Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
In re Petition of Cross Pollination for a Certificate of Public Good
Appellant John Madden appealed the Public Service Board's order granting a certificate of public good for Appellee Cross Pollination, Inc.'s planned construction of a solar energy farm in the Town of New Haven. Appellant claimed that the Board erred in applying 30 V.S.A. 248, which regulates the construction of electric generation facilities, and should not have issued the certificate because the solar farm will have an "undue adverse effect" on the aesthetics of the natural landscape as defined by 30 V.S.A. 248(b)(5). Appellant's issue on appeal was the Board's use of the "Quechee test" so named from the Supreme Court's decision in "In re Quechee Lakes Corp.," 580 A.2d 957 (1990)): that the Board erred in applying the Quechee test and should have concluded that under 30 V.S.A. 248(b)(5) the project would have an "undue adverse effect" on the aesthetics of the land, and as a result, no certificate of public good should have issued. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Board's findings in this case, and held that its decision was based on a correct reading of the law and is supported by its findings. View "In re Petition of Cross Pollination for a Certificate of Public Good" on Justia Law
In re SP Land Co., LLC
This appeal arose from a dispute over an administrative amendment to the master development plan for Killington Resort Village granted to its co-applicants, the current owners of Killington Resort Village and SP Land Company. The District One Environmental Commission originally granted this administrative amendment authorizing the creation of fifteen subdivided lots over approximately 368 acres of Killington Resort Village for transfer to SP Land Company for "future development purposes" pursuant to Act 250 Rule 34(D). Mountainside Properties, LLC, an adjoining property owner, appealed the Environmental Court's denial of its motion to alter and amend the grant of summary judgment in favor of SP Land. Mountainside argued that the Environmental Court erred because: (1) administrative amendments under Rule 34(D) require an underlying Act 250 land use permit, and (2) co-applicants' fifteen-lot subdivision cannot be approved without demonstrating compliance with all Act 250 criteria under 10 V.S.A. 6086(a), as required by 10 V.S.A. 6081(a). Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with Mountainside's argument and reversed the Environmental Court's ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Bradford Oil Co. v. Stonington Insurance Co.
The issue on this appeal centers on who should bear responsibility for the cost of cleaning up petroleum contamination caused by releases from a gas station's underground storage tanks. The controversy in this appeal was between the State of Vermont, which runs the Vermont Petroleum Cleanup Fund (VPCF) and Stonington Insurance Co. (Stonington), which insured Bradford Oil, the owner of the underground storage tanks, for approximately a three-and-a-half-year period. The State appealed the trial court's judgment limiting Stonington's liability to a 4/27 share of past and future cleanup costs and awarded the State $45,172.05. On appeal, the State argued: (1) the Supreme Court's application of time-on-the-risk allocation in "Towns v. Northern Security Insurance Co." did not preclude joint and several liability under all standard occurrence-based policy language; (2) the circumstances here, including the reasonable expectations of the insured and the equity and policy considerations, support imposing joint and several liability on Stonington for all of the State's VPCF expenditures; and (3) even if time-on-the-risk allocation would otherwise be appropriate, Stonington was not entitled to such allocation because it failed to show sufficient facts to apply this allocation method in this case. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that "Towns" was the controlling case law here, and the Court was unconvinced by the State's reasonable expectations, equity, and policy arguments to distinguish the "Towns" decision. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the lower court's decision.
In re JLD Properties of St. Albans, LLC
This appeal represented "the latest skirmish" in a long-running dispute over plans to develop a Wal-Mart discount retail store on an undeveloped 100-acre parcel of land in the Town of St. Albans. Appellants were interested individuals and groups opposed to the project. They appealed an Environmental Court decision that granted the site plan, conditional use, subdivision, and Act 250 permits for the development. They contended the trial court erred in: (1) approving site plan and conditional use permits despite the alleged conflict of interest of several members of the Town's development review board; (2) finding that the subdivision was compatible with adjacent land uses; and (3) concluding that the developer could reapply for an Act 250 permit despite an earlier denial. Upon review of the lower court's record and the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision.
