Orwell to pay $120K following zoning suit

ORWELL — At Tuesday’s town meeting in Orwell, voters will decide how to pay off legal fees of $128,316 from a town zoning lawsuit that began in 2007.
In January the Vermont Supreme Court ruled against the town in a case over Orwell zoning bylaws. Although the town does was not assessed damages, it does have to pay legal fees in the case.
In an article in the town warning, the selectboard has offered voters the option to pay the fees back over  a maximum of seven years. If Orwell residents vote no on the article, Simmons said the fees will be added to the town’s budget for the upcoming year.
Selectboard chair and zoning administrator Roland Simmons said the town went to court over a conflict with the owners of a house being constructed on Mount Independence Road. He said the owners of the property and structure, represented under the name Clyde’s Place LLC, had built a house that sat about 10 feet from the edge of Lake Champlain. And while a previous structure, which had been built in the 1940s, sat on the same location — which can serve as an exemption from conformity regulations — Simmons said the size of the new house exceeded both the size of the former one and the size OK’d in the building permit.
“You’re not supposed to expand a nonconformity,” Simmons said.
The case went to Environmental Court while construction was still under way. After the Environmental Court ruling came back in favor of the town, the owners appealed the decision to the Vermont Supreme Court, arguing that Environmental Court had erred in siding with the town, even after it had concluded that the building qualified as a lawful nonconforming structure.
Las month, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Clyde’s Place LLC, stating that the building permit and the wording of Orwell’s zoning bylaws were ambiguous.
Simmons said that the town will offer a presentation to voters at the town meeting on Tuesday explaining the lawsuit, its results and the options for repayment of the legal fees.
“It’s up to the town to make a decision after that,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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