Home BRENDA L. COGGIN v. CITY OF WESTFIELD, DONALD YORK as the Superintendent of Buildings for the

MISC 04-303152

September 25, 2009

Sands, J.



Plaintiff Brenda L. Coggin filed an unverified Complaint with the Hampden County Housing Court (the "Housing Court Case") on July 15, 2003, pursuant to G.L. c. 40A, § 17, appealing a decision ("ZBA Decision 2") of Defendant Zoning Board of Appeals (the "ZBA") filed with the City of Westfield (the "City") Clerk on June 26, 2003, which affirmed an order issued by Defendant Superintendent of Buildings, Donald York ("York") (together with the ZBA, the "Housing Court Defendants"), to cease and desist excavation of earth materials at 1008 Granville Road, Westfield, MA ("Locus"). [Note 1] On October 20, 2004, the Hampden County Housing Court (Fein, J.) allowed Plaintiff's Application to Remove Action to Land Court Pursuant to G.L. Ch. 212 §26A, and the Housing Court Case was transferred to this court as 04 MISC 303152 on October 27, 2004.

On June 23, 2004, Plaintiff and Denis P. Coggin [Note 2] filed an unverified Complaint in this court (04 MISC 299903, the "Land Court Case") pursuant to G.L. c. 231A, § 1 and G.L. c. 240, § 14A, seeking a declaratory judgment and challenging the validity of certain provisions of the Defendant City of Westfield's Zoning Ordinance (the "Ordinance") as applied to Locus. With respect to the Land Court Case, Plaintiff contends that the following sections of the Ordinance are illegal and null and void as applied to Locus: Article III, Section 3-40.4(9) ("Section 3-40.4(9)"); Article IV, Section 4-140; Article V, Section 5-10 ("Section 5-10"); Article V, Section 5-20 ("Section 5-20"); and Article VI, Section 6-10. [Note 3] Defendants in this case, the City and York (together, the "Land Court Defendants") (together with the Housing Court Defendants, "Defendants"), filed a Motion to Dismiss the Land Court Case due to the pendency of the Housing Court Case on August 2, 2004.

On November 12, 2004, Plaintiffs submitted their Motion to Consolidate Cases for Hearing and Trial and Assign for Immediate Pre-Trial Conference. On November 18, 2004, Plaintiffs filed their Amended Motion to Consolidate Cases for Hearing and Trial or in the Alternative to Allow Plaintiff to Amend Her Complaint and Assign for Immediate Pre-Trial Conference. On December 17, 2004, Land Court Defendants submitted Defendants' Supplemental Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss and in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Amended Motion Dated November 17, 2004. On January 18, 2006, Plaintiff filed Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. A hearing was held on the motions on January 25, 2006. On January 27, 2006, this court issued its Decision Denying [Land Court] Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, in which the Housing Court Case and the Land Court Case were consolidated.

On February 16, 2006, because of a change in the scope of Plaintiff's proposed excavation project, the parties filed a Joint Motion for Order of Remand (of ZBA Decision 2) to the ZBA, which was allowed on the same day. On March 22, 2006, the ZBA held a public hearing on Plaintiff's Redesigned Proposal (as hereinafter defined) for excavation. The ZBA voted to deny the Redesigned Proposal on April 5, 2006 ("ZBA Decision 3"). Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint in the Housing Court Case on June 6, 2006, and Housing Court Defendants filed an Answer on June 27, 2006. The parties met for a pre-trial conference on November 13, 2006, at which point it was decided that Plaintiff would file a request for a riding academy special permit with the Planning Board. On March 6, 2007, the Planning Board of the City of Westfield (the "Planning Board") held a public hearing on Plaintiff's special permit request. On March 20, 2007, the Planning Board voted to deny the special permit request (the "Planning Board Decision"), which was filed with the Westfield City Clerk on March 21, 2007. As a result of the Planning Board Decision, on April 3, 2007, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Waive Notice Requirements and Schedule Hearing on Plaintiff's Motion to Further Amend Complaint and Add Additional Defendant. On April 9, 2007, such motion was allowed and the Second Amended Complaint in the Housing Court Case was submitted, adding the Planning Board as a Defendant and the appeal of the Planning Board Decision as a separate count; [Note 4] the Housing Court Defendants filed an Answer on April 26, 2007. A status conference was held on June 19, 2007. The parties filed their Joint Stipulation of Facts on December 17, 2007, and attended a pre-trial conference on December 19, 2007. After a site view, the first day of trial was held in Westfield District Court on January 30, 2008. The second day of trial was held at the Land Court in Boston on January 31, 2008.

