Florentine v. Town of Darien

Decision Date07 June 1955
Citation115 A.2d 328,142 Conn. 415
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesNicholas J. FLORENTINE et al. v. The TOWN OF DARIEN et al. Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut

Pierce J. Gerety, Bridgeport, for appellants (defendants).

John Keogh, Jr., Norwalk, with whom, on the brief, was Alfred W. Burkhart, Norwalk, for appellees (plaintiffs).


BALDWIN, Associate Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court enjoining the enforcement of a regulation of the town plan and zoning commission of Darien rezoning the area in which lands owned and controlled by the plaintiffs are located. As we view the case, the sole question is whether the court was correct in issuing an injunction on the ground that the regulation was unconstitutional.

The essential facts found by the trial court, with such corrections as are warranted, are as follows: Darien is predominantly a residential town with a population in 1953 of 13,300. It is bisected by four tracks of the main line of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, which runs easterly and westerly. The Boston Post Road crosses the town from the southwest to the northeast and passes under the railroad at what has long been the center of the main business area. The railroad station is a short distance west of this underpass. The business area extends along the Post Road on each side of the underpass. The plaintiff Nicholas J. Florentine owns a parcel of vacant land bounded north on West Avenue, 504.37 feet; east on land of the railroad company, 78.80 feet; south on land of the railroad company, 497.06 feet; and west on Leroy Avenue, 219.59 feet. The railroad station is located on land adjoining this parcel on the east. The main-line tracks lie south of the parcel and are separated from it by other land of the railroad. In 1948, Florentine leased his land to the plaintiff Charles A. Koons and Company, a copartnership, 1 hereinafter referred to as Koons, for a term of fifteen years at a total rental of $32,000, with the privilege of renewal for a further period of fifteen years. The lease gives Koons an exclusive option to purchase for $32,000 at any time during the last ten years of the term. In December, 1953, subsequent to the commencement of the trial of this action. Koons purchased 10,000 square feet of the railroad property adjoining the Florentine property on the south. As a result, the combined easterly boundary of the Florentine land under lease and option to Koons and the parcel purchased by Koons is 123.94 feet where the tract adjoins the railroad station property.

On March 18, 1952, the zoning commission of Darien created two classes of business zones, A and B. On September 16, 1952, it changed from business B to business A the zone of the small triangular area in which the plaintiffs' lands are included. The properties across Leroy Avenue on the west and West Avenue on the north are middle-class residential, zoned residence B. On the date the commission reclassified the triangular area containing the plaintiffs' properties, it reclassified to business A other areas in the town. Some of these, like the plaintiffs' properties, are located in the business center of Darien. They are not adjacent to, but are not far distant from, the plaintiffs' lands.

Prior to March 18, 1952, four classes of residential zones and a business zone, with appropriate regulations for each, had been established by the commission. In 1951, there were 121 separate business establishments situated near the railroad underpass. A substantial number of Darien residents commute daily to New York. These people, and others who work in the center of the town, pre-empt most of the parking space in the business area. Space for parking is very limited. In 1948, the zoning commission amended the zoning regulations to make provision for off-street parking. In 1950, it engaged the services of a professional planning engineer and undertook a review of the entire zoning plan and regulations and of the factors affecting the growth and economic development of the town. It is unnecessary to relate the details of this review. It dealt with traffic and parking problems, the rapid growth in population, land uses, the dollar value of retail business done by residents of Darien, property values in the business areas and tax revenues, as they all bore upon the need for, and nature of, planning and zoning for the future. The review indicated that the population of the town would continue to grow and that the number of automobiles would increase more rapidly than the population, causing traffic and parking problems to become worse unless remedial steps were taken. The commission concluded that a lack of adequate parking facilities in the business area was causing traffic congestion in the business center, inconveniencing citizens generally, driving business elsewhere, depreciating the value of business properties, lowering property tax revenues, and affecting the employment of nearly 500 people working in the 121 business in the business area. 2 The amendment of the zoning map and regulations of which the plaintiffs complain and which created business A and B zones and prescribed the uses and building requirements therefor was adopted for the purpose of alleviating the problem. The regulations for a business A zone are set forth in full in a footnote. 3 Briefly, they fix the minimum size of a lot at 1 acre; the minimum width at 100 feet; the minimum depth at 150 feet; the minimum frontyard depth at 30 feet; the minimum rearyard depth at 50 feet; and the maximum area covered by buildings at 20 per cent of the lot. Darien Zoning Regs., § III-A (1952).

