It’s the case of the man who wasn’t there — or was he?
The Vermont Supreme Court has tossed Stowe resident Michael Seaberg’s appeal of a zoning permit for a duplex on his neighbor’s property back to the state environmental court, saying the lower court erred in dismissing Seaberg’s appeal.
The duplex developer, VTRE Investments, LLC, was awarded its zoning permit May 22, 2018. Stowe realtor — and former development review board member — Nick Lizotte is VTRE’s principal shareholder.
The environmental court last year sided with VTRE’s claim that Seaberg failed to properly represent himself as a next-door neighbor, even though Seaberg had attended one of the Stowe Development Review Board meetings in which the duplex project was discussed. He submitted both written and oral comments raising his concerns.
Those concerns included a lack of trees separating the two properties, inadequate screening of garbage collection sites, landscaping on the front and side yards, an incomplete sediment plan keeping storm water off of Seaberg’s property, and an overall sense that the proposed duplex wasn’t appropriate for that area.
The Mountain Road property VTRE wants to develop was once known as Honeywood Country Lodge, but is now called the Griffin Country Lodge.
Seaberg owns the Northern Lights Lodge next door, and he also lives at the property.
That second part is key, because lawyers representing VTRE Investments say that Seaberg, in his appeal of the zoning decision to the Environmental Court, said the proposed project would personally affect him, yet he only identified as the owner of Northern Lights, and not as a neighbor, during the review board process.
“Appellant’s claim that he used the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘our’ throughout the DRB hearing to refer to his family and not his corporation is disingenuous,” the lawyers wrote last September in asking the environmental court to dismiss the appeal, which it did a month later.
In his opposition to that dismissal, Seaberg called VTRE’s claim that he should have provided proof of his residency at the development review board meetings “also disingenuous.” He even provided a copy of his Vermont driver’s license, which lists his address as 4441 Mountain Road, the same address as Northern Lights.
“Stowe is a small town, with approximately only 4,000 residents,” Seaberg wrote. He said most review board members know who he is and where he lives, and he has attended many of its meetings, “and I have seen my neighbors testify at the meetings, and they were never asked to prove that they resided at their residence.”
The Supreme Court didn’t agree with VTRE or the environmental court that the interchangeable use of pronouns and the fact that Seaberg submitted his comments on company letterhead negate his standing as a neighbor.
The Supreme Court wrote in its July 12 ruling that it “supports (Seaberg’s) assertion that he voiced concerns about the project both as an individual living on the property and on behalf of the company, of which he is the president, that owns the property. While Mr. Seaberg submitted written comments on NLL letterhead, he signed into the hearing as an individual. He was recognized as a neighbor by a member of the DRB at the hearing, lending credence to his assertion before the Environmental Division that the DRB members, and presumably VTRE’s representative as well, were aware that he lived on the abutting property.”
That dismissal was then appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court in February. In its appeal, the high court ruled that Seaberg does have standing to appeal the zoning permit.
The environmental court will once again take up the case Aug. 26.