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Chapel Road Assoc. v. Town of Wells
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT						Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2001 ME 178
Docket: 	Yor-01-256
Submitted
  on Briefs:  	October 15, 2001
Decided:	December 27, 2001

Panel: 	SAUFLEY, C.J., and CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, DANA, ALEXANDER, and CALKINS, JJ.




CHAPEL ROAD ASSOCIATES, L.L.C. v. TOWN OF WELLS


CALKINS, J.

	[¶1]  Chapel Road Associates, L.L.C., appeals from the judgment of the
Superior Court (York, Brennan, J.) affirming the decision of the Town of
Wells Planning Board to deny Chapel Road Associates' site plan application
for the development of a sandwich shop at the intersection of Chapel Road
and U.S. Route One in Wells.  The Planning Board denied the application for
failure to comply with the traffic standards in the Town's Land Use
Ordinance.  Chapel Road Associates argues that the Board erred in its
decision by improperly relying on its own members' personal knowledge
and opinions along with the general concerns and opinions of members of
the public in contradiction to expert evidence that demonstrated
compliance with the traffic section of the ordinance.  Because we conclude
that the Board's findings of fact are insufficient to permit appellate review,
we vacate the Superior Court's judgment with instructions to remand the
matter to the Board for findings of fact. 
I. FACTS AND PROCEDURE
	[¶2]  Chapel Road Associates owns a parcel of land located at the
corner of Route One and Chapel Road in Wells.  It filed an application with
the Board for site review approval of a proposed 3800 square foot, one-story
sandwich shop with thirty-five seats.  Its property is located in the general
business zoning district, and a sandwich shop is a use permitted in that
district.
	[¶3]  With its application, Chapel Road Associates submitted a traffic
impact study prepared by Eaton Traffic Engineering.  DeLuca Hoffman
Associates, Inc., at the request of the Board, prepared a traffic analysis
report which raised issues with the Eaton analysis. 
	[¶4]  The Board held a public hearing in April 2000, and members of
the public expressed concerns about traffic in the area of the proposed
sandwich shop.  The Board continued the hearing to May to allow Chapel
Road Associates an opportunity to consult with the Maine Department of
Transportation regarding plans to modify the Route One/Chapel Road
intersection and to address issues raised by DeLuca Hoffman about Eaton's
traffic analysis.  DeLuca Hoffman thereafter sent a letter to the Board stating
that its questions had been adequately addressed and that the current
proposal was acceptable.  
	[¶5]  At the reconvened hearing, one citizen who had spoken at the
April hearing renewed his concerns about public safety.  The Board then
held a workshop at which the members discussed traffic issues with the
town planner as well as representatives from Eaton and Chapel Road
Associates.  Six discrete traffic issues were reviewed, including the
proximity of the Chapel Road entrance to Route One; the stacking lane on
Chapel Road; and the Route One entrance to the property.  Board members
expressed their personal experiences with traffic in the area of Route One
and Chapel Road.  The Board continued the workshop to June and invited a
DeLuca Hoffman representative to discuss traffic issues.
	[¶6]  Chapel Road Associates then submitted revised plans.  The Board
met again and heard from the DeLuca Hoffman representative who stated
that the previously expressed concerns of the Board members regarding
traffic had been addressed.  Following additional discussion by its members,
the Board voted three to two to deny the application. 
	[¶7]  The Board issued "Findings of Fact" which stated that the
l.02-acre parcel is located in the general business district; that abutters
were notified of the proceedings; that the Board conducted a site walk and
held a public hearing and several workshops; that the proposal is for a 3800
square foot fast food restaurant with forty-two parking spaces; and that the
applicant submitted plans and studies considered by the Board.  The
findings also noted that the Board considered peer reviews of the traffic
plan as well as staff reviews.  The findings concluded with the following
statement: "The Board finds that the applicant failed to demonstrate
compliance with Chapter 138, Land Use Code of the Town of Wells, Maine. 
In particular, the applicant failed to demonstrate compliance with section
10.6.1 of this code . . . ."  The Board then quoted the traffic portion of the
ordinance:
Traffic.  The proposed development shall provide safe access to
and from public and private roads.  Safe access shall be assured
by providing an adequate number of exits and entrances that
have adequate sight distances and do not conflict with or
adversely impact the traffic movements at intersections, schools
or other traffic generators.  Curb cuts shall be limited to the
minimum width necessary for safe entering and exiting.  The
