Builders Service Corp., Inc. v. Planning & Zoning Com'n of Town of East Hampton

Decision Date12 July 1988
Docket NumberNo. 13205,13205
Citation545 A.2d 530,208 Conn. 267
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

Timothy S. Hollister, with whom were Philip D. Tegeler and, on the brief, Dwight H. Merriam, Hartford, for appellants (plaintiffs).

John L. Boccalatte, Middletown, for appellees (defendants).


ARTHUR H. HEALEY, Associate Justice.

In this case, the plaintiffs are Builders Service Corporation, Inc. (Builders), and Homebuilders Association of Connecticut, Inc. (Homebuilders), each a nonstock Connecticut corporation, and the defendants are the town of East Hampton (town) and the East Hampton planning and zoning Builders proposes to construct a single-family residential home on the homesite. This homesite is situated in the "AA-1" zone, a residential zone in which the zoning regulations allow single-family detached homes on interior lots of 90,000 square feet or more. Section 5.15 of the East Hampton zoning regulations, which is entitled "Minimum Floor Area of Dwelling Units," 3 provides in part: "No building shall be erected, enlarged, altered or rebuilt unless it provides the following minimum floor area for each dwelling unit."

                commission (commission). 1  This action was originally instituted by Edward A. Markham 2 and Homebuilders.   At that time Markham owned a building lot consisting of 3.57 acres (homesite) in the town of East Hampton.   After the institution of the action, title to this lot was transferred to Builders and the latter was substituted for Markham as a party plaintiff

"1. Single-family dwellings having three bedrooms or less:

                                                         AA-1, AA-2  Other
                                                           Zones     Zones
                                                         ----------  -----
                One story with basement or cellar          1,300     1,100
                One story without basement or cellar       1,450     1,250
                One and one-half story
                 ground floor                                864       864
                 second floor                                425       425
                Split level                                1,300     1,100
                Two story, with not more than half the
                 required floor area on the first floor    1,850     1,600
                Earth sheltered housing                    1,300     1,100

The home that Builders proposes to erect on the homesite through the services of a builder has a floor area, 4 as defined in the regulations, of 1026 square feet.

In this action in the trial court, the plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment The case was tried to the court, Hon. Harry W. Edelberg, J., state trial referee, who found for the defendants. An articulation of the trial court's memorandum of decision was sought by the plaintiffs but was denied. Fairly viewed, it can be said that the memorandum of decision concluded that: the regulation at issue was not "ultra vires"; the plaintiffs had failed to prove that "regulation by zoning authorities of minimum floor area without reference to occupancy does not have a rational basis in conserving values of buildings"; zoning commissions may be concerned about excessive intrusion into privacy by enforcing an occupancy provision, yet the establishment of varying minima in different residential zones as in § 5.15 of the On appeal, the plaintiffs essentially claim that the trial court erred in holding that: (1) the town's minimum floor area requirement does not violate the zoning enabling act in General Statutes § 8-2; and (2) this floor area requirement did not violate the United States and Connecticut constitutions.

                determining that (1) the zoning regulations that require minimum floor area requirements for residential dwelling units without reference to occupancy are ultra vires as violating the zoning enabling act, i.e., General Statutes § 8-2, 5 and (2) § 5.15 of the zoning regulations violates § 8-2, the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution, article first, §§ 8 and 10, of the Connecticut constitution and the commission's own regulations.   They also asked for a permanent injunction prohibiting the [208 Conn. 271] defendants, or any of its agents, from enforcing § 5.15 of the zoning regulations.   The defendants filed a special defense to the plaintiffs' amended complaint, alleging that "the Defendant Town of East Hampton has and has adequately provided for affordable housing."
                zoning regulations has no rational basis;  a zoning regulation is not to be held invalid, given the broad powers of local enacting authorities, unless its invalidity is established beyond a reasonable doubt;  and the regulation at issue was constitutional;  and the town had, "through its zoning and other activities, provided for affordable housing."   In discussing the subject of ultra vires, the court opined that the standards set by this court "for a declaration of invalidity of regulations based on a claim of 'ultra vires' are almost insurmountable."   There is no indication whether the holding of constitutionality is based on either the federal or state constitution or both.   In addition, an examination of the briefs filed after the trial demonstrates that the trial court did not rule on all the claims of law made, especially certain of those made by the plaintiffs.   These claims include that the regulations at issue do not promote the general welfare, that housing codes and not zoning regulations are the proper place for floor area requirements and that the real purpose of the town's minimum floor area requirement is to exclude from certain residential zones those who cannot afford a home of 1300 square feet, keeping in mind that the zoning enabling act does not allow zoning to be used for such a purpose

