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Court cases and their importance

Court cases and their importance
* Figarsky v. Historic District Commission of City of Norwich, 368 A.2d 163 (Conn. 1976)

Background: Owners of a property within the Local Historic District applied for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the house, citing the prohibitive cost of repairs. The application was denied by the Historic District Commission.  The owners filed for appeal.

Summary: The court found that the Historic District Commission acted appropriately in considering the application and rendered a valid judgment.  The court did not support the plaintiffs’ claim of illegal taking of the property, because the Commission had exercised its lawful, reasonable, and honest judgment in applying an ordinance that the court found was not unconstitutionally vague.

Importance: Figarsky v. Norwich confirmed that historic district regulations that are fairly and consistently applied do not amount to a “taking” of the property.

* Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104 (1978)

Background: Penn Central Transportation Company proposed to build an office tower on top of Grand Central Station in New York.  The New York City Landmarks Commission denied the application in order to preserve the historical and architectural integrity of the Beaux Arts-style station.

Summary: The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the New York City Landmarks Commission and

1)     Recognized historic preservation as a legitimate governmental objective that may result in appropriate restrictions on historic properties

2)     Confirmed the appropriateness of historic preservation regulations that restrict changes to designated landmark properties and districts but still provide reasonable beneficial use to property owners

3)     Established a balancing test and stated that takings challenges to historic preservation ordinances must be decided on the basis of three factors:  the character of the government action, the economic impact of the regulation on the claimant, and the extent to which the regulation has interfered with distinct investment-backed expectations. 

4)     Noted that property owners are not automatically entitled to the highest and best use of the property, particularly if there are compelling community benefits to preservation

Importance: Penn Central v. New York City is the legal foundation of many historic preservation regulations throughout the country.  In its decision, the Supreme Court clearly established the legitimacy of historic designations and related restrictions on the development and use of significant properties, within parameters described by the Court.

* Farmington Savings Bank v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Town of Farmington, 458 A.2d 1151 (Conn. 1983).

Background: A local bank located in the Local Historic District applied to the building official for a demolition permit without applying first to the Historic District Commission. The building official refused to issue the permit and the property owner appealed stating that during the creation of the Local Historic District, the town had unlawfully excluded corporate owners of real property to vote on the creation of the district and that therefore the property owner did not have to comply with historic district rules.

Summary: The court found that the plaintiff's property is properly deemed part of the Farmington Historic District and subject to Ordinance No. 47, § 5, which requires a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic District Commission prior to the issuance of a demolition permit, because the State Legislature in § 7-147k(a) explicitly cured any defects in the creation of the Local Historic District. The court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiff's administrative appeal.

Importance: Farmington Savings Bank v. Farmington confirmed the effect of the cure provision contained in § 7-147(k) and illustrated that municipal building officials may not issue a demolition permit for property within the Local Historic District unless the property owner has first obtained a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic District Commission, except under the specific conditions as listed in the enabling statute.

* Gentry v. City of Norwalk, 494 A.2d 1206 (Conn. 1985).

Background: Property owners in the proposed Local Historic District disputed the weight that was given to ballots regarding the creation of a Local Historic District which were submitted by owners of individual condominiums with the district.

Summary: The court determined that the owners of individual condominiums were each entitled to a fractional vote since the condominiums were located on a single parcel.

Importance: Gentry v. Norwalk established the legitimacy of fractional votes for multiple ownership of a single parcel in a proposed local historic district.

* First Church of Christ v. Ridgefield Historic District, 738 A.2d 224 (Conn. Super. 1998), aff’d 737 A.2d 989 (Conn. App. 1999), cert. denied 737 A.2d 989 (Conn. 1999). 

Background: First Church of Christ applied for a certificate of appropriateness to apply vinyl siding to the historic church within the Local Historic District.  The Historic District Commission denied the application based on a change in exterior appearance and material that was incongruous within the Local Historic District.  The church sought judicial review of this denial on several bases, including claims that the church suffered an undue hardship, that the Commission had predetermined the church application, and that the regulations unreasonably restricted free exercise. 

Summary: The appeals court affirmed the trial court decision, which had rejected all of the claims.  In particular, it rejected the First Amendment claim because there was no interference with the right to express “religious views or associate or assemble for that purpose,” and the First Amendment “cannot be extended… to avoid otherwise reasonable and neutral legal obligations imposed by government.”

Importance: First Church v. Ridgefield confirmed, among other things, that religious buildings within a Local Historic District are subject to the same regulatory review requirements as other properties.

* Van Deusen v. Town of Watertown, No. CV970138135S, 1999 WL 557970 (Conn. Super. July 22, 1999)

Background: Town residents circulated a petition calling for repeal of the Local Historic District ordinance by town-wide referendum. 

Summary: The court determined that the Local Historic District could not be repealed by town-wide referendum since only the property owners within the district had voted on whether to establish it. The state’s historic district statute preempts the applicability of the referendum provision of the town charter.

Importance: Van Deusen v. Watertown confirmed that Local Historic District regulations cannot be modified or repealed by referendum.  The final authority for establishing or repealing a Local Historic District with the legislative body of the municipality.

