Anatra v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Madison
Conditions attached to the granting of a variance are not to be construed solely on the basis of the language in the certificate of variance. The plaintiffs, Victor and Heather Anatra, sought permission to convert an existing balcony on their beachfront house into a large, uncovered deck that would fully comply with the zoning regulations but arguably would not comply with a previously approved variance limiting the size of the house to the footprint of a previous, nonconforming structure. The zoning board of appeals of the town of Madison upheld the town zoning officer's denial of their application for a certificate of zoning compliance. The trial court dismissed the plaintiffs' appeal. The Appellate Court reversed the trial court's judgment. On appeal, the board challenged the Appellate Court's conclusion that the board could not deny the plaintiffs' application because the footprint limitation was not expressly described in the certificate of variance. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment. The Appellate Court improperly determined that the conditions attached to the granting of a variance must be explicitly stated in the certificate of variance. Rather, consistent with precedent, such conditions should be construed not only by examining the language contained in the certificate of variance but by considering the entire public record, including the variance application, accompanying plans and exhibits, minutes or hearing transcript and record of decision. When the land records indicate that conditions have been attached to a variance, due diligence requires a potential buyer of the property or other interested persons to investigate the public record in order to obtain a full understanding of the scope of the variance. Additionally, the Appellate Court incorrectly concluded that the board improperly denied the plaintiffs' application for a certificate of zoning compliance to convert the balcony into the deck. The board, in previously limiting the building to the footprint of the existing nonconforming structure, would not have anticipated the construction of a future deck that exceeded the building footprint without the granting of another variance, even if the deck was in conformance with the zoning regulations in all other respects.