proposed development shall not have an unreasonable adverse
impact on the town road system and shall provide adequate
parking and loading areas.  No use or expansion of a use shall
receive site plan approval if any parking spaces are located in a
public right-of-way or if any travel lane of a state number highway
is used as part of the required aisle to access any parking spaces.
Wells, Me., Land Use Ordinance § 10.6.1 (1985-2000).  Other than its general
conclusory statement that Chapel Road Associates failed to demonstrate
compliance with section 10.6.1, the Board made no findings concerning
traffic.  The Board's findings neither indicated the portions of section 10.6.1
that were not met by the proposal nor stated the evidence upon which it
relied in determining noncompliance.
	[¶8]  Chapel Road Associates filed a complaint in the Superior Court
pursuant to Wells, Me., Land Use Ordinance § 10.9.2.2, which provides for
the appeal of a Planning Board denial directly to the Superior Court, and
M.R. Civ. P. 80B.  The Superior Court affirmed the Board's decision in a brief
order.
II. DISCUSSION
	[¶9]  We review directly the decision of the Board for abuse of
discretion, errors of law, or findings not supported by substantial evidence
in the record.  York v. Town of Ogunquit, 2001 ME 53, ¶ 6, 769 A.2d 172,
175.  The Board's inadequate findings of fact, however, prevent us from
reviewing whether those findings are supported by substantial evidence.
	[¶10]  Meaningful judicial review of an agency decision is not possible
without findings of fact sufficient to apprise the court of the decision's basis. 
Christian Fellowship & Renewal Ctr. v. Town of Limington, 2001 ME 16,
¶¶ 10-15, 769 A.2d 834, 837-39.  In the absence of such findings, a
reviewing court cannot effectively determine if an agency's decision is
supported by the evidence, and there is a danger of "judicial usurpation of
administrative functions."  Id. ¶ 15, 769 A.2d at 839 (quoting Gashgai v. Bd.
of Registration in Med., 390 A.2d 1080, 1085 (Me. 1978)).  Adequate
findings also "assure more careful administrative considerations, help
parties plan cases for rehearing or judicial review and . . . keep agencies
within their jurisdiction."  Id. (quoting Maine AFL-CIO v. Superintendent of
Ins., 595 A.2d 424, 428 (Me. 1991)); see also Harrington v. Inhabitants of
Town of Kennebunk, 459 A.2d 557, 561-62 (Me. 1983) (remanding matter
to agency in zoning context where findings were insufficient to allow judicial
review).
	[¶11]  There is both a code and statutory requirement for adequate
findings.  Section 10.5.4.6 of the Wells Ordinance mandates the Planning
Board to provide a site selection applicant with "detailed, written findings of
fact and conclusions, based on the evidence presented at the public hearing
and evidence presented by the applicant and evidence presented by Town
staff."  Maine's Freedom of Access Act requires agencies to make "finding[s]
of . . . fact, in writing, sufficient to [apprise] the applicant and any interested
member of the public of the basis for the decision."  1 M.R.S.A. § 407(1)
(1989). 
	[¶12]  The Board's findings in the instant case neither meet the
requirements of the ordinance or statute nor are they sufficient to permit
judicial review.  As noted above, they consist of a summary of the proposed
development; a statement that the Board considered the plans,
specifications, and studies; and a conclusion that the applicant failed to
comply with the traffic standard.  This recitation does not constitute
findings, see Christian Fellowship, 2001 ME 16, ¶ 7, 769 A.2d at 837, nor is
this a case in which the facts found by the Board are obvious or in which the
subsidiary facts can be inferred from stated conclusory facts, see Wells v.
Portland Yacht Club, 2001 ME 20, ¶ 10, 771 A.2d 371, 375.  Because there
is no indication of either the specific portions of the traffic standard on
which the decision turned or an indication of the evidence on which the
Board relied, there can be no meaningful inquiry as to whether the Board's
decision was supported by the evidence.  
	[¶13]  "[T]he remedy for an agency's failure to . . . make sufficient and
clear findings of fact is a remand to the agency for findings that permit
meaningful judicial review."  Kurlanski v. Portland Yacht Club, 2001 ME 147,
¶ 14, 782 A.2d 783, 787 (quoting Christian Fellowship, 2001 ME 16, ¶ 12,
769 A.2d at 838).  A court should not "embark on an independent and
original inquiry," Harrington, 459 A.2d at 561, or review the matter by
implying the findings and grounds for the decision from the available record. 
	The entry is:
Judgment vacated.  The case is remanded to the
Superior Court with instructions to remand the case
to the Town of Wells Planning Board for further
findings of fact.

Attorney for plaintiff: Ralph W. Austin, Esq. Woodman Edmands Danylik & Austin, P.A. P O Box 468 Biddeford, ME 04005-0468 Attoneys for defendant: Durward W. Parkinson, Esq. Susan Bernstein Driscoll, Esq. Catherine O'Connor, Esq. Bergen & Parkinson, LLC 62 Portland Road Kennebunk, ME 04043