* Fraioli-Cavallo v. Historic District Commission for the Town of Sharon, 2005 WL 2364934, No. CV054002694. (Conn. Super. Dist.—Litchfield Sept. 7, 2005)

 Background: Property owners within the Local Historic District filed suit against the Historic District Commission using procedures other than those outlined in the enabling legislation.

 Summary: Since the plaintiffs did not adhere to the statutory procedure, the suit was dismissed due to a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

 Importance: Fraioli-Cavallo v. Sharon confirmed that appeals of Historic District Commission decisions can only be filed under the procedures outlined in the Connecticut enabling statute.

* Peeling v. Historic District Commission of the Town of New Canaan, 2006 WL 3359619, No. FSTCV064009772S (Conn. Super. Dist.—Stamford-Norwalk Nov. 1, 2006) 

Background: Homeowners were granted a certificate of appropriateness to make changes to their property within the New Canaan Historic District.  Neighbors who own property within the same district filed suit as aggrieved parties to appeal the granting of the certificate.

Summary: Court found that the plaintiffs are not statutorily aggrieved, since the property owned by the plaintiffs is not adjacent to or within 100 feet of the subject property. The defendants’ motion to dismiss was granted.

Importance:  Peeling v. New Canaan confirmed that the decisions of the Historic District Commission can only be appealed by property owners who are directly impacted by the decision, not by property owners in the Local Historic District generally.

* Morena v. Historic District Commission of the Town of Brookfield, 934 A.2d 335 (Conn. Super. Dist.—Danbury 2007). 

Background: Property owners appealed a decision of the town Historic District Commission denying their application for construction of a stone wall on their property.

Summary: The Superior Court, Judicial District of Danbury, Shaban, J., held that:

1)     Two members of the Historic District Commission were not required to disqualify themselves from hearing, and

2)     The Historic District Commission had jurisdiction to hear application for construction of a stone wall

Appeal dismissed.

Importance: Morena v. Brookfield confirmed that stone walls are considered “structures” under the Connecticut enabling statute for Local Historic Districts and are therefore subject to review.  The case also clarified the conditions under which recusal of Historic District Commission members may be required.

* Historic District Commission of the Town of Fairfield v. Hall,923 A.2d 726 (Conn. 2007).

Background: The town's Historic District Commission sought a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief as to whether a large sculpture placed on the front lawn of a landowner’s property in the Local Historic District of the town was subject to the Historic District Commission’s approval. The Superior Court, Judicial District of Fairfield, Adams, J., granted the Historic District Commission’s motion for summary judgment, and the landowners appealed.

Summary: The Supreme Court, Zarella, J., held that:

1)     The term “structure,” as used in the statute governing Local Historic Districts, included extremely heavy objects that were “affixed” to the land by gravity and not easily moved because of their substantial weight, and

2)     The large sculpture on the landowner’s front lawn constituted a “structure” and, thus, was subject to the Historic District Commission’s jurisdiction because it was “affixed to the land” by gravity

Importance: Fairfield v. Hall clarified the definition of a “structure” under the Connecticut enabling statute for Local Historic Districts and confirmed that a structure need not have a permanent foundation to be subject to review

* The Felician Sisters of Saint Francis of Connecticut, Inc. et alia v.  Enfield Historic District Commission, SC 17931, Judicial District of Hartford (Conn. 2006).

Background: At issue was (1) whether the Historic District Commission has jurisdiction over school parking areas within the district boundaries, and (2) whether the Historic District Commission’s denial of the plaintiff’s application for a certificate of appropriateness was based on considerations outside the scope of its jurisdiction.

Summary: The court ruled that the Historic District Commission has broad authority over parking connected to any kind of occupation and enterprise, including a school.  In addition, the court confirmed that the Historic District Commission acted within its authority by considering the impact of the proposed parking area on the specific property and on the Local Historic District generally.

Importance: Felician Sisters v. Enfield (2006) confirmed that the proposed parking area was subject to review by the Historic District Commission, and that the Historic District Commission may consider the impact of the parking area on the Local Historic District as a whole.

* Felician Sisters of St. Francis of Connecticut, Inc. v. Historic District Commission of the Town of Enfield, 937 A.2d 39 (Conn. 2008) 

Background: A private school sought judicial review of a decision of the town's Historic District Commission, denying their application for approval of plan to replace gravel parking area with blacktop driveway and parking lot.  The Commission appeared to have relied primarily on emotional testimony from neighbors in making its decision, and did not state on the record that it had considered the visual or traffic impacts of the proposed parking scheme.  The Superior Court, Judicial District of Hartford, Stengel, J., 41 Conn. L. Rptr. 256, 2006 WL 1230527, dismissed appeal. School appealed, and appeal was transferred.

Summary: The Supreme Court, Norcott, J., held that:

1)     The statute requiring a certificate of appropriateness for occupational parking within Local Historic Districts encompassed parking for the private elementary school, but

2)     The Historic District Commission's denial of the school's application was an abuse of discretion because it did not consider factors other than “neighborly animosity.”  

The judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded to the trial court with a direction to sustain the plaintiffs' administrative appeal. 

Importance: Felician Sisters v. Enfield (2008) confirmed that Historic District Commissions have legitimate regulatory authority, but that (1) the authority must be exercised fairly and consistently in the review of all applications, and (2) the deliberations and determinations of the Historic District Commission must be a matter of record.

* Barry v. Historic District Commission of the Borough of Litchfield, 950 A.2d 1 (Conn. 2008)

Background: The homeowner filed an application for a certificate of appropriateness for proposed changes to the exterior of a house in the Local Historic District. The borough Historic District Commission denied the application; the homeowner appealed. The Superior Court, Judicial District of Litchfield, Pickard, J., sustained the homeowner's appeal. The Historic District Commission filed a petition for certification to appeal, and homeowner filed a cross-petition.

Summary: After granting both petitions, the Appellate Court, McLachlan, J., held that:

1)     The trial court order, sustaining the homeowner's appeal and implicitly remanding the case to the Historic District Commission for a new hearing, was a final judgment for purposes of appeal

2)     The homeowner was not automatically entitled to approval of her application when the Historic District Commission failed to provide written notice of its denial within sixty-five days, as the homeowner had actual notice of the denial within such period

3)     The Historic District Commission violated the homeowner's right to fundamental fairness when the chairman allowed a Historic District Commission member to testify extensively as an expert against the homeowner's application

Importance: Barry v. Litchfield confirmed that Historic District Commissions must take final action on an application and notify the property owner of the decision within the time frame stipulated by the statute or ordinance.  In addition, the court highlighted the need for recusal of Historic District Commission members when there is a potential conflict of interest in the review.

* Gibbons v. Historic District Commission of the Town of Fairfield, 941 A.2d 917 (Conn. 2008)

Background: The property owner appealed the Historic District Commission's denial of her application for a certificate of appropriateness for proposed changes to her property. The Superior Court, Judicial District of Fairfield, Radcliffe, J., 2006 WL 1828362, sustained the appeal. The Historic District Commission appealed, and the appeal was transferred.

Summary: The Supreme Court, Zarella, J., held that:

1)     The Historic District Commission’s stated reason for its denial of the application for a certificate of appropriateness was within the authority granted to it in the Local Historic District enabling statutes

2)     In deciding appeals from Historic District Commissions, reviewing courts are limited to determining whether the reason stated by the Historic District Commission is supported by substantial evidence in the record

3)     If the Historic District Commission's stated reason was rejected as inadequate, the Court could not search the record for any substantially supported reason to justify the Historic District Commission’s action; overruling Stankiewicz v. Zoning Board of Appeals,211 Conn. 76, 556 A.2d 1024 and Stankiewicz v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 15 Conn.App. 729, 546 A.2d 919

4)     The record lacked substantial evidence to support the Historic District Commission’s stated reason for its denial of application for certificate of appropriateness, and thus the denial of application was arbitrary and unreasonable

Judgment of Superior Court affirmed.

Importance: Gibbons v. Fairfield highlighted the need for Historic District Commissions to maintain complete and accurate records of their deliberations and determinations for every application. The decision also confirmed that Historic District Commissions must clearly state the criteria for evaluating applications.

* Voll v. Monroe Historic District Commission, 2008 WL 1868417, No. CV054013211 (Conn. Super. Dist.—Fairfield Apr. 10, 2008)

Background: Homeowners applied to the commission for a certificate of appropriateness to construct a shed, two fences, a wall, and a gate at their personal residence in the Local Historic District. During the hearing the appellants, who were represented by legal counsel, presented testimony, photographs, and letters supporting their application. No mechanical recording device was utilized by the Historic District Commission to record the proceedings that evening.  Following the conclusion of the hearing, the Historic District Commission conducted a discussion and then denied the appellants' application for a certificate of appropriateness for the wall and the gate, but granted a certificate for the two fences and the shed.  The appellants’ claim that the decision of the Historic District Commission was illegal and arbitrary, as the Historic District Commission conducted its meeting in violation of its own regulations and in violation of state statutes. Therefore, the appellants claimed the Historic District Commission’s decision and the results of said meeting were not proper and legal and were voidable.

Summary: The minutes of the two meetings held by the Historic District Commission were insufficient as to their content for the court to make a reasoned decision. The minutes do not reflect the identity of who prepared them and the date they were prepared. There was no documentation to support whether the minutes of the meeting were ever approved as written. Neither set of minutes reflected when they were transcribed or typed, which is especially important where no transcript or recording of the meeting exists. Additionally, the Historic District Commission did not state its reasons for denying the certificate of appropriateness in its records and in the notice to the applicants/appellants for denying the certificate of appropriateness regarding the stone wall and gate which is a violation of Connecticut General Statutes, Section 7-147e(b).

Importance: Voll v. Monroe highlighted the need for adequate rules of procedure for the Historic District Commission.  Specifically, the Historic District Commission must (1) prepare and approve written minutes detailing the deliberations and actions of each meeting, and (2) cite specific reasons for denying an application based on the commission’s stated review criteria.