WILLIAM T. CASE et al. v.
NEW HARTFORD PLANNING & ZONING COMMISSION, SC 18140
Judicial District of Litchfield
Zoning; Whether the Commission's Vote Constituted an Approval of a Zoning Application; Whether the Interpretation of the Commission's Vote Should be Resolved Based on the Common Law or on General Statutes § 8-22; Whether the Trial Court Should Defer to the Commission's Interpretation of the Legal Effect of its Vote. The plaintiffs sought approval to resubdivide their property and a special exception to allow the interior lots on the property to be served by a common driveway. After holding public hearings, two commission members voted to approve the application with conditions, and three commission members abstained. Following the vote, the five commission members unanimously agreed that the application had been denied. Thereafter, the commission published a legal notice stating that the commission, by majority vote, had denied the application. The plaintiffs appealed from the commission's denial, arguing that the vote of the commission constituted an approval of the application as a matter of law. Subsequently, the parties reached a settlement agreement, wherein the commission agreed that its vote constituted an approval of the application. The parties then filed a joint motion for judgment in accordance with their settlement agreement. In the meantime, the trial court granted the motion to intervene of several neighboring property owners. The intervenors claimed that because only two of the five members of the commission voted to approve the application, the application had not been approved by a "majority" vote as required by General Statutes § 8-22. The trial court, however, concluded that the commission approved the application under the common-law rule that provides that where a quorum of an agency is present, a majority of the votes actually cast is sufficient even though the number of votes is less than a quorum, provided there are a sufficient number of members present, whether voting or not, to constitute a quorum. The court further held that § 8-22 did not create an exception to the common-law rule because it applied only to the administrative tasks of a planning commission enumerated in the statute itself, and not to the commission's consideration of a resubdivision or special exception application. Accordingly, the court sustained the plaintiffs' appeal, ruling that the commission's vote constituted an approval. On appeal, the intervenors claim that, contrary to the trial court's conclusion, § 8-22 applies to all actions of a planning commission and requires the affirmative vote of three members of a five member commission to approve an application regardless of the number of members actually voting. Alternatively, if § 8-22 is found not to be applicable, they claim that the trial court should have deferred to the commission's own interpretation of its vote, that being that the application had been denied.