In re Champlain Oil Company Conditional Use Application
This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40
On Appeal from Superior Court, Environmental Division. Thomas S. Durkin, J.
James A. Dumont, Bristol, for Appellants.
Liam L. Murphy and Damien J. Leonard of Murphy Sullivan Kronk, Burlington, for Appellee.
Present: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, J., and Zonay, Supr. J. and Burgess, J. (Ret.), Specially Assigned.
[¶1] Twelve individuals and the Ferrisburgh Friends of Responsible Growth, Inc. appeal from the Environmental Division's affirmance of the granting of a conditional use zoning permit to Champlain Oil Company. The permit allows applicant Champlain Oil, appellee here, to construct and operate a gasoline and diesel station with a retail convenience store and a drive-through food facility, including parking lot and overhead canopies for the gas and diesel pumps. Appellants argue that the proposed uses for a convenience, retail and drive-in facility are explicitly prohibited by the Ferrisburgh zoning ordinance and will not be consistent with the town plan. Other issues on appeal will be discussed in the course of this decision. We affirm.
[¶2] Our review of the environmental court's findings of fact and the conclusions underlying its decision is deferential. In re Route 103 Quarry, 2008 VT 88, ¶ 4, 184 Vt. 283, 958 A.2d 694. We will not disturb its factual findings unless, taking them in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, they are clearly erroneous. In re Shantee Point, Inc., 174 Vt. 248, 263, 811 A.2d 1243, 1255 (2002). We will uphold the court's conclusions as long as they are reasonably supported by the findings. In re Miller Subdivision Final Plan, 2008 VT 74, ¶ 13, 184 Vt. 188, 955 A.2d 1200. We are guided in our decision by the fact that land use regulations are in derogation of private property rights and must be construed narrowly in favor of the landowner. In re Toor, 2012 VT 63, ¶ 9, 192 Vt. 259, 59 A.3d 722; In re Weeks, 167 Vt. 551, 555, 712 A.2d 907, 910 (1998).
[¶3] The proposed project site is on a parcel of land along Route 7, approximately one half-mile south of the Ferrisburgh town center. The site will cover approximately 9.7 acres after certain land sale transactions are completed as required. The project will be located in two zoning districts: the Highway Commercial District (HC District) and the Rural Agricultural District (RA District). As proposed, the site will have in excess of 1153 feet of frontage on state highway Route 7, described by the court as a major north/south corridor in the Champlain Valley for commercial, industrial, retail, and residential travel. The court noted that the commercial district is host to many commercial developments, such as a motel, a marine supply store, a motorsports store, a gas station and convenience store and a " Dock Doctors" enterprise. The court found that, while the area contained some private residences, the area presented as more commercial in character. It further found that the building area of the project, if developed, would not exceed the physical space encompassed by several of the nearby commercial properties.
[¶4] We first address appellants' claim that the project and its proposed uses fail to conform to the development standards discussed in the Ferrisburgh Town Plan and that the court erred in deciding that the town plan was aspirational and not intended to be regulatory. Section 1.1.(C) of the town plan, titled " Interpreting the Plan," contains the following: " Goals are ...