Brandon v. Litchfield Zoning Board of Appeals
To establish abandonment of a nonconforming use, a plaintiff must establish an owner intended to relinquish permanently a nonconforming use. In 1977, Buck Cropsey, who often engaged in shooting practice on his property in Litchfield, applied unsuccessfully for a special exception, to establish a shooting school. In 2004, one of the neighbors complained to a zoning official about shooting activities on the Cropsey property, and the zoning official concluded that this constituted a pre-existing, nonconforming use. In response to another neighbor's complaint, a zoning enforcement official concluded in 2008 that shooting activities took place on the property before zoning regulations were enacted and that the current activities were consistent with the prior activities. Neighbors appealed to the zoning board of appeals and argued that the establishment of a shooting club on the property, along with a paid instructor, resulted in a commercial activity that was not related to the informal shooting that previously took place. The board upheld the decision of the zoning enforcement officer and the zoning commission, and the plaintiffs appealed. The court found that the ZEO's report constituted a "decision" and that the P&Z's acceptance of that report also constituted a "decision." Although the plaintiffs presented evidence that the amount of shooting increased, the board reasonably could have found that the Cropseys continue to use the property for a shooting range, as they had prior to the enactment of zoning regulations, and that this constituted a valid, nonconforming use. "The ZBA had the right to credit the defendants' evidence, including that of Mrs. Cropsey," wrote the court, "that the use of the property had not changed." Mrs. Cropsey claimed that her friends and family continued to engage in shooting activities on the property after her husband's death and that they did not abandon the nonconforming use. The board's decision was not arbitrary, illegal or an abuse of discretion, and the court dismissed the appeal.