Cotswold vs. Renaud, et al.

On April 30, 2008, the Appellate Division in Cotswold v. Renaud, et al. evaluated whether an historic fountain, although not affixed to the real estate, was protected under a local preservation of historic landmarks ordinance.  In this case, a dispute arose when a property owner sought to remove from the grounds of an historic estate a six-foot high fountain after converting the property into condominiums without first obtaining a certificate of appropriateness from the municipality under the ordinance.  The fountain / statue, which consisted of four figures around an urn and weighed over 1,000 pounds, was designed by sculptor, Enid Yandell, and had been located at the historic estate since 1925.  The property owner maintained that the fountain was not attached to the land and, therefore, it was not within the historic site designation. After being instructed by the municipality to return the fountain, the property owner instituted a declaratory action for a court order finding the fountain to be outside the ambit of the municipality’s regulatory authority under the ordinance.  The municipality brought a counterclaim requesting the return of the fountain and the imposition of penalties.  The trial court ruled that the fountain was a part of the historic estate and ordered the property owner to return it until and unless the property owner is able to obtain a certificate of appropriates for its removal and relocation.  The trial court denied the municipality’s request for penalties.

On appeal, the property owner reiterated its position that the fountain is not properly governed by the local preservation of historic landmarks ordinance and also raised, for the first time, the contention that the subject ordinance is unconstitutional, as applied, because it effects a taking of the fountain.  The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s ruling in all respects and rejected the property owner’s constitutional argument stating, among other things, that “the Ordinance does nothing more than require that the fountain remain on the property where it has been for more than eighty years unless a Certificate of Appropriateness is obtained.”  Under these circumstances, which neither establish a physical taking nor deprive the property owner of all economic or beneficial use of the fountain, there is no governmental taking.