To The Editor:
I am writing in response to the comments of the Advisory Board (Nov. 19) regarding the Supreme Court decision in Pansy Road LLC v. Town Plan & Zoning Commission of the Town of Fairfield. As trial and appellate counsel for the plaintiff, I offer a different perspective with regard to the decision of the court.
It is a fundamental principle that because zoning regulations infringe upon property rights they should be subject to specific standards insuring uniformity of treatment for property owners. Such an approach is vital in order to balance the legitimate interests of a municipality in regulating land development and the rights of individuals with respect to utilization of their property.
In that context, the Supreme Court in Pansy Road LLC simply reaffirmed judicial authority originally articulated 17 years ago providing that if the use of property for explicitly permitted residential purposes in a residential zone meets all of the standards imposed by the regulations with regard to lot area, frontage and the like, then there is a conclusive presumption that such an explicitly permitted use is compatible with the district and a local commission cannot deny such a compliant proposal as being compatible with the neighborhood. This is most reasonable since the use complies with the specific, detailed standards contained in a commission’s own regulations to the very use of the property at that specific location.
In reviewing the Advisory Board’s comments, it does not appear that the authors’ position is well grounded in an understanding of these basic legal principles. The suggestion that the legislature amend the statutes so as to make every subdivision application in the state subject to a subjective analysis of off-site traffic impacts not based on any uniform standards would result in the selective enforcement of the subdivision regulations on a case-by-case basis, possibly influenced by political pressure, neighborhood reaction or other factors beyond the control of the applicant.
Such a result would benefit neither protection of the reasonable property interests of the applicant or the integrity of the local land use regulation process designed to ensure fairness and uniformity in the establishment and enforcement of subdivision regulations.
Such an unfortunate result occasioned by the type of legislative action advocated by the Advisory Board is particularly unnecessary when one considers the considerable discretion afforded to local land use commissions with regard to the enactment of the provisions of zoning and subdivision regulations and a commission’s right at its discretion to amend the municipal zoning map, thereby changing the underlying zone of property within a community. A far more equitable approach to balancing the interest of a municipality and individual property owners is assured when a local agency addresses concerns regarding the density of a development in a specific location by proactively amending the regulations and/or changing the underlying zone in the area in question so that individuals owning property within that district will, at the very least, have notice of new fixed standards to be applied to future residential development of the property.
The recent Supreme Court decision in Pansy Road LLC does nothing more than reaffirm the longstanding principle requiring uniformity in treatment based upon fixed standards when a zoning commission acts administratively in reviewing the subdivision application. Such judicial authority has served our state well over the last two decades and has not deprived local municipalities of the right to amend their regulations and/or change the zone of the property when a local commission determines that such a modification is warranted.
In the final analysis, there is no “wrong to be righted” in this instance, as the Advisory Board asserts.
John F. Fallon, Esq.