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Preston v. Zoning Board of Review of Town of Hopkinton

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

February 27, 2017

Amber Preston
v.
The Zoning Board of Review of the Town of Hopkinton et al.

         Washington County Superior Court Associate WC 12-151 Justice Jeffrey A. Lanphear

          For Petitioner: George A. Comolli, Esq.

          For Respondent: Michael Polak, Esq. Kevin McAlister, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          Robinson, Justice

         At issue in this case is the legal propriety of a decision allowing Todd and Tina Sposato (the Sposatos) to keep four alpacas on their residential property in Hopkinton (the property) as pets.[1] The petitioner, Amber Preston, filed a petition for issuance of a writ of certiorari, which this Court granted, seeking review of a Washington County Superior Court judgment, in which the Superior Court justice affirmed the decision of the Zoning Board of Review of the Town of Hopkinton (Zoning Board). The Superior Court justice classified the four alpacas as "pets" and accordingly declared that keeping them on the property located in an R-1 zone was a permitted use. Ms. Preston contends that the Superior Court justice erred when he "suggested the keeping of alpacas as pets [is] an accessory use in an R-1 zone." With respect to the decision of the Zoning Board, Ms. Preston avers that the Zoning Board "exceeded its authority and abused its discretion when it made a decision personal to the Sposatos."

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we quash the judgment of the Superior Court. The record shall be remanded to the Superior Court with our decision endorsed thereon and with directions to remand the case to the Zoning Board of Review of the Town of Hopkinton.

         Facts and Travel

         On May 23, 2011, the Zoning Officer for the Town of Hopkinton issued a notice of violation to the Sposatos for their being in violation of the Hopkinton Zoning Ordinance by virtue of the fact that they had four alpacas on their property located at 129 North Road in that town; it is undisputed that the Sposatos had four alpacas on their property. The Sposatos' property is located in an R-1 zone, and it is approximately 45, 000 square feet in size. Ms. Preston, the petitioner, resided in a single-family house at 131 North Road, which property abuts the Sposatos' property and is likewise located in an R-1 zone.

         The Zoning Officer's notice of violation was predicated on his conclusion that alpacas are "farm animals" or "[l]ivestock" rather than "domestic animals"-the former being prohibited in an R-1 zone in Hopkinton and the latter being permitted in such a zone.

         In due course, the Sposatos appealed the Zoning Officer's notice of violation to the Zoning Board, which conducted four hearings late in 2011 and early in 2012. Then, on February 9, 2012, the Zoning Board issued a nine-page decision. By a majority vote, it overturned the Zoning Officer's ruling and concluded that alpacas are "domestic animals." Immediately thereafter, however, and by a separate vote, the Zoning Board imposed four "conditions" on the Sposatos with respect to the continued presence of alpacas on the property. [2] Those conditions read as follows:

"1. The dimensional setbacks for an R-1 zone shall apply to the fencing and enclosures;
"2. The alpacas are to be kept one hundred (100) feet ...

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