At the trial, testimony was given by Plaintiff's witnesses Brenda Lee Coggin (Plaintiff), David Deveno (excavator), Scott Brian Perry (excavator), and Defendants' witnesses Barbara Webster James (neighbor), Karen Lynn Curran (neighbor), Lawrence Friedman (neighbor), Mark Cressotti (City Engineer), Mark Noonan (member of the Conservation Commission of Westfield and former City Planner), George Martin (abutter to Westfield conservation land which abuts Locus), and James Stuart Parker (abutter to Westfield conservation land which abuts Locus). There were forty-two exhibits submitted, some in multiple parts. On March 25, 2008, Plaintiff filed her Memorandum of Law and Defendants filed their Post-Trail Memorandum, at which time the matter was taken under advisement. A decision of today's date has been issued.

In accordance with that decision it is:

ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the decision of the ZBA dated June 6, 2007 ("ZBA Decision 4"), filed with the City Clerk on June 18, 2007, that overturned the third section of the Second Cease and Desist Order is admissible.

ORDERED and ADJUDGED that Plaintiff's current riding academy is a primary agricultural use protected from Section 3-40.4(9)'s special permit requirement by G.L. c. 40A, § 3.

ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the Planning Board Decision was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable in requiring Plaintiff to obtain a special permit for her current riding academy use pursuant to Section 3-40.4(9). [Note 5]

ORDERED and ADJUDGED that even if Plaintiff's current riding academy is not a primary agricultural use, I find that it is an incidental use to an agricultural use and, therefore, protected by the agricultural exemption in G.L. c. 40A, § 3.

ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the excavation in the proposal shown on "Plan Showing Proposed Agricultural Development" (the "Redesigned Proposal") for Coggin Creek Stables, prepared by David L. Bean of D.L.Bean, Inc. and dated April 1, 2005, is neither minor nor subordinate to the operation of the horse farm, and, thus, is not an incidental use to a protected agricultural use.

ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the ZBA acted within the scope of its authority in upholding ZBA Decision 2 and in rejecting Plaintiff's Redesigned Proposal revised excavation proposal (ZBA Decision 3), and their decisions are hereby affirmed. [Note 6]

ORDERED and ADJUDGED that the excavation portion of the Redesigned Proposal is not protected from special permit/site plan review.

ORDERED and ADJUDGED that Section 5-10 and Section 5-20 are valid as applied to the Redesigned Proposal.

By the court. (Sands, J.)


[Note 1] Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on April 27, 2006, to reflect an appeal of ZBA Decision 3, as hereinafter defined. Plaintiff and Denis P. Coggin filed a Second Amended Complaint on April 9, 2007, to reflect an appeal of the Planning Board Decision, as hereinafter defined.

[Note 2] Brenda and Denis Coggin divorced sometime after filing the Complaint, after which, Plaintiff took title to Locus as the sole owner of record. On February 25, 2008, Plaintiff filed her Motion to Strike or Delete Denis P. Coggin as a Party Plaintiff, which this court allowed on February 26, 2009. As such, certain motions filed by the parties reference two plaintiffs, while others indicate a single plaintiff.

The record includes numerous references to amendments to the Ordinance; however, it is unclear when the City first adopted the Ordinance. That said, it is agreed that the first version of the Ordinance relevant to the case at bar was the 1981 Amendment to the Ordinance (the "1981 Amendment").

[Note 3] On September 18, 2003, between the time that Plaintiff filed the Housing Court Case and the Land Court Case, the Ordinance was amended and recodified. Such amendment made no substantive changes but renumbered the Ordinance's sections. For the sake of clarity, unless otherwise provided in this decision, this court refers to sections of the Ordinance as they were numbered after the September 18, 2003 recodification.

[Note 4] Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint added a third count to the Housing Court Case which challenged the Planning Board Decision and demanded a refund of the $550 filing fee that Plaintiff paid as part of the Application Under Zoning for a Special Permit from the Planning Board (the "Planning Board Application") September 25, 2009, filed by Plaintiff, under protest, on January 4, 2007.

[Note 5] Plaintiff asks this court for a return of her filing fee (in the amount of $550) related to the Planning Board Application. Despite the fact that Plaintiff paid the filing fee under protest, given that she did so to exhaust her administrative remedies, this court refrains from ordering the return of such funds.

[Note 6] To the extent that Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint requests the issuance of any required special permits with reasonable conditions, this court refrains from doing so for there is no such challenge currently before this court. Plaintiff also asks this court, if necessary, to determine a volume of excavated material that is incidental to her protected agricultural use. Given the fact-intensive nature of incidental uses, it is not appropriate for this court to make determinations on Plaintiff=s behalf as to Locus' excavation.