A Superior Court judge has uprooted any hope the Schartner family had of getting quickly back to work building their gargantuan, 25-acre greenhouse in Exeter. In a 43-page decision, Judge Sarah Taft-Carter ruled that the enormous greenhouse rising alongside Route 2 is subject to town zoning review.
The Schartner family and their company, Rhode Island Grows LLC, went ahead with construction last summer without going through that process. They argued at the time that even though their indoor tomato project would be the size of the Warwick Mall, it still met the definition of a "greenhouse" and thus enjoyed certain local and state agricultural protections, among them exemption from Exeter's zoning review – at least in its initial phase of construction.
In their appeal of the stop-work order, lawyers for Rhode Island Grows said the town Zoning Board, which upheld Morgan's stop-work order, failed to acknowledge the greenhouse was an "agricultural use" protected by state law and allowed in all zoning districts "except were prohibited for public health or safety reasons or the protection of wildlife habitat.'"
"It remains true as a matter of law," the judge said, "that R.I. Grows' greenhouse is subject to the zoning code so long as it constitutes a structure."
Rhode Island Grows also raised several constitutional arguments, among them that the definition of "structure" was too vague and thus "allows for discriminatory enforcement." But Taft-Carter said in her ruling, "The relevant statutory definition is certainly broad, but it is not particularly vague: the Zoning Enabling Act, and thus the Zoning Code, defines a structure as 'a combination of materials to form a construction for use, occupancy, or ornamentation, whether installed on, above, or below the surface of land or water,' thereby employing commonly used, objective, and nontechnical terms."
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