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Penobscot Area Hous. Dev. Corp. v. Brewer - 434 A.2d 14 (Me. 1981)


Construction of zoning ordinances is a legal determination. On appeal both before the superior court in a Rule 80B proceeding under Me. R. Civ. P. 80B and before the court pursuant to Rule 80B(d), the reviewing court's function is to determine only whether a decision of a zoning board of appeals was unlawful, arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.


The Penobscot Area Housing Development Corporation (PAHDC) is a private, nonprofit Maine corporation, recently organized to provide housing for developmentally-disabled citizens. For that purpose it negotiated a purchase and sale agreement to acquire a house and lot in the City of Brewer, which was zoned for low density single family residential use under the City's zoning ordinance. The PAHDC applied to the City's code enforcement officer, Wetherbee, for an occupancy certificate and described the proposed use as "group home for six adults or older minors, which group home would be licensed as a Boarding Home by the State." The PAHDC intended to use the property as a group home for six developmentally-disabled persons who would be supervised by "approximately two" full-time employees. Wetherbee denied the occupancy permit because he concluded the PAHDC's proposed use did "not meet the terms of the City of Brewer's zoning ordinance as a single family." Wetherbee recommended that the PAHDC comply with the ordinance by applying for a nursing home use rather than as a single family use, and by meeting the additional requirements of a nursing home prescribed by the ordinance. Declining to adopt Wetherbee's suggestions, the PAHDC appealed to the City's zoning Board of Appeals (BOA). The BOA affirmed Wetherbee's decision that the proposed use could not be classified as a single family use under the ordinance. From the BOA's decision, the PAHDC, together with the State of Maine and the State Bureau of Mental Retardation (SBMR), sought review of that decision by the superior court. The City moved to dismiss the action for improper venue, arguing that neither the State nor the SBMR was a proper party to the review, and thus, venue should have been laid in Penobscot County where both the PAHDC's principal place of business and the City were located. The City’s motion to dismiss was denied. The PAHDC then amended the complaint to allege that the SBMR was before the Superior Court on Rule 80B review, both individually and as the legal guardian of three incompetent persons from the Brewer area who already had been selected to live in the proposed group home. In that posture, the superior court held a hearing to review the BOA's decision on its merits and, by an order dated April 16, 1980, affirmed it.


Did the superior court err in affirming the denial of the occupancy certificate by the City's zoning BOA?




The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine affirmed the judgment affirming a decision of the City denying the PAHDC an occupancy certificate to use property as a group home for six unrelated developmentally disabled persons. It held that Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 30, § 4962(1)(E) (1978) did not authorize unrestricted suspension of legitimate zoning regulations for nonprofit corporations serving state interests absent a showing of compelling need. Moreover, the proposed group home did not qualify as a family use under the city's ordinance, which was constitutionally valid. The Court also denied the City's appeal of the superior court's denial of its motion to dismiss the action for improper venue.

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