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John Quattrocchi III Revocable Trust v. Zoning Board of Town of Warren

Superior Court of Rhode Island

October 23, 2015

JOHN QUATTROCCHI III REVOCABLE TRUST
v.
ZONING BOARD OF THE TOWN OF WARREN AND THE TOWN OF WARREN

Providence County Superior Court

For Plaintiff: Robert J. Healey, Jr., Esq.

For Defendant: Peter F. Skwirz, Esq.

DECISION

TAFT-CARTER, J.

The matter before this Court for decision is an appeal from a decision of the Zoning Board of the Town of Warren (Board), in its capacity as the appeals board. John Quattrocchi III Revocable Trust (Appellant) appealed the decision of the Board sustaining the January 17, 2014 Stop Work Order issued by the Warren Building Inspector. The Appellant timely filed this appeal. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 45-24-69.

I. Facts and Travel

Appellant is the owner of property located at 325 Water Street, identified as Assessor's Plat 5, Lot 1, and adjacent lots 112 and 138 on Plat 4 in the Town of Warren, Rhode Island (the Property). (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 1.) On November 1, 2013, the Warren Building Inspector signed a certification allowing the Appellant to seek assent from the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to conduct dredging and excavation on the Property. Id. ¶ 7. The certification states that the Warren Building Inspector had reviewed the plans for the work, the plans conformed to all elements of the Warren Zoning Ordinance, and the Appellant had obtained all necessary approvals. (Pl.'s Appl. for Appeal, Addendum of Facts, Feb. 21, 2014.) On January 7, 2014, the CRMC issued the assent. Id. The Appellant thereafter began excavation. On January 15, 2014, Appellant recorded the assent in the Land Evidence Records of the Town of Warren. Id.

On January 17, 2014, the Warren Building Inspector issued a Stop Work Order. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 13.) The Warren Building Inspector based the Stop Work Order on the definition of "excavation" as set forth in the Warren Zoning Ordinance. (Pl.'s Appl. for Appeal, Addendum of Facts, Feb. 21, 2014.) The Appellant filed an appeal of the Stop Work Order to the Board on February 21, 2014. (In re Pet. #14-10 John Quattrocchi III Revocable Trust, Zoning Board of the Town of Warren, Tr. at 3, Oct. 15, 2014.) A hearing was held on October 15, 2014. At the hearing, the trustee and sole beneficiary of the John Quattrocchi III Revocable Trust, John Quattrocchi III, testified as a witness. Id. at 26-31. Quattrocchi testified as to Appellant's reliance on the certificate and the extent of injury incurred by Appellant as a result of the reliance. Id. Throughout the hearing, Appellant's counsel maintained that the Warren Building Inspector signed the CRMC certificate, Appellant relied on the certificate, and therefore, the doctrine of equitable estoppel applies. Id. at 20-26. The Board denied the appeal and concluded that the doctrine of equitable estoppel does not apply because the action of the Warren Building Inspector was ultra vires. Id. at 64-65.

The Appellant filed a timely appeal of the decision to this Court. On appeal, Appellant contends that the decision of the Board is clearly affected by an error of law, is in violation of the ordinance provisions, is made upon unlawful procedure, is clearly erroneous in view of the record as a whole, and is arbitrary and capricious. Specifically, Appellant contends that the Warren Building Inspector was not acting outside the scope of his authority and that equitable estoppel applies.

II. Standard of Review

The Superior Court's review of a zoning board decision is governed by § 45-24-69(d), which provides:

"The court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the zoning board . . . as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. The court may affirm the decision . . . or remand the case for further proceedings, or may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because of findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions which are:
"(1) In violation of constitutional, statutory, or ordinance provisions;
"(2) In excess of the authority granted to the zoning board of review by ...

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