838 A.2d 1103 (Del. 2003), 440,2003, Dover Historical Soc. v. City of Dover Planning Com'n

Docket Nº:440,2003.
Citation:838 A.2d 1103
Party Name:The DOVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Henry R. Horsey, Mary Jane Richter, Joseph Gates, III, Larry Josefowski, Susan Terry, Bonnie Johnson, Holly Johnson and Charles Johnson, Petitioners Below, Appellants, v. CITY OF DOVER PLANNING COMMISSION, consisting of John Friedman, Robert M. Sadusky, Michael Von Reider, William J. Dimondi, Thomas Holt, Ann M. Baker
Case Date:December 02, 2003
Court:Supreme Court of Delaware
 
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Page 1103

838 A.2d 1103 (Del. 2003)

The DOVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Henry R. Horsey, Mary Jane Richter, Joseph Gates, III, Larry Josefowski, Susan Terry, Bonnie Johnson, Holly Johnson and Charles Johnson, Petitioners Below, Appellants,

v.

CITY OF DOVER PLANNING COMMISSION, consisting of John Friedman, Robert M. Sadusky, Michael Von Reider, William J. Dimondi, Thomas Holt, Ann M. Baker Horsey, Robert D. Welsh, Francis Winsley and Francis C. Nichols, and Young & Malmberg, P.A., a Delaware professional association, Grace Properties, L.L.C., a Delaware limited liability company, and Yozima, L.L.C., a Delaware limited liability company, Respondents Below, Appellees.

No. 440,2003.

Supreme Court of Delaware

December 2, 2003.

Submitted: Nov. 4, 2003.

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Court Below--Superior Court of the State of Delaware, in and for Kent County, C.A. No. 03A-06-002.

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Upon appeal from the Superior Court. REVERSED, in part, VACATED, in part, and REMANDED.

Grover C. Brown and Michael J. Maimone, of Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella, P.A., Wilmington, for appellants.

Nicholas H. Rodriguez and William W. Pepper, Sr., of Schmittinger and Rodriguez, P.A., Dover, for appellee, City of Dover Planning Commission and its members.

William E. Manning and Richard A. Forsten, of Klett, Rooney, Lieber & Schorling, Wilmington, for appellees, Young & Malmberg and Yozima, L.L.C.

Before VEASEY, Chief Justice, HOLLAND and JACOBS, Justices.

HOLLAND, Justice:

This is an appeal from a final judgment of the Superior Court. The petitioners-appellants, are the Dover Historical Society and several individuals: Henry R. Horsey, Mary Jane Richter, Joseph Gates, III, Larry Josefowski, Susan Terry, Bonnie Johnson, Holly Johnson and Charles Johnson. This proceeding was commenced when the petitioners filed an action in the Superior Court for a writ of certiorari. 1 The petitioners sought judicial review of a determination by the respondent-appellee, the City of Dover Planning Commission (the "Planning Commission"), which approved the construction by the other respondents, Young & Malmberg, P.A. and Yozima, L.L.C., of a 24,300 square foot, three-story office building (the "Building") wholly within the Dover Green Historic District (the "Historic District").

The respondents, Young & Malmberg, P.A. and Yozima, L.L.C. filed a motion to dismiss the petition. The Planning Commission joined in that motion. In the motion to dismiss, the respondents asserted, among other things, that the petitioners lacked the requisite standing to challenge the determination of the Planning Commission that an architectural review certificate be issued for the construction of the Building in the Historic District.

The Superior Court dismissed the petitioners' claims for lack of standing. The Superior Court held that none of the petitioners have "demonstrated that they have an interest that is distinguishable from the public at large, nor have they shown an injury in fact ...." 2 We have concluded that the judgment of the Superior Court must be reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

The Parties

The petitioner, Dover Historical Society, is a not-for-profit Delaware corporation. The Dover Historical Society was founded in the 1930s as The Friends of Old Dover. The Dover Historical Society encourages the preservation of buildings, gardens and memorabilia of historic value and importance. It promotes education of the community in connection with the historical and cultural heritage of the City of Dover through various programs offered to the public. The Dover Historical Society submits that the efforts of The Friends of Old Dover were instrumental in the establishment of the Historic District, the adoption of certain provisions of the City of Dover Code, and the Historic District Guidelines and Standards. The Dover Historical Society states that it is a civic entity acting as a representative body in this action for

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individuals who own land and/or reside in the Historic District.

