Green Development, LLC v. Town of Exeter, 051320 RISUP, WC-2018-0636

Docket Nº:C. A. WC-2018-0636
Opinion Judge:LANPHEAR, J.
Party Name:GREEN DEVELOPMENT, LLC A/K/A WIND ENERGY DEVELOPMENT, LLC v. TOWN OF EXETER; MARIA LAWLER, in her capacity as The Treasurer of the Town of Exeter; CALVIN A. ELLIS; FRANCIS PAUL DIGREGORIO; ROBERT M. CONN; MANUEL ANDREWS; DANIEL W. PATTERSON, in their official capacities as members of the Town of Exeter Town Council
Attorney:Plaintiff: John O. Mancini, Esq. Nicholas J. Goodier, Esq., William M. Dolan, Esq., Elizabeth M. Noonan, Esq., Nicholas L. Nybo, Esq. John Tarantino, Esq. William K. Wray, Jr., Esq. Defendants: Stephen J. Sypole, Esq., Michael DeSisto, Esq., James P. Marusak, Esq.
Case Date:May 13, 2020
Court:Superior Court of Rhode Island
 
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GREEN DEVELOPMENT, LLC A/K/A WIND ENERGY DEVELOPMENT, LLC

v.

TOWN OF EXETER; MARIA LAWLER, in her capacity as The Treasurer of the Town of Exeter; CALVIN A. ELLIS; FRANCIS PAUL DIGREGORIO; ROBERT M. CONN; MANUEL ANDREWS; DANIEL W. PATTERSON, in their official capacities as members of the Town of Exeter Town Council

C. A. No. WC-2018-0636

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Washington

May 13, 2020

Plaintiff: John O. Mancini, Esq. Nicholas J. Goodier, Esq., William M. Dolan, Esq., Elizabeth M. Noonan, Esq., Nicholas L. Nybo, Esq. John Tarantino, Esq. William K. Wray, Jr., Esq.

Defendants: Stephen J. Sypole, Esq., Michael DeSisto, Esq., James P. Marusak, Esq.

DECISION

LANPHEAR, J.

Before this Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff Green Development, LLC (Green Development) filed suit against the Treasurer of the Town of Exeter and the members of the Town of Exeter Town Council (Town Council) (collectively, Town) challenging a Moratorium Ordinance enacted by the Town Council that halted the review of applications submitted to construct solar energy fields within the Town of Exeter (Exeter). Green Development had applications pending with the Town and sought to have the moratorium declared invalid, sought injunctive relief, and alleged a violation of its due process rights. The Court denied Green Development's injunctive request and found for the Town regarding Counts One, Two, and Five of Green Development's Complaint in Green Development, LLC v. Town of Exeter, No. WC-2018-0636, 2019 WL 1348609 (R.I. Super. Mar. 21, 2019). The remaining issues are Counts Three and Four of the Complaint. In those Counts, Green Development alleges that regardless of the moratorium's validity, its rights vested under the Town Ordinances, prior to the enactment of the moratorium, allowed solar projects as a matter of right. Compl. ¶¶ 33-36. Concurrently, Green Development argues that the doctrines of equitable estoppel and detrimental reliance prevent enforcement of the moratorium against it. Id. ¶¶ 37-40. Both parties now move for summary judgment on Counts Three and Four.

I

Facts and Travel

The Court examined the applicable facts of this case carefully in Green Development, 2019 WL 1348609, at *1-4. As such, the Court merely summarizes those same facts here. Green Development is a developer of commercial-scale renewable energy projects, including solar power. Green Development sought to develop a number of solar energy fields in Exeter, a rural municipality with a large geographical land area. In order to construct these fields, Green Development needed approval of the Town Planning and Zoning Boards. In 2017 and 2018, Green Development submitted a number of applications to construct commercial solar energy fields in Exeter. However, in July 2018, the Town Council, by a vote of 3-2, passed an amendment to the Town Zoning Ordinances (Green Ordinance). This amendment changed the zoning restrictions in RU-3 and RU-4 zones (some fifteen lots) to allow the construction of solar projects as a matter of right--Green Development no longer needed permission from the Town Planning or Zoning Boards for its projects.

On September 4, 2018 the Town Council enacted an ordinance which effectively repealed the July 2018 Green Ordinance to prohibit all utility scale solar facilities in RU-3 and RU-4 zones. However, the Town Council later "rescinded" the vote on October 15, 2018.1 After the rescission retally, and the subsequent election of several new members, the Town Council enacted a sixty-day moratorium on applications for utility scale solar facilities. On February 4, 2019, as the moratorium drew to a close, the Town Council enacted yet another amendment-flatly prohibiting large scale solar projects in RU-3 and RU-4 zones.

When the moratorium was passed, four of Green Development's applications were deemed "complete" and were submitted to the Planning Board for approval; three had not been completed. The three applications that were not deemed complete are the subject of this litigation.

On December 11, 2018, Green Development filed the Complaint herein requesting the Court declare the moratorium invalid and enjoin the Town from enforcing it, or alternatively, to find its solar applications to be vested and therefore exempt from the moratorium. Lastly, Green Development requests the Court award it costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. 2

This Court now rules on the remaining issues-Counts Three and Four of the Complaint which are, as stated, whether Green Development may proceed under the Green Ordinance because its rights have already vested and whether the doctrine of equitable estoppel and detrimental reliance prevent enforcement of the moratorium against Green Development. Both parties move for summary judgment on these issues.

II

Standard of Review

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