The plaintiffs' first claim of error has a number of subsets. Initially, the plaintiffs claim that the defendants had no authority under the enabling act in General Statutes § 8-2 to enact any minimum floor area requirement ordinances. Another claim is that a zoning regulation, to be valid, must "substantially advance" one or more of the purposes set forth in the zoning enabling act in § 8-2. This, in turn, the plaintiffs contend, implicates the "traditional" standard of review, which, the plaintiffs argue, is heightened, at least in the constitutional area, by the recent United States Supreme Court decision in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. ----, 107 S.Ct. 3141, 97 L.Ed.2d 677 (1987). The plaintiffs maintain that Nollan requires that for a zoning regulation to be valid, it must "substantially advance" a legitimate purpose of zoning. In maintaining that this regulation does not "substantially advance" any legitimate purposes of zoning set out in the zoning enabling act, the plaintiffs next argue that it does not advance health and safety, the general welfare, property values or prevention of over-crowding, that housing codes are the only proper place for floor area requirements, and that the "real purpose of the regulation is to exclude from certain residential zones those who cannot afford a home of 1300 square feet." Error is also claimed in the trial court's justification of the regulation on the ground that it not only conserves property values but also because the town of East Hampton "has made efforts in other areas of town to promote affordable housing."


At the outset, we address the plaintiffs' claim that § 5.15 of the zoning regulations represents an "ultra vires" 6 act in that its enactment was not within the authority of the zoning enabling act in General Statutes § 8-2. We cannot accept this claim.

In order for the challenged regulation to be found "ultra vires," the commission, in enacting the regulation, must have acted beyond the powers conferred upon it by law. The town established the commission as the town's zoning authority by adopting the provisions of chapter 124 of the General Statutes. See General Statutes § 8-1; Puskarz v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 155 Conn. 360, 364-65, 232 A.2d 109 (1967). Chapter 124 includes § 8-2. Zoning is an exercise of the police power. "Zoning regulates the use of land irrespective of who may be the owner of such land at any given time and is defined 'as a general plan to control and direct the use and development of property in a municipality or a large part of it by dividing it into districts according to the present and potential use of the properties.' State ex rel. Spiros v. Payne, 131 Conn. 647, 652, 41 A.2d 908 [1945]...." Karp v. Zoning Board, 156 Conn. 287, 297-98, 240 A.2d 845 (1968). " 'As a creature of the state, the ... [town ... whether acting itself or through its planning commission,] can exercise only such powers as are expressly granted to it, or such powers as are necessary to enable it to discharge the duties and carry into effect the objects and purposes of its creation.' Baker v. Norwalk, 152 Conn. 312, 314, 206 A.2d 428 [1965], and cases cited therein; Bredice v. Norwalk, 152 Conn. 287, 292, 206 A.2d 433 [1964]; State ex rel. Sloane v. Reidy, 152 Conn. 419, 423, 209 A.2d 674 [1965]. In other words, in order to determine whether the regulation in question was within the authority of the commission to enact, we do not search for a statutory prohibition against such an enactment; rather, we must search for statutory authority for the enactment." Avonside, Inc. v. Zoning & Planning Commission, 153 Conn. 232, 236, 215 A.2d 409 (1965); Blue Sky Bar, Inc. v. Stratford, 203 Conn. 14, 19, 523 A.2d 467 (1987). "If the legislation is [a zoning] ordinance, it must comply with, and serve the purpose of the statute under which the sanction is claimed for it." Clark v. Town Council, 145 Conn. 476, 482-83, 144 A.2d 327 (1958); Fairlawns Cemetery Assn., Inc. v. Zoning Commission, 138 Conn. 434, 440, 86 A.2d 74 (1952). A local zoning commission is "subject...

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