Gorham v Town of Cape Elizabeth, Supreme Judicial Court of Main (1993)

Coleman Gorham owns in single family home within a Residence-A (R-A) zoning district in the Town of Cape Elizabeth. Multi-unit dwellings are permitted as a conditional use upon a showing of compliance with conditions in the zoning ordinance. In 1989, Gorham filed an application with the Cape Elizabeth Zoning Board of Appeals for a conditional use permit to convert his home into a multi-family dwelling by creating an apartment within his home. No changes would be made to the exterior of the building or parking facilities. The Board held three public hearings, considered several letters, three reports from real estate appraisers, and the oral comments from numerous residents. The Board denied Gorham’s application on the basis that the use of his home as a multifamily unit would “adversely affect the value of adjacent properties.” Gorham brought a three-count complaint, seeking a declaratory judgment that Section 19-4-7(b) of the zoning ordinance is unconstitutional.

The trial court rejected Gorham’s appeal on all three acts.

1. Does the criterion under Section 19-4-7(b) of the zoning ordinance that the proposed use not “adversely affect the value of adjacent properties” bear a substantial relationship to the public health, safety, and general welfare, or does it improperly delegate legislative authority to the Board of Appeals? And does it provide adequate guidance to a conditional use applicant and to the Zoning Board of Appeals?

2. Was the Board biased and predisposed against multi-family dwellings, thus violating Gorham’s constitutional right to due process?

3.Was the quasi-judicial decision of the Board of Appeals supported by substantial evidence, or was it arbitrary and unreasonable?

The majority found no error with the Superior Court’s determination and affirmed their judgment in denying Gorham’s request for a conditional use permit. Justices Roberts and Rudman dissented.

1. The court held that the maintenance of property values is a legitimate interest served by zoning restrictions (citations), therefore the Cape Elizabeth zoning ordinance meets due process requirement in that it bears a reasonable relationship to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare. As a legislative question, the court presumes it to be valid because Gorham failed to demonstrate that there would not be a negative effect on property values. Moreover, the criteria under Section 19-4-7(b)(4) is sufficiently specific to guide the conditional use applicant and the Board of Appeal as to what facts must be presented, and both Gorham and the parties opposed to his application presented a substantial amount of evidence.

2. Regarding the issue of due process, the record indicates that the Board members listened to witnesses both for and against the evidence, and discussed the evidence with a sincere effort to fairly decide the issue. The evidence is inadequate to support the contention that due process was denied.

3. Although there was evidence from two expert witnesses that the multi-family use of Gorham’s property would not adversely affect the property values in the area, there was contrary evidence from an expert appraiser, a real estate broker, and from neighboring owners. This constitutes substantial evidence to support the Board’s conclusion

Dissent: The dissenters found that the Board’s rejection of the CUP was arbitrary and capricious. They found that the Town had already determined through its legislative process that multi-family dwellings were consistent with the zoning scheme, provided there is a showing that the multi-family unit will not adversely affect the value of adjacent properties. They found that Gorham did show this by providing statements from two expert appraisers and evidence that the exterior appearance of his home would not be altered. Those opposed did not explain what there was about Gorham’s particular proposal that made it harmful to the value of adjacent properties.