Court erred by not addressing the Lawsons' application for costs. View "Lawson v. Delaware" on Justia Law

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Barley Mill, LLC appealed a Court of Chancery judgment invalidating a vote of the New Castle County Council on a rezoning ordinance. Barley Mill planned to develop a piece of property to house office space and a regional shopping mall. The increase in traffic associated with the development was of considerable concern to both the public and members of the Council itself. But the Council was advised that: (1) it could not obtain the traffic information and analysis that Barley Mill was required to provide to the Delaware Department of Transportation as part of the overall rezoning process before the Council exercised its discretionary authority to vote on the rezoning ordinance; and (2) that the traffic information was not legally relevant to the Council's analysis. That advice was incorrect and there were no legal barriers that prevented the Council from obtaining the information or considering it before casting its discretionary vote on the rezoning ordinance. After the rezoning ordinance was approved, nearby resident homeowners and Save Our County, Inc. challenged the zoning ordinance, arguing that not only was the Council allowed to consider the traffic information, but the New Castle County Unified Development Code required it to consider that information before its vote. They also argued that, even if the Council was not required to consider the information before the vote, the vote on the rezoning ordinance was arbitrary and capricious because the Council had received erroneous legal advice that the information was both unavailable and irrelevant at the time the Council cast its vote. The Court of Chancery held that the mistake of law caused the Council to vote without first obtaining the information, rendering the vote arbitrary and capricious. On appeal, Barley Mill argued that the Court of Chancery erred when it invalidated the Council's vote. Save Our County and New Castle County cross-appealed, arguing that the Court of Chancery erred in holding that neither 9 Del C. Sec. 2662 nor the UDC required the Council to consider a traffic analysis before casting its discretionary vote on the rezoning ordinance. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery's decision. View "Barley Mill, LLC v. Save Our County, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant Donald Pellicone appealed a Superior Court judgment confirming that New Castle County had certain easements on Pellicone's property. The County sought the easements' validation to carry out a flood control project targeting Little Mill Creek in New Castle County. The issues on appeal to the Supreme Court were: (1) whether the Flood Control Project legally constituted a County project; (2) whether the County's condemnation of Pellicone's property fell within the County's statutory eminent domain authority; (3) whether the County's action was a taking of Pellicone's property for a public use as defined by law; and (4) whether the procedures set forth in Chapter 12, Article 7 adhered to. Answering all questions raised on appeal as "yes," the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's judgment. View "Pellicone v. New Castle County" on Justia Law

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Appellant John Nichols appealed a final Superior Court judgment affirming the order of the State Coastal Zone Industrial Board granting motions to dismiss filed by appellees Diamond State Generation Partners LLC and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in response to Nichols' appeal of the grant of a Coastal Zone industrial permit application. Nichols raised two claims on appeal: (1) the Board's vote on whether Nichols had standing to pursue the appeal failed due to the lack of a five-vote majority; and (2) that he possessed standing under the "any person aggrieved" standard of title 7, section 7007(b) of the Delaware Code, or, in the alternative, as a matter of common law. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded both of Nichols' arguments lacked merit and therefore affirmed the Superior Court.View "Nichols v. State Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board, et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that a trial court judge erred in finding that a state agency complied with the state's Real Property Acquisition Act before it moved to condemn petitioners' property. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was reversed, the orders vacated and the case remanded with instructions to dismiss the condemnation action without prejudice. View "Lawson v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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A group of Dewey Beach property owners appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit against the Town. They sued to challenge the town's authority to enter into what they characterized as a "private zoning arrangement" to violate certain longstanding zoning requirements. The Court of Chancery dismissed the complaint finding it was not filed within 60 days of the notice given following approval of the developer's record plan. Finding that the Court of Chancery lacked jurisdiction, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Murray v. Town of Dewey Beach" on Justia Law

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New Cingular Wireless PCS (now known as "AT&T") filed an application with the Sussex County Board of Adjustment ("the Board") for a special use exception to construct a 100-foot telecommunications cell tower on a commercially zoned property located just outside of Bethany Beach. A special use exception was required before a cell tower may be erected within 500 feet of a residential zone. The Sea Pines Village Condominium Association of Owners, along with individual residents who lived near the proposed location opposed the application. The Board ultimately denied AT&T's application. On appeal to the Superior Court, the court acknowledged in its opinion that while this appeal was pending "Bethany voted unanimously to reject AT&T's request to use [Bethany's] water tower as an antenna location" and that "Bethany was in fact unwilling to negotiate with AT&T." The trial court did not explain its reasoning for refusing to allow a collocation on the Bethany water tower. The Superior Court affirmed based on the record presented. In its written decision denying AT&T's application, the Board concluded that AT&T "had not met its burden [under the Sussex County Code] of proving that the proposed use would not affect adversely the uses of adjacent and neighboring properties." The Superior Court explained AT&T's burden with similar language. But the Sussex County Code required a lesser burden, "special use exceptions shall be granted unless the Board finds such exceptions will not substantially affect adversely the uses of adjacent and neighboring property." AT&T argued that the Board's decision should have been reversed because the Board failed to apply the correct legal standard. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS v. Sussex County Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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The Board appealed from a Superior Court decision reversing the Board's denial of the area variance application of appellants. Appellants had purchased the property at issue, made renovations and improvements on the property, including adding a barbecue area and building a shed in the setback area. The Board denied the application on grounds that appellants did not satisfy the statutory requirements of title 9, section 6917 of the Delaware Code. The court held that the plain language of title 9, section 6917 precluded the Board from granting a variance where, as here, appellants created the exceptional practical difficulty. The court also held that the decision of the Board that the property was being reasonably utilized without the non-conforming structures was supported by substantial evidence and was free from legal error. Accordingly, the court reversed the decision of the Superior Court. View "The Board of Adjustment of Sussex County v. Verleysen & Kotowski" on Justia Law