The plaintiffs' properties are adapted to business, but not to residential, uses. They are suitable for a shopping center. This would require a department store or supermarket as a so-called 'leader' to attract smaller businesses to adjacent stores on the same property. A leader needs at least 10,000 square feet of area on the ground floor, which, under the regulations for the business A zone, would not leave enough space for adjacent stores. It would not be financially practical to construct a group of small stores without a leader. The lands are low and wet, making a building with a basement unpractical. A two-story building would likewise not be practical. A minimum building area of approximately 25,000 square feet would be needed to make building on the plaintiffs' land financially feasible. Under the present regulations, only 14,718 square feet could be devoted to a building on the Florentine parcel. A single-story building erected on this parcel under present restrictions could be expected to yield a return of substantially more than 8 per cent on the money invested, and a two-story building would yield substantially more than 12 per cent. In constructing a modern shopping center, the rule of thumb commonly used is 22 per cent of the land area for the building, 60 per cent for parking, and 18 per cent for services, loading, walls and walks. The modern trend is toward more parking area. Some experts agree that a ratio of three or four to one between parking space and floor area, including basement and all floors, is desirable. The plaintiffs' land is suitable, and has been considered, as a site for a post office. If it was so used, the value of the remaining land owned and controlled by the plaintiffs would be substantially increased. The Florentine property zoned for business A is worth approximately $35,000. If it was zoned for business B, it would be worth $75,000 to $100,000.

The plaintiff Florentine petitioned the zoning commission to rezone his property to business B, but the commission denied the petition. The plaintiffs have not requested a variance of the regulations as they apply to their lands. On these facts, the trial court concluded that the action of the commission as it applied to the plaintiffs' lands was invalid because it was confiscatory and constituted a taking of the plaintiffs' property without due process of law in violation of the federal and state constitutions. The court found further that the plaintiffs had followed appropriate legal procedure to test the validity of the action of the commission.

The zoning commission of the town of Darien was empowered by special act in 1925 to establish zoning in that town. 19 Spec.Laws 922 (as amended, 26 Spec.Laws 1152). Zoning is an exercise of the police power of the state. Zoning regulations, to be valid, must have a rational relation to the health, welfare, safety and prosperity of the community. State v. Hillman, 110 Conn. 92, 100, 105, 147 A. 294; Strain v. Mims, 123 Conn. 275, 286, 193 A. 754; Corthouts v. Newington, 140 Conn. 284, 288, 99 A.2d 112, 38 A.L.R.2d 1136. Where such a rational relation exists and the power is reasonably exercised, the public interest is supreme and private interest must give way. Chouinard v. Zoning Commission, 139 Conn. 728, 732, 97 A.2d 562; Bartram v. Zoning Commission, 136 Conn. 89, 96, 68 A.2d 308; Town of Windsor v. Whitney, 95 Conn. 357 366, 111 A. 354, 12 A.L.R. 669. Under such circumstances, loss occasioned to some individual property owner is not ordinarily sufficient to render zoning regulations invalid. Strain v. Mims, supra; Osborn v. Darien, 119 Conn. 182, 185, 175 A. 578; State v. Hillman, supra, 110 Conn. 104, 147 A. 294.

The power of regulation is not limitless. It cannot be exercised in a confiscatory or arbitrary fashion. State v. Hillman, supra, 110 Conn. 105, 147 A. 294; State v. Heller, 123 Conn. 492, 497, 196 A. 337; Fairlawns Cemetery Ass'n, Inc., v. Zoning Commission, 138 Conn. 434, 440, 86 A.2d 74; Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365, 388, 47 S.Ct. 114, 71 L.Ed. 303. Darien's traffic problems are urgent. They are burdensome and inconvenient to many citizens and property owners. They gravely affect the future welfare of the whole community. They demand...

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    ...provided in an ordinance or statute from later in the same proceeding raising the issue of its constitutionality. Florentine v. Darien, 142 Conn. 415, 428, 115 A.2d 328 (1955); Strain v. Zoning Board of Appeals, 137 Conn. 36, 38, 74 A.2d 462 (1950); Holley v. Sunderland, 110 Conn. 80, 85, 1......
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