Villages LLC v. Enfield Planning and Zoning Commission
"In reviewing the decision of a zoning board of appeals or planning and zoning commission, the trial court must determine whether the board has acted fairly or with proper motives," pursuant to Cunav v. Zoning Board of Appeals, a 2001 decision of the Connecticut Appellate Court. The plaintiff, Villages LLC, applied for a permission to subdivide 64 acres of property into 38 single-family residences in an R-44 residential district in Enfield. In 2009, the defendant planning and zoning commission held four public hearings and denied the plaintiff's applications. The plaintiff appealed. The court credited the testimony of Anthony DiPace that Lori Longhi, one of the members of the planning and zoning commission, was biased against one of the plaintiff's owners, who was the spouse of former Mayor Patrick Tallarita. Allegedly, Longhi said that the planning and zoning commission previously had treated her unfairly, and she wanted Tallarita to experience the equivalent treatment, because he failed to intervene, to help her. "[T]hese comments," wrote the court, "were blatantly biased towards Tallarita and should not be tolerated." Tallarita was unaware of Longhi's alleged bias until after the planning and zoning commission issued its decision. Longhi raised many negative issues about the application. It was clear she intended to possess a major influence on the planning and zoning commission's vote. Longhi allegedly engaged in an ex parte communication with a water company official about whether there was enough water pressure at the site for the fire department to extinguish a fire. The planning and zoning commission engaged in discussions about water pressure, and this constituted a substantial reason to deny the applications. Longhi allegedly failed to disclose to the other members of the planning and zoning commission that she obtained her information ex parte from a water company official. Longhi's actions, wrote the court, "were improper, prejudicial and unfair to the plaintiff." Longhi's arguments against the plaintiff's application, concluded the court, "were biased, aggressive and vociferous." The court sustained the plaintiff's appeal and remanded to the planning and zoning commission with directions that Longhi recuse herself.