The Grumman Hill Montessori Association Inc. v. The Planning and Zoning Commission of Wilton
A special permit may be denied only for failure to meet specific standards in the regulations, pursuant to the Connecticut Appellate Court's 2009 decision, Martland v. Zoning Commission. Between 1954 and 1974, a public school at the subject property had approximately 300 students enrolled. In 1988, the plaintiff applied for a special permit, to operate a private school. The municipality granted the special permit, and the plaintiff purchased the property. In 2000, the defendant planning and zoning commission granted permission to expand classrooms and the library, conditioned on a maximum enrollment of 230 students, "[d]ue to parking requirements." In 2009, the plaintiff sought to increase enrollment to 270 students and to build a new parking lot. The P&Z denied the plaintiff's application, and the plaintiff appealed. The court found that when the P&Z approved the special permit in 1988, it decided the school was compatible with residential uses. The school, which qualifies as a "conforming use" as a result of the 1988 special permit, was entitled to a presumption it did not adversely affect the zoning district. The fact that more individuals have parents to drive them to school did not qualify as a "change in use." Police did not report any motor-vehicle accidents near the school. There was no evidence the police expressed traffic concerns. A traffic expert opined that an increase of 40 students would not result in a significant effect on traffic congestion. Substantial evidence in the record failed to support the P&Z's conclusion that the school is located on a "narrow" road or that approval of the 2009 special permit application would result in traffic congestion. The elementary school use is consistent with the plan of conservation and development. Although the P&Z maintained that the plaintiff did not explore design alternatives, this was not an inland-wetlands application, in which the statute requires consideration of alternatives. The court found that the P&Z could not deny the application, on the grounds it did not comply with a 50-foot landscaping buffer rule, because the P&Z did not consider a request for a waiver. The court sustained the plaintiff's appeal.