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Rhode Island Superior Court Affirms Zoning Board’s Permit Approval

When a local zoning board grants a permit for a real estate project, the recipient may think they are ready to begin construction. However, receiving a permit might only be the first hurdle to clear. After the board approves your permit application, a local community member may challenge the board’s decision in court. In these circumstances, the recipient must defend the board’s conclusion based on the adequacy of the evidence they used to reach a decision. A recent Rhode Island Superior Court case highlights the circumstances when courts will defer to a zoning board’s decision.

According to the recent judicial opinion, the dispute occurred when a town partnered with an affordable housing developer to plan affordable housing within the town’s nature conservation area. The town’s Comprehensive Community Plan (CCP) requires the town to partner with accordable housing organizations and nature conservancy groups to achieve both affordable housing development and watershed preservation. Pursuant to the CCP, the housing organization applied for a permit, which the town’s Planning Commission approved. The Commission found no evidence that the proposed development would have a significant impact on the town’s watershed preservation. Challenging the decision in court, Appellants argued that the development conflicts with CCP provisions related to water conservation and population density limits in the conservation area.

Ultimately, the Superior Court upheld the Commission’s decision to approve the permit. First, the court found that the CCP unambiguously requires the town to identify parcels of land suitable for affordable housing outside of the downtown area. The CCP also allowed for increasing density in the conservation area for affordable housing so long as the development plan carefully considered public health and safety. While the CCP recognized that increased density is most appropriate in the downtown area, it did not provide that downtown was the only appropriate area. Therefore, if rejected Appellants’ assertion that the CCP prohibited increased population density in the conservation area.

Additionally, the court found that the Commission correctly found no evidence in the record showing a likelihood of threat to water conservation. The record reflected that the town had successfully expanded its public water supply system, mitigating concerns that the affordable housing area would impact the water supply. Moreover, the Commission complied with a CCP directive to ensure the town’s water supply can support future population growth by conditioning the permit’s approval on an independent groundwater study. Therefore, the court upheld the Commission’s approval, which carefully balanced the town’s goals of water conservation and affordable housing.

Do You Have Questions About Seeking a Development Permit?

If you wish to bring a permit application before your zoning board, you may face pushback from local community members with conflicting interests. Even if the zoning board issues the permit, these community members may challenge the permit in court. If you are seeking a permit for housing development, contact the Rhode Island real estate attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP for assistance. If a local actor challenges your permit in court, our skilled attorneys can help you argue that the zoning board properly granted permission to construct your development project. Alternatively, we also help you challenge a board decision to deny your permit. We are here to help with your property development needs. To schedule a free consultation, call 401-300-4055.

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