Property Owner Entitled to Rely on Zoning Administrator Advice

Gazebo in front of house

A property owner quizzed the town zoning administrator about permits for a pergola during a social visit.

May 16, 2018
Kevin J. Parker - Snell & Wilmer Real Estate Litigation Blog

In the recent case of In Re Langlois/Novicki Variance Denial, 175 A.3d 1222, 2017 VT 76 (2017), the Vermont court addressed the question of whether a property owner could enforce – by equitable estoppel principles – a representation by a town zoning administrator that no permit or variance was needed for the property owner’s proposed construction. In that case, a landowner wanted to add a pergola to an existing concrete patio on his land. During a social visit at the property, the property owner asked the town zoning administrator if he needed a permit. The town zoning administrator told the property owner that no permit was needed. The property owner thereafter showed the zoning administrator a sketch of the planned construction, and again asked if a permit was required. The town zoning administrator looked at the sketch and repeated his prior advice that no permit was needed. The property owner then spent $33,000 to build the pergola. After incurring the expense, the property owner was advised that the structure violated zoning regulations. The property owner requested a variance, which the zoning board denied. The Court held that the town was estopped from requiring removal of the pergola.

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