Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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Municipal ordinances banning coal combustion residuals from landfills were preempted by Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board’s approval of the disposal. AES Puerto Rico, a coal-fired power plant owner, claimed that two municipal (Humacao and Peñuelas) ordinances banning the approved handling of "coal combustion residuals" (CCRs) were preempted by federal and Commonwealth law and violated various provisions of the federal and Puerto Rico constitutions. The Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (EQB) had authorized disposal of coal ash at the El Coquí and Peñuelas Valley landfills within those municipalities. The district court granted summary judgment for the municipalities on AES's federal claims and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the Commonwealth claims. The First Circuit reversed, holding that the local ordinances may not be enforced to the extent they directly conflict with Commonwealth law as promulgated by the EQB. View "AES Puerto Rico, L.P. v. Trujillo-Panisse" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were property owners who privately leased units in Worcester, Massachusetts to students from the College of the Holy Cross. Plaintiffs brought suit alleging that the City of Worcester engaged in a scheme, through its zoning and code enforcement officials and entities, to selectively enforce the Worcester Zoning Ordinance and state Lodging House Act in order to pressure Holy Cross to make voluntary payments in lieu of property taxes to Worcester. The district court granted the City’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court properly dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims for the reasons stated in the district court’s opinion. View "College Hill Props., LLC v. City of Worcester" on Justia Law

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Appellants sought permission from the Town of Rome Planning Board to build a wireless communications tower. The Planning Board voted to deny Appellants’ application. Appellants subsequently filed suit alleging various claims under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA), the Due Process Clause, and Maine law. The TCA provides relief to those who are denied permission to build telecommunications facilities at the state or local level through “final action.” The district court dismissed the majority of the TCA claims without prejudice because Appellants had not appealed to the Board of Appeals at the time they filed their TCA claims and also dismissed Appellants’ due process challenges. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the district court correctly dismissed Appellants’ TCA claims, as the Planning Board’s decision did not mark the end of the administrative process and thus was not a “final action” for TCA purposes; and (2) Appellants’ federal constitutional due process claims were without merit. View "Global Tower Assets LLC v. Town of Rome" on Justia Law

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In Puerto Rico, the Controlled Access Law (CAL) allows private citizens to protect themselves against violent crimes by maintaining gated residential communities that incorporate public streets. In 2004, two corporations operated by the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses brought suit against municipal defendants alleging that the CAL unconstitutionally infringed on the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to engage in door-to-door ministry. The district court established a remedial scheme that attempted to balance the competing interests of the parties. Both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the municipalities appealed. The First Circuit upheld the district court’s solution but modified it in some aspects, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in crafting the remedy at issue. View "Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc’y of N.Y., Inc. v. Colombani" on Justia Law

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The City of Quincy passed an ordinance demanding that bidders on municipal public works projects engage in a specific type of apprentice training program. Plaintiffs, a trade association of construction companies and two of its members, sued the City in federal district court asserting that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) preempted the ordinance’s apprentice training requirement. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and granted Plaintiffs’ motion for attorney fees under ERISA’s fee-shifting provision. The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment but reversed the fee award, holding (1) the reach of ERISA’s preemption provision extends to the ordinance at issue; and (2) because there was no appropriate “participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary” to whom fees could lawfully be awarded in this case, the fee award must be set aside. Remanded.View "Merit Constr. Alliance v. City of Quincy" on Justia Law

