Caruso v. Meriden ZBA
A commissioner whose personal attorney represents an applicant who requests relief from the commissioner's board or agency may be required to abstain. The defendant, Mark Development LLC, owns property in the City of Meriden and applied for a variance to use the property for automotive sales and services. The zoning board of appeals granted the variance, and the plaintiffs appealed. The court found that the ZBA properly exercised its legal authority when it granted the variance. Evidence in the record established that the subject property had been vacant for nearly 30 years and that granting a variance to permit the property to be used for a car dealership would not obstruct the purposes of the zoning regulations or the comprehensive zoning plan. The board did not exceed its authority when it granted the application. The property, which is located in a Regional Development District, has been essentially unusable since 1985. The plaintiffs also argued that the applicant's attorney was the personal attorney for one of the commissioners of the ZBA and that the commissioner's vote was required for approval. "A personal interest can take the form of favoritism toward a party or hostility toward the opposing party; it is personal bias or prejudice which imperils the open-mindedness and sense of fairness which a zoning official in our state is required to possess," pursuant to Bridgeport Superior Court Judge Fuller's 1993 decision, Floch v. Planning and Zoning Commission. Although his motives were good, and there was no direct evidence of partiality or personal interest in the application, "the board member should have been disqualified from participating in the matter," wrote the court, "because his personal attorney was representing the applicant." The court sustained the plaintiffs' appeal and remanded to the zoning board of appeals.