Lot increase argued in court

MILFORD - The three Walters - Walter Bespuda, Walter Hine and Walter Smith - finally had their day in court last week.

The Walter's filed a lawsuit against the Orange Town Plan and Zoning Commission last year after the commission increased the minimum lot size in town from one acre to one-and-a-half acres.

The three jointly own 25 percent of the remaining 15 percent of town that is still developable.

Attorney Timothy Hollister, Shipman and Goodwin LLP argued for the plaintiffs while Attorney Brian Stone argued for the town TP&Z.

Stone immediately called for a dismissal of the case saying there was no evidence that the plaintiffs were aggrieved by the lot size change.

Hollister shot back they were by design affected.

"They are automatically aggrieved by the matter. They are owners," Hollister said.

"I disagree. It's an amendment of the zoning regulations," Stone said.

"It would mean that every property owner could be aggrieved by every amendment to the zoning regulations," Stone added.

"The rules within the R-1 District have been changed. That is sufficient," Hollister said.

"According to Attorney Hollister everyone could be aggrieved," Stone said.

"It absolutely affects anyone who owns land in Orange. They could all appeal," Hollister said.

Holister went on to make his case addressing the amendments. Citing the limiting of more than 10 percent of the minimum lot size from being wetlands, prohibiting more than 1,000 square feet of slopes over 25 percent from being counted he claimed was unfair to his clients.

"The T P&Z exceeded its authority. It violated IWC state statutes," Hollister said.

"The regulation must meet the state regulation. It has to follow the state statute and must be approved by the DEP," Hollister said. Adding there is a statewide uniform standard.

"If the legislature had meant for zoning to regulate the wetlands then there wouldn't be a wetlands commission. This regulation is irrational," Hollister said.

"This does not impact IWC in any way," Stone argued.

"The TPZ does not grant permits. This regulation won't stop you from building in the wetlands," Stone said.

"If you have a lot with wetlands you could previously go to wetlands and get a permit (to build on it). Now you can't even go and get a permit," Hollister shot back.

Hollister also argued that the legal notices were not descriptive of the details and some were dated incorrectly. He also challenged that the lot size increase was fiscal zoning to keep costs down. Stone argued that wasn't the case and dismissed the incorrect notices.

The TPZ spent about six months discussing the lot size increase before voting to increase it on Feb. 17, 2003.

Although numerous requests were made by members of the public, including large parcel holders, to have the commission convene a study panel none was convened.

When asked how he thought the case went Stone was confident.

"The commission made an appropriate decision. I am confident this will be overturned on a procedural basis," Stone said.

Hollister said his case has merit.

"What became evident was that (the changes were) not appreciated by the town but were hidden beneath the tables," Hollister said.

Hollister explained the potential negative impact non conforming lot owners might face.

He said now (with the new regulations) if two non conforming lots that abut one another are owned by the same individual they must be merged.

The two lawyers must now file a brief by Feb. 18 to argue their sides regarding whether they feel the plaintiffs are aggrieved. If the judge sees merit he will hear further testimony.