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Zoning Laws

The Vermont Supreme Court rejected an attempt by neighboring landowners to halt the construction of a cell phone tower on church property.

* The Vermont Supreme Court rejected an attempt by neighboring landowners to halt the construction of a cell phone tower on church property. Verizon Wireless reached an agreement with a church to install a cell phone tower on the church's property. From the beginning, the plan met with intense opposition from neighboring landowners. The neighbors lost the first case in which they challenged the zoning permit Verizon Wireless received to implement the project. The neighbors then instituted a second lawsuit in which they claimed that even if Verizon Wireless had a valid zoning permit, the church should have obtained a conditional use permit in order to allow Verizon Wireless to modify the church's parking lot. The neighbors pointed out that the installation of the cell phone tower would result in the elimination of five parking spaces in the church's parking lot, and this constituted a "change" in the use of the parking lot that required a conditional use permit issued by the local zoning commission. The state supreme court rejected the neighbors' argument. It concluded: "Courts have long recognized that public policy dictates that there be an end of litigation; that those who have contested an issue shall be bound by the result of the contest, and that matters once tried shall be considered forever settled as between the parties …. We conclude that this is, in fact, the same case as [the previous lawsuit]. The question here, as in the first case, is whether the permit applicants have complied with the zoning law. The facts necessary to determine this case are nearly identical to the facts in the first." In re St. Mary's Church Cell Tower, 910 A.2d 925 (Vt. 2006).

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • July 1, 2007

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