The petitioner, Henry R. Horsey, has owned property in the Historic District of Dover for over fifty years. Horsey is the owner of property located at 7-11 the Green, known as the Ridgely House. He is also the owner of property located at 317-331 South State Street, known as the Parke Building and, as part of the Parke Building, a site known as the Golden Fleece Tavern. The petitioners, Holly Johnson ("H. Johnson") and Charles Johnson ("C. Johnson") are the owners of and reside in property located on the northeast corner of State Street and Water Street in the Historic District, known as the Bradford-Loockerman House. If constructed, the proposed "Building" at issue in this appeal would be located diagonally across the street from the Bradford-Loockerman House. The petitioners, Mary Jane Richter, Joseph Gates, III, Larry Josefowski, Susan Terry and Bonnie Johnson, own property in the City of Dover.

The respondent, the Planning Commission, is a municipal entity vested with the authority to approve construction projects in the City of Dover. In discharging that responsibility, the Planning Commission grants building permits and architectural review certificates. The nine members of the Planning Commission are John Friedman, Michael von Reider, William J. DiMondi, Robert D. Welsh and Francis C. Nichols, Robert M. Sadusky, Thomas Holt, Ann M. Baker Horsey and Francis Winsley. The respondent, Young & Malmberg, P.A., a Delaware professional association, applied to the Planning Commission for a building permit and architectural review certificate to construct the Building. The respondent, Yozima, L.L.C., a Delaware limited liability company, applied to the Planning Commission for a building permit and architectural review certificate to construct the Building.

Certiorari Proceeding

The petitioners filed this action pursuant to Del.Code Ann. tit. 10, § 562, which provides:

The Superior Court may frame and issue all remedial writs, including writs of habeas corpus and certiorari, or other process, necessary for bringing the actions in that Court to trial and for carrying the judgments of the Court into execution. All writs shall be granted of course and shall be in such form and returnable at such time as may be prescribed by the rules of the Court, or otherwise as the particular case may require.

The common law writ of certiorari lies to review acts that are judicial or quasi-judicial in nature. 3 The purpose of certiorari is "to correct errors of law, to review proceedings not conducted according to law, and to restrain an excess of jurisdiction." 4 It is well established that a writ of certiorari proceeding in the Superior Court is the appropriate cause of action for determining whether, on the face of the record, the City of Dover Planning Commission exceeded its powers or failed to conform to the requirements of law. 5

Facts

Young & Malmberg, P.A. and Yozima, L.L.C. (together, the "Property Owners"

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or "Appellees") are the owners of four contiguous parcels of land located in the City of Dover at 502, 508, 512 and 516-518 South State Street (the "Property"). The Property is zoned RG-O (General Residence and Office Zone) and H (Historic District Overlay Zone) under the City of Dover Code. In order to develop the Property as proposed, the Property Owners needed to obtain site plan approval from the Planning Commission.

Because the Property is located in a historic district, the Property Owners needed an architectural review certificate from the Planning Commission, as part of the site plan approval process. When the Planning Commission is considering whether to issue an architectural review certificate, the Dover Code provides for it to be referred initially to the Historic District Commission. That body is created by the Dover Code to advise the Planning Commission on historic issues. The Historic District Commission considers plans for building in the Historic District and issues a non-binding recommendation to the Planning Commission.

During November 2002, the Property Owners applied to the Planning Commission for a building permit and architectural review certificate to construct the Building. If constructed, the Building would be situated on, and be adjacent to, four parcels of land. Those parcels contain two 18th century buildings and two 19th century buildings that have been listed on the National Register's Historic District for more than thirty years. All four parcels of land are entirely within the Historic District. The petitioners allege that the existing buildings located on the four parcels have been described as well-known structures that possess unique architectural features of historic worth.

In their original application, the Property Owners sought to demolish completely the two 19th-century buildings, to demolish the rear portion of one of the 18th century buildings, and to construct a three-story office building with a parking lot and an additional two-story office building. In connection with the original application, a public hearing and meeting of the Historic District Commission initially was scheduled to be held on December 19, 2002. The original application was "tabled" at that meeting.

The Property Owners submitted revised plans for developing the Property on January 10, 2003. In the revised plans, the Property Owners no longer proposed the complete demolition of two of the four historic buildings. Instead, they proposed constructing a 24,300 square foot, three-story office building--with dimensions of ninety feet by ninety feet and a height of 48.5 feet--in the backyards of the existing buildings and with a surface parking lot extending to the rear...

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