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Colwell v. Town of Coventry Zoning Board of Review

Superior Court of Rhode Island

June 10, 2015

SUZANNE COLWELL Plaintiff/Appellant
v.
TOWN OF COVENTRY ZONING BOARD OF REVIEW Defendant/Appellee and BAMFORD LAKESIDE PROPERTIES, LLC Intervenor THOMAS FORCIER Plaintiff/Appellant
v.
TOWN OF COVENTRY ZONING BOARD OF REVIEW Defendant/Appellee and BAMFORD LAKESIDE PROPERTIES, LLC Intervenor

Kent County Superior Court Nos. KC-2014-0440 and KC-2014-0441

For Plaintiff: William R. Landry, Esq. Matthew J. Landry, Esq.

For Defendant: Dianne L. Izzo, Esq.

DECISION

STERN, J.

Before this Court is an appeal from two decisions of the Zoning Board of Review of the Town of Coventry (Zoning Board or Board) finding that certain modifications to a campground did not constitute an expansion or alteration of a nonconforming pre-existing use. Suzanne Colwell (Colwell) and Thomas Forcier (Forcier) (collectively Appellants) seek reversal of the Board's decisions. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 45-24-69. For the reasons set forth below, this Court remands the matter to the Board for further proceedings.

I

Facts and Travel

Forcier is the owner of real property located at 30 Lori Lane, Coventry, Rhode Island, designated as Lot 22 on Assessor's Plat 324. Colwell is the owner of real property located at 70 Lori Lane, Coventry, Rhode Island, designated as Lot 21 on Assessor's Plat 324. The Appellants' properties directly border a twenty-two acre campground, owned and operated by Bamford Lakeside Properties, LLC (Bamford), the intervenor in the current action. The campground, known as Water's Edge Campground/Recreational Trailer Park (Water's Edge), is designated as Lot 20 on Assessor's Plat 324. Both Water's Edge and the Appellants' properties are located in a Rural Residential District (RR-2), intended for "low density single family residential development, large estates, and certain low intensity non-residential activities incidental to a rural environment." (Town of Coventry Zoning Ordinance Art. 5 § 500(A)(3), Art. 6 § 600(A) Schedule of Zoning District Use Regulations). Camps and campgrounds are permitted in a RR-2 zone only upon the issuance of a special use permit. However, campgrounds are allowed to operate without the requirement of a special use permit as a legal nonconforming use if in existence prior to the zone being designated as an RR-2 zone.

In 1999, the Town of Coventry adopted a Campgrounds and Trailer Parks Ordinance (Campground Ordinance) placing certain requirements on new or expanding campgrounds.[1] See Town of Coventry Code Ch. 113-6(B). The Campground Ordinance requires existing campgrounds to obtain a special use permit before being able to expand the number of sites, or construct or expand ancillary uses of the campgrounds. See id. Additionally, Ch. 113-8(C) of the Code of the Town of Coventry (the Code) provides that a new or expanded campground is required to designate no less than 25% of the total area of the campground as recreational area. Further, Ch. 113-8(E) of the Code states that a new or expanded campground must also include a one hundred foot wide landscape buffer along the exterior of the campground's property lines.

Bamford does not possess a special use permit; however, it is uncontested that Water's Edge has been used for camping purposes prior to the campground being zoned in an RR-2 district and prior to the enactment of the Campground Ordinance and thereby constitutes a nonconforming pre-existing use.[2] See § 45-24-40; Zoning Ordinance Art. 8 § 802(A). Bamford purchased Water's Edge from the Colwell family, who had operated the campsites for generations prior. When the property was owned by the Colwells, and for all times subsequent, Water's Edge consisted of a total of 106 campsites-102 campsites and four cabins.

The instant appeal arises from the relocation of fifteen campsites from one portion of the campground to a 2.6 acre field located in the southeastern portion of the campground, which had been used primarily for recreational activities. The area where the fifteen campsites have been relocated to directly abuts with the Appellants' properties. To facilitate the relocation of the fifteen campsites, Bamford constructed a new road, septic facilities, utility facilities, and earthworks through the 2.6 acre field. On November 15, 2013, in protest of Bamford's actions, the Appellants complained to the Town of Coventry's Zoning Enforcement Officer, Jacob Peabody (Peabody), alleging the development taking place in that portion of the campground was in violation of the Zoning Ordinance.

The controlling provisions relating to the actions undertaken by Water's Edge are found under Article 8 of the Zoning Ordinance and § 45-24-40.[3] Particularly, § 861 of the Zoning Ordinance states: "[t]he expansion, extension or alteration of non-conforming uses so as to increase their nonconformity shall require a special-use permit from the Board." The Zoning Ordinance also provides that "[a] nonconforming use shall not be enlarged or extended, unless with a special-use permit[, ]" and "[a] nonconforming use shall not be moved in whole or in part to any portion of the land other than that occupied by such use at the time of adoption of this Ordinance." Zoning Ordinance Art. 8 §§ 842, 844.

The Appellants also complained that the development was taking place without Bamford first obtaining a special use permit and in violation of the Campground Ordinance.[4] Peabody, in a written decision dated December 3, 2013, informed Colwell that reconfiguring campsites does not constitute an expansion. Peabody also informed Colwell that the Campground Ordinance's requirement of a one hundred foot buffer is not necessary since that requirement applies only to new or expanded campgrounds, of which Water's Edge was neither. Peabody then stated the Campground Ordinance did not apply in full to Water's Edge since it "is not a new or expanded facility."[5] See Certified R. Ex. A(4). In a similarly worded letter, Peabody responded to Forcier's complaint. In his letter to Forcier, Peabody again did not find any zoning violations committed by Bamford. Further, Peabody explained that no expansion of the campground has taken place since there was no evidence found that Bamford had increased the number of campsites.[6] Forcier and Colwell filed timely appeals from Peabody's determinations to the Zoning Board pursuant to § 45-24-64.

On March 5, 2014, at a properly advertised hearing, the Appellants made several arguments to the Zoning Board.[7] The Appellants stated that Bamford had altered Water's Edge when it developed in the 2.6 acre recreation area immediately adjacent to Lori Lane. The Appellants reasoned that expansion and relocation of campsites into this previously open area reduces the amount of recreation area that is required under the Campground Ordinance. Additionally, the Appellants contended that the development area is less than one hundred feet from their property lines, in violation of Ch. 113-8 of the Campground Ordinance. Lastly, the Appellants ...


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