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Stone v. City of Wilton

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs bought a tract of land in the City of Wilton (Defendant), for the construction of low-income multi-family housing. At the time of purchase, approximately three-fourths of the land was zoned as multi-family residential. Prior to Plaintiffs’ construction, the city rezoned the entire six acres as single-family residential.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The standard for determining if a property owner has vested rights in a zoning classification is dependent on the type of the project, the location, the ultimate cost, and primarily, the amount of monies expended while the use was in conformity.

    Facts. In preparation of building, the Plaintiffs had incurred expenses for architectural fees and engineering services in the preparation of plans and plats to be submitted to the city council. The Plaintiffs also secured a Farmers’ Home Administration (FHA) loan commitment for the project. In December of 1979, Plaintiffs filed a preliminary plat for the project with the city clerk. In March, 1980, following a public meeting, the planning and zoning commission recommended to the city council that land in the northern part of the city be rezoned to single family residential based on alleged inadequacies of sewer, water and electrical services. The rezoning recommendation affected Plaintiffs’ tract. Plaintiffs’ application for a building permit was denied in May, 1980, due to the pending zoning recommendation. Plaintiffs filed a petition seeking a declaratory judgment invalidating the rezoning of their property, temporary and permanent injunctions to prohibit passage of any rezoning o
    rdinance, and in the event of rezoning, $570,000.00 in damages for monies expended, anticipated lost profits and for the alleged reduction in value of Plaintiffs’ land. The city council, on recommendation of the planning and zoning commission, passed the ordinance rezoning the Plaintiffs’ land to single-family residential in June, 1980. Following the city council’s passage of the rezoning ordinance, the Plaintiffs’ preliminary plat was approved by the planning and zoning commission.

    Issue. Did the Plaintiffs have a vested right in developing their property as subsidized, multi-family housing, which the rezoning ordinance took without just compensation?

    Held. No. The decision is affirmed.
    The Plaintiffs, as a factor in their purchase of the property, did buy the tract because it was zoned to permit multi-family residences. The Plaintiffs made expenditures in preparation for obtaining governmental approval for the project. The expenditures totaled about $7,900.00, in addition to time and effort expended by Plaintiffs.
    The standard for determining if a property owner has vested rights in a zoning classification is dependent on the type of the project, the location, the ultimate cost, and primarily, the amount of monies expended while the use was in conformity.
    The Plaintiffs only took the most preliminary steps toward the project while the use was in conformity. The trial court found that the plans of the architect were the kind that could be found in a magazine and not the working plans of a contractor. No contracting bids were sought, no materials were placed on site, and no construction was started.
    The court agrees with the trial court that Plaintiffs’ expenditures were not so substantial as to create vested rights in the completion of the housing project on that particular tract of land.

    Discussion. Note the fluid boundary between expenditures, which are substantial enough under the test and those which fall short. The primary factor in this analysis is the amount of money expended while the land was in conformity.


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