In re Times and Seasons, LLC
Applicant Times and Seasons, LLC, appealed the Environmental Court's grant of summary judgment to the Natural Resources Board and the corresponding denial of Applicant's "Act 250" permit application to construct and operate a gift shop and deli with related improvements in the Town of Royalton. On appeal, Applicant argued that it could avail itself of the definition of "primary agricultural soils" in 10 V.S.A. 6001(15) as it was amended during the course of its litigation to secure compliance with the only Act 250 criterion for which it did not receive approval. Upon review of the legislative history of the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court found that a reconsideration application is a continuation of an original Act 250 permit application. Accordingly, the submission of a reconsideration application is not a separate vesting event: "[c]ontrary to applicant's proposed interpretation, an applicant on reconsideration may not simultaneously take advantage of the laws in effect at the time of the initial application and those in effect at the time of the reconsideration application. It is not a two-way street." The Court affirmed the lower court's grant of summary judgment against Applicant.
In re Shenandoah LLC
Appellants Shenandoah, LLC, David Shlansky, Ting Chang, and other entities and individuals, appealed the Environmental Court's summary judgment decision upholding an "Act 250" jurisdictional opinion. Appellants have a variety of overlapping interests. Mr. Shlansky created an irrevocable trust (Trust) to benefit his and his wife Chang's children. As settler of the Trust, Mr. Shlansky contributed the property that is the subject of the underlying jurisdictional opinion. The Trust has an ownership stake in various companies that have engaged in land-development activities in the relevant jurisdictional area. Shenandoah, LLC, one such created entity, sought to build a ten-unit residential housing project. In August 2008, Shenandoah requested a jurisdictional opinion to determine if the project required an "Act 250" permit. In a September 2008 decision, the district coordinator found that the project required an Act 250 permit because it involved the construction of a housing project with ten or more units. Appellants appealed portions of this decision to the Environmental Court. The court upheld the district coordinator's jurisdictional opinion. The court concluded that Mr. Shlansky and Ms. Chang benefited from the Trust's land-development activities so the Trust's development activities were attributable to them personally. Appellants challenged this conclusion on appeal. As support for their position, they pointed to the affidavits filed by Mr. Shlansky, Ms. Chang and "the legal existence of the Trust, which is irrevocable." Upon review of the lower court record and the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Court's decision. As the Environmental Court concluded, benefit to the parents rendered them "persons" affiliated with subdivisions and development previously undertaken by entities owned or affiliated with the Trust as defined by Act 250.
In re Tyler Self-Storage Unit Permits
A group neighbors (Neighbors-Appellants) in the Town of Dorset appealed an Environmental Court decision that granted Applicant Bradford Tyler’s application for a zoning permit for the construction of a self-storage facility in the Dorset Village Commercial District. Appellants contend that the court erred in determining the rental storage units to be an authorized land use within the applicable Dorset zoning district. Applicant Tyler owns and resides on a 5.6-acre property located in the Village Commercial District (VC District) of Dorset. He filed for a zoning permit to construct a self-storage facility on his property. The Town Planning Commission issued written approval of applicant’s site development plan. Following this, the Town Zoning Administrator issued a zoning permit. Interested neighbors appealed to the Dorset Zoning Board of Adjustment, contending that applicant’s proposed self-storage facility is not a “retail sales/rentals” use, as required by the town’s Zoning Bylaws for development in the VC District. Neighbors, in response to applicant questioning the validity of a decision rendered by less than a majority of the Board, appealed to the Environmental Court. They asserted that, regardless of the majority vote issue, the earlier approval by the Zoning Administrator was erroneous and should be voided. Applicant cross-appealed, arguing that the Board’s denial was invalid and that the proposed facility was a permitted use in the VC District. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the question of whether a storage facility was permitted. The Environmental Court granted applicant’s motion and denied Neighbors’, holding that the proposed use was permissible as a “retail rental.” Upon review of the lower court's record and the applicable zoning statutes, the Supreme Court acknowledged the conflict created by a plain reading of the definition of "retail" in the statute: "[d]efining “retail” in terms of sales arguably creates a conflict when used to define “retail rentals” . .. Using the common understanding of the words involved, and in the context of the overall scheme and purpose of the VC District, it is clear that the Bylaws’ drafters intended “retail sales/rentals” to include only residential and small-scale commercial establishments trading in services or in goods, for sale and for rent, as opposed to renting storage space as applicant proposes." Accordingly, the Court reversed the decision of the Environmental Court.