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Appeals Court Upholds Dimensional Variance for Warwick, Rhode Island Home

In this case, a builder wanted to build a house on a vacant piece of land in Warwick, Rhode Island. The builder wanted to build a single-family home on the lot. The lot was next to a pond and next to other lots with homes. Under a Warwick Zoning Ordinance, the specific residential lot was required to be at least 7,000 square feet in size in order to build on the property. The lot in question was less than 4,000 square feet.

The builder submitted an application to the Zoning Board for a dimensional variance. Zoning board hearings were held in which members of the public expressed concern over the impact the proposed home would have on the neighboring property values as well as the size of the house. The Zoning Board considered the use of the property and the reason for the variance and voted unanimously to grant the application for a dimensional variance. The owners of property neighboring the vacant lot filed an appeal, arguing that there was no basis for granting the dimensional variance and that the Zoning Board relied on outdated standards of review for a dimensional variance.

Variances Under Rhode Island Law

Variances in Rhode Island property cases are requested when a property’s proposed use does not meet the requirements of a zoning ordinance. A variance allows a landowner to use the property in a way that would not be permitted under a zoning ordinance. Municipalities have different procedures for seeking a variance, but generally include submitting a written application to the local Zoning Board. Individuals affected by a Zoning Board’s approval or denial of a variance can generally appeal the decision of the Zoning Board, as in the case above.

The Court’s Decision

Under a Warwick zoning ordinance, the Zoning Board was able to authorize variances “in specific cases of hardship” and had the discretion to determine whether a variance is permissible based on the “character of the surrounding area and the nature of the property.” The appeals court found that in this case, there was sufficient evidence of hardship. The court explained that the piece of land was part of a larger plat that had been divided into smaller lots many years prior. The hardship was the failure of the lot to meet the size requirements to build, which existed long before the zoning ordinance was established. The lot did not meet the 7,000 square feet requirement and the builder could not change the size of the lot. The builder also said that denying the variance would deny the beneficial use of the property because there is nothing else that could be built on the lot apart from a single-family home. Thus, if the variance were not granted, the lot would remain vacant and unused. Therefore, the appeals court found there was sufficient evidence of hardship and that the Zoning Board applied the correct standards in the case.

Contact a Rhode Island Real Estate Lawyer

Buying or selling a home or another piece of property is a huge financial decision and the law involved in the sale and building of a home can be complicated. Consulting with an experienced Rhode Island real estate attorney is essential. At Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC, we maintain close and trusting relationships with clients throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. We have offices in West Warwick, and Hartford, CT. Call us at 401-300-4055 or contact us through our online form to schedule an appointment.


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