The trial lawyers at Federoff Kuchmay, LLP have secured important victories for their clients over the years. Two of those victories stand out with respect to zoning issues, and resulted in reported decisions that helped shape Indiana law.
Often during controversial zoning hearings, local residents appear at public hearings to speak out against a development. Such residents may express to zoning officials their fears regarding the impact a proposed development may have upon the quality of their life, the value of their homes, and other concerns, whether based upon anticipated increased traffic, or other fears regarding the nature or scope of the proposed use. At times, statements made by residents are not based upon fact, but instead on speculation regarding the proposed development. Even though not based upon fact, the conjectural statements may nonetheless influence zoning officials as they consider how to rule upon a zoning issue.
In Rice v. Allen County Plan Commission, 852 N.E.2d 591 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), the attorneys at Federoff Kuchmay were faced with just that circumstance, and secured a significant appellate victory. In an opinion important to developers in Indiana, the Rice decision confirmed that decisions of zoning officials must be based upon substantial evidence, rather than speculation and conjecture of an opponent about the possible impact of a proposed development.
Another land use matter handled by Federoff Kuchmay's attorneys involved Flying J, Inc. This representation has resulted in two reported decisions of the Indiana Court of Appeals. Flying J has been attempting to develop a travel plaza on property it owns in New Haven, Indiana. New Haven officials initially rejected the development, contending that the proposed uses were not all permitted in the zoning district where the travel plaza was to be developed. In a decision that explained how to properly interpret a zoning ordinance, the Court of Appeals agreed that all of Flying J's uses were permissible in the applicable zoning district. Flying J, Inc. v. City of New Haven, Ind., 855 N.E.2d 1035 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006).
While that appeal was pending, New Haven amended its zoning ordinance to impose a new restriction, and sought to apply that restriction to Flying J's travel plaza, which led to additional litigation between the parties and application of what is known as the "vested rights" doctrine. That doctrine protects developers from changes made to a zoning ordinance during the course of development proceedings. In Flying J's case, actual construction of the travel plaza had not yet commenced, but significant funds, time, and effort had been expended in the attempt to develop the property.
The trial court agreed with us that Flying J had progressed far enough to acquire vested rights, and to prevent the amended ordinance from being applied. We then represented Flying J during New Haven's appeal of the trial court's decision, which decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in a published decision. City of New Haven, Ind. v. Flying J, Inc., 912 N.E.2d 420 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009).