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Challenging Administrative Land Use Decisions in State Court

The Rhode Island state government, as well as municipal governing bodies in the state, delegate many functions to administrative agencies to streamline the administration of government. Unlike legislative bodies or courts, which enact and interpret the law, administrative agencies are tasked with enforcing the law as written. Administrative agencies are heavily used in Rhode Island to determine permissible land use by residents and businesses. Zoning boards, natural resource councils, and permitting agencies are all used to determine who can develop Rhode Island properties and how.

If an administrative agency makes a determination that is not in accordance with the law, the aggrieved party has the right to appeal the decision to the state court to examine whether the decision is supported by the law. The Providence division of the Rhode Island Superior Court recently rejected an administrative agency’s denial of a plaintiff’s proposed development of a shellfish farm on coastal Rhode Island.

The plaintiff from the recently decided case is a private citizen who submitted a proposal to the defendant, which controls the permits for coastal Rhode Island. According to the facts discussed in the ruling, the plaintiff proposed a small non-commercial shellfish farm, which would be used partially as an educational resource to teach children about shellfish and shellfish cultivation in Rhode Island. The defendant, which consisted of a board of eight members, held a public hearing on the plaintiff’s proposal, where the plaintiff, as well as supporters and opponents of the proposal, presented their case to the board.

During the hearing, the plaintiff was not represented by counsel. As the opponents of the proposal presented their opposition, the plaintiff did not demand to cross-examine the speakers but was allowed to give a rebuttal statement at the end. After the opponents spoke on the possible negative impact of the proposal on the commercial shellfish industry, the defendant voted 4-4 on the proposal, which meant it was denied.

The plaintiff challenged the administrative decision in state court, arguing that he had a right to cross-examine each of the opponents after their speech. The defendant responded that the plaintiff waived his rights to cross-examine because he did not demand to do so immediately after the testimonies. The state court agreed with the plaintiff, finding that the right to cross-examine witnesses in such a hearing was paramount, and the unrepresented plaintiff was not required to demand such a right, as it should have been provided to him. As a result of the state court ruling, the proposal will be remanded to the administrative agency to be addressed again in accordance with Rhode Island law.

Planning for an Administrative Land Use Proposal

If you or an associate are considering new development or construction in Rhode Island, permits and zoning issues will be important. Generally, these permissions are obtained through administrative agencies, which may hold quasi-judicial proceedings to address your claim. Hiring a qualified Rhode Island real estate attorney can ensure that your proposal is presented in a persuasive manner, and prevent the need of returning to state court to reconsider an unwarranted rejection. The experienced Rhode Island real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo understand administrative law and can help you present your proposal effectively the first time. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Rhode Island real estate attorney by calling 401-300-4055.

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