Developers' applications rejected by R.I. SC

John O'Brien Jul. 9, 2008, 4:00pm

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) - Rhode Island's Supreme Court has told three developers that rushed their building plans to beat a General Assembly-imposed moratorium that their applications were too vague.

Pascoag Apartment Associates, Crystal Lake Builders and East Avenue Development Realty will not be able to build a combined 304 units of high-density housing in the Town of Burrillville, thanks to the decision announced Thursday.

A 2002 amendment to the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act allowed for-profit developers to use a streamlined process designed for non-profits for certain housing units. Because of the flood of applications, the General Assembly instituted a moratorium in 2004, and the three companies filed their applications within weeks of it.

"The streamlined process created by the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act... was anything but a traditional land development permitting process, particularly as evidenced by the moratorium suspending its use by for-profit developers," Justice Paul Suttell wrote.

"It is our opinion that the General Assembly intended to preserve only those applications that, in (the State Housing Appeals Board's) definition, contained all parts or elements that are material, important, and essential. Those applicants whose applications were not substantially complete were not entitled to proceed under the pre-moratorium standards."

SHAB ruled that the companies' applications were substantially complete, though the Supreme Court disagreed. It said SHAB misapplied the definition of a substantially complete application to the three.

Part of the Court's analysis was titled, "The Elusive Definition of Substantial Completeness." It begins on page 11 of the opinion.

"The General Assembly's purposes in imposing the moratorium and subsequently enacting the amendment for well-developed comprehensive permit applications provides the landscape for our review of SHAB's interpretation of substantial completeness," Suttell wrote.

"We conclude that SHAB's definition of 'substantial' to mean 'material,' 'important,' and 'essential,' and the term 'complete' to mean 'having all parts or elements,' warrants deference from this Court."

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