Newport County Superior Court
For Plaintiff: Joseph R. Palumbo, Jr., Esq.
For Defendant: Turner C. Scott, Esq.
VAN COUYGHEN, J.
Plaintiff Karmik, LLC (Karmik) brings this action seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the extent of its right to place twenty-six mobile homes on its property in Middletown, Rhode Island under the terms of a Settlement Agreement executed in 1991 between Karmik and the Town of Middletown (Middletown or Town). The parties presented a joint Revised Agreed Statement of Facts and exhibits and now seek a decision by this Court. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 9-30-1.
I Facts and Travel
The facts pertinent to this Court's analysis regarding the present controversy are set forth in the Revised Agreed Statement of Facts filed jointly by the parties. The relevant facts are as follows. Karmik, a Rhode Island limited liability company, owns real property in Middletown designated as Lot 46 on Assessor's Plat 120 (Property). Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶¶ 1-2. Prior to the enactment of the Middletown Zoning Ordinance (Zoning Ordinance), the Property was used as a mobile home park in addition to a mix of other uses, including a campground and motel. Id. ¶ 4, 10. Upon the enactment of the Zoning Ordinance in 1956, the Property's use as a mobile home park became a legal nonconforming use. Id.
In 1985, the Property was the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Town against Karmik's predecessors-in-title, Francis and Donna Pimental (Pimentals), who are also the sole members of Karmik. Id. ¶ 2, 5. The Town alleged that the Pimentals illegally expanded the mobile home park on the Property by adding six mobile homes to the then-existing thirteen, and by moving existing mobile homes. Id. According to the 1985 Complaint, the Pimentals added the extra mobile homes after the Middletown Zoning Board of Review denied their application to expand motel use on the property. Ex. A, Compl. ¶ 6-8. The Town alleged that the Pimentals used the extra mobile homes as additional motel units in violation of the Zoning Ordinance and the Zoning Board's denial. Id. The parties resolved the 1985 lawsuit in 1991 by entering into a stipulation (Settlement Agreement) providing that:
"1. The [Pimentals], and their heirs, executors, administrators, successors and assigns are entitled to have up to twenty-six (26) mobile homes on their property designated as Lot 46 of Assessors Plat 120, as presently constituted.
"2. The [Pimentals], and their heirs, executors, administrators, successors and assigns shall be allowed to continue to utilize the existing concrete pads along Prospect Avenue for mobile home and RV use, as set forth on the plan attached hereto.
"3. All counts of the Complaint, and claims encompassed thereby, are dismissed with prejudice." Ex. C, Stipulation.
The Property is located in a residential R-20 zoning district that does not permit mobile home parks by right or by special use permit. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 9. Karmik wishes to replace the existing mobile homes with up to twenty-six "double-wide" mobile homes and abandon all other nonconforming uses. Id. ¶ 10-12. Karmik informed the Zoning Official of the Town of Middletown, Jack Kane (Kane), of its intention to install the new mobile homes in a letter dated October 10, 2011. Id.; Ex. D, Karmik Letter, Oct. 10, 2011. In the letter, Karmik also announced its intention to withdraw an application for a building permit for fifteen concrete slabs, planning instead to use a "compacted crushed stone pier system" for the foundations. Id.
Kane responded in a letter dated November 16, 2011, informing Karmik that it would need to obtain a special use permit to alter the Property's existing nonconforming use. Id. ¶ 13; Ex. E, Kane Letter, Nov. 16, 2011. Kane also notified Karmik that the proposed new mobile homes would require permits to ensure compliance with the applicable building code. Id. Specifically, Kane noted that the Zoning Ordinance contains a comprehensive set of development standards which must be met in order to obtain a special use permit to construct a mobile home park. Revised Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 15. It was Kane's position that even though the Property is not located in an MT zone—the only zone under the Zoning Ordinance that permits mobile home parks with special use permits—those standards nevertheless applied to the Property. Id. ¶ 15.
Karmik brought the present action for declaratory judgment, alleging that the Settlement Agreement permits twenty-six mobile homes on the Property without any restrictions as to their size or location, and arguing that it does not need to comply ...