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The City of Springfield passed an ordinance creating a single-parcel historic district encompassing a church owned by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield (RCB). Under the ordinance, RCB could not make any changes affecting the exterior of the church without the permission of the Springfield Historical Commission (SHC). RCB challenged the ordinance, claiming it violated RCB's rights under the First Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Massachusetts Constitution. The district court granted summary judgment for the City, concluding that some of RCB's claims were not ripe for review and that its remaining claims failed as a matter of law. The First Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed RCB's unripe claims without prejudice and rejected the remaining ripe claim, holding (1) the claims that the district court found were unripe should have been dismissed without prejudice, not resolved on summary judgment; (2) those of RCB's claims which depended on the potential consequences of compliance with the ordinance were not ripe for adjudication; and (3) RCB's claim based on the enactment of the ordinance was ripe for review but failed on the merits. View "Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield v. City of Springfield" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff applied for a special permit to open an adult entertainment establishment within an industrial district. By the terms of a City ordinance, adult entertainment was forbidden on sites within an industrial district. The City denied Plaintiff's application. The Zoning Board of Appeals denied Plaintiff's appeal for variances from the ordinances. At issue on appeal was whether the City's zoning ordinances violated the First Amendment by preventing Plaintiff from opening his adult entertainment establishment on land zoned industrial without providing an adequate opportunity elsewhere. The federal district court entered summary judgment for the City. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in calculating the land available to Plaintiff for adult use; and (2) the available land provided Plaintiff a reasonable opportunity to open an adult business. View "Lund v. Fall River, Mass." on Justia Law

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Green Mountain owns cellular phone towers and leases space to federally licensed providers of wireless telecommunications services, who mount antennae on the towers to service their cellular networks. Green Mountain entered into an agreement with an agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to lease land in Milton, an unzoned triangular section, approximately 2,700 square feet, formed by the intersection of I-93 and the southbound on-ramp. Applications to the Town Zoning Board of Appeals and the Milton Conservation Commission were denied. Green Mountain challenged the decisions as not supported by "substantial evidence," as required by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. 332(c)(7)(B)(iii); as constituting an "effective prohibition" on provision of wireless services in the area in violation of the TCA; and as violating Massachusetts state law. The district court granted summary judgment upholding the denials. The First Circuit affirmed with respect to the substantial evidence claims, but vacated in part. The district court did not adequately address evidence supporting the effective prohibition claim. View "Green Mountain Realty Corp. v. Leonard" on Justia Law

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The Blackstone River runs from Worcester, Massachusetts into Rhode Island. It becomes the tidal Seekonk River, flows into the Providence River, and empties into Narragansett Bay. During the industrial revolution, textile mills lined the River. Heavy metals and industrial wastes accumulated behind impoundments and damaged its ecology. Massachusetts and Rhode Island seek to put the River to new economic and recreational uses including tourism, recreation, and commercial fishing, but, as population has increased, sewage processing has not kept up. Conditions have deteriorated for years, posing a threat to public health and commercial fishing. Congress designated the Blackstone River Valley as a National Heritage Corridor in 1986; the EPA formed the Narragansett Bay Project in the 1980s. Massachusetts and Rhode Island have listed the Blackstone River as "impaired" under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1313(d): Rhode Island has also listed the Seekonk and Providence Rivers and Narragansett Bay as impaired. The First Circuit upheld limitations imposed in a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit on discharges from a Massachusetts sewage treatment plant. The plant's responsibility for serious pollution problems in important waterways is clear and cost considerations may not be considered in setting permit limits to assure compliance with state water quality standards. View "Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement Dist. v. U.S. Envtl. Protection Agency" on Justia Law

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A three-mile public recreational trail runs through 32 acres owned by the state and is used, in part, to access the state-managed Scarborough Marsh Wildlife Management Area. In 1961 Maine purchased the land with federal funds under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act, 16 U.S.C. 669-669k for the approved purpose of “waterfowl habitat, waterfowl management, and access to waterfowl hunting.” The state subsequently granted easements for sanitary pipelines and a town road and to private parties for access to adjoining property. An easement granted in 2005 allowed construction of a road over 766 feet of previously-restricted trail for access to a planned subdivision. Objectors sought injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging violations of the Wildlife Restoration Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, 42 U.S.C. 4321, and state law. The district court dismissed federal claims and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims. The First Circuit affirmed, first holding that the federal agency’s decision to not enforce the funding provisions of the WRA is within its discretion. The federal government did not grant the easements, so NEPA did not apply. View "Scarborough Citizens Protecting Res. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Serv." on Justia Law