Town of Westford v. Kilburn

In Town of Westford v. Kilburn, 131 Vt. 120, 124, 300 A.2d 523, 526 (1973), the Court announced the requirement of deliberative standards for acting on zoning applications. At the time, the Westford zoning ordinance denied permission for any business, commercial, industrial or agricultural uses unless all adjoining landowners and long-term lessees consented to the use As a safety valve, however, it authorized the zoning board to allow special exceptions after considering promotion of the public health, safety, convenience, and welfare of the inhabitants, encouraging the most appropriate use of land and protecting and preserving property value. Appellants, who wanted to use their barn for barn dances, attacked the ordinance as providing an insufficient standard for the exercise of the board's discretion and for delegating power, without standards, to neighbors. This Court upheld the challenge to the ordinance, concluding that the special exception provision failed "to prescribe appropriate conditions and safeguards" and delegated authority to adjacent property owners "with . . . no standards to govern its use." Id. at 125-26, 300 A.2d at 527. The Court described the reasons for requiring standards: "When the Board of Adjustment exercises this discretion, guiding standards assure all parties concerned it has been exercised in a proper manner. When no such guiding standards are spelled out by the legislative body, the door is opened to the exercise of this discretion in an arbitrary or discriminatory fashion. As a consequence of a failure of a legislative body to spell out guiding standards, the applicant for a permit is left uncertain as to what factors are to be considered by the Board of Adjustment. . . . On one hand the standards governing the delegation of such authority should be general enough to avoid inflexible results, yet on the other hand they should not leave the door open to unbridled discrimination." (Id. at 124-25, 300 A.2d at 526.)