In the Chancery Court decision of Gibson v. Sussex County Council, the opinion includes a detailed factual and legal analysis regarding the issues and standards to apply when County Council denies a building permit. Very briefly, the case involved the attempt by a landowner to build townhouses on a waterfront lot. The local zoning commission granted the necessary approval but the County Council denied the request. In sum, the court found that the Council’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. That is, there was no substantial evidence to support their decision to deny the conditional use application based on the standards set forth in the County code. The court found that the applicant only needed to meet the statutory requirements for a special exception as described in the code for a conditional use and that they had done so. The court concluded that the County Council’s rejection of the project was driven by a desire to please the opponents of the project and not by rational factors pertinent to the decision before the Council. The court reasoned that the Council was not free to bend to the prevailing breeze in a land use approval decision of this type, but must rationally and fairly apply its zoning code and regulations. Instead the court found that the applicant was subject to an ad hoc exercise of power and reversed the ruling of the Council. The opinion is available at the court’s website here.
Review of Land Use Decision