Piquet v. Town of Chester
When a zoning enforcement officer issues a letter notifying a landowner that he or she is in violation of the applicable zoning regulations, the landowner may appeal that interpretation regardless of whether the letter is accompanied by a cease and desist order. Assisted by a funeral director, Elise Piquet interred the remains of her deceased husband in her backyard in Chester. Chester's zoning compliance officer issued a cease and desist order finding that the burial violated Chester's zoning regulations. Piquet appealed to the Chester Zoning Board of Appeals seeking a variance. The zoning compliance officer sent a second letter withdrawing the cease and desist order to allow Piquet time to remedy the violation. Piquet withdrew her appeal. She filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment that she had the right to use her property for the interment. The court granted summary judgment to the defendants, Chester and its planning and zoning commission. Piquet appealed. The Appellate Court concluded that Piquet failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by not appealing to the board and that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the action. The judgment was reversed with orders to dismiss the action. Piquet appealed claiming that the Appellate Court erred because there was no decision of the zoning compliance officer to appeal, any appeal would have been futile and she was not required to exhaust her administrative remedies. The majority of the Supreme Court panel disagreed and affirmed the judgment. No prior Supreme Court decision defines what constitutes an appealable decision of a zoning compliance officer. The Appellate Court's 2009 decision in Holt v. Zoning Board of Appeals concerned advice on a hypothetical question. Here, the second letter concerned an existing use. The majority concluded that when, as here, a landowner receives notice from a zoning compliance officer that the landowner's existing use of property is in violation of zoning ordinances or regulations, that interpretation constitutes a decision from which the landowner can appeal to the local zoning board of appeals under C.G.S. §8-7, and when applicable, local zoning regulations. Conversely, when an interpretation is contingent on future events it will not be appealable. Justice Eveleigh, with whom Justices Harper and Vertefeuille joined, dissented finding the second letter ambiguous and would require towns to identify appealable decisions.