Romano v. Easton Planning and Zoning Commission
Evidence that a planning and zoning commission considered alternate designs and required the addition of a buffer zone and plantings to preserve neighbors' privacy can be sufficient to prove that the P&Z considered construction impacts on the environment and the preservation of desirable natural features. The defendants, Jeffrey and Helder Bento, own a 7.2-acre property in Easton that is located in a zoning district with a minimum size of three acres. The Bentos applied to subdivide the property into two parcels, one of which, the so-called "flag lot," would be 3.8 acres, .3 acres of which would be used for an access to a road. The plaintiff neighbors own property that abuts the Bentos' property, and they argued that a conforming lot could be created, without use of a "flag lot." The defendant planning and zoning commission unanimously approved the Bentos' application to subdivide, conditioned on the addition of a 25-foot buffer adjacent to the neighbors' properties and plantings that provide screening that enhances privacy for neighbors. The proposed driveway was ordered changed, to provide room for the 25-foot buffer. The plaintiff neighbors appealed to Superior Court. Substantial evidence existed that the planning and zoning commission considered alternate designs. The record established that the Bentos' application met criteria in the subdivision regulations. The "flag lot" will serve a single residence and the access complies with width requirements. Zoning regulations that govern "construction impacts on the environment" and "preservation of natural features" do not provide clear guidance. "[S]ubstantial evidence in the record," wrote the court, "supports a finding that the Commission demonstrated a concern for both the impact on the environment, and the impact of the subdivision on neighbors." The court denied the plaintiff neighbors' appeal.