News from around Iowa: Iowa City school district raises concerns about current zoning policies

October 27th, 2014

From the Iowa City Press-Citizen (full article found here):  Grappling with how to address high concentrations of low-income students in some schools, the Iowa City Community School District is calling on cities to change their approach to housing and zoning.

The district is asking local governments to adopt inclusionary zoning policies — requiring that a certain percentage of new residential developments be set aside for affordable housing. District officials also are asking cities to re-invest in areas of “socio-economic isolation” and place restrictions on rental units and rental density.

“While we are cognizant of the fact that it is not within the scope of the District’s duties to instruct municipalities on housing patterns and zoning regulations, we do know that these decisions have a direct impact on our educational system,” Superintendent Steve Murley and School Board President Chris Lynch wrote in a letter to local mayors and the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

The issue will be discussed at a meeting this afternoon (Monday) between school district and city officials.

current news ,

MN township not authorized to levy permit review expenses against landowner

October 20th, 2014

by Rachel Greifenkamp

Great Western Industrial Park, LLC v. Randolph Township
Minnesota Court of Appeals, September 8, 2014)

South of the Twin Cities along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border lies Randolph Township. Here, Recovery Technology Solutions (RTS) was considering purchasing land from Great Western Industrial Park, LLC to use as the site for a facility for recycling asphalt shingles. RTS submitted an application to Randolph Township for a conditional use permit that was denied, and so RTS decided against purchasing the available land. After the denial of the application RTS received a letter stating that it was to reimburse the township for all expenses incurred in the application review, which totaled $31,666.41 (mostly legal and consulting fees). When RTS did not pay the expenses the township wrote a letter to Great Western (the landowner) notifying it of its responsibility for the expenses, as well as interest, late charges, recording charges, and attorney’s fees. The township also informed Great Western that the amount was going to be certified to the County Auditor for collection with the 2014 property taxes.  Great Western sued.

Minn. Stat. 366.012 states:

If a town is authorized to impose a service charge for a governmental service provided by the town, the town board may certify to the county auditor of the county in which the recipient of the services owns real property, on or before October 15 for each year, any unpaid service charges which shall then be collected together with property taxes levied against the property.

Minn. Stat. 462.353 provides:

A municipality may prescribe fees sufficient to defray the costs incurred by it in reviewing, investigating, and administering an application for an amendment to an official control established pursuant to sections 462.351 to 462.364[governing municipal planning and development] or an application for a permit or other approval required under an official control established pursuant to those sections. Except as provided in subdivision 4a,[1] fees as prescribed must be by ordinance. Fees must be fair, reasonable, and proportionate and have a nexus to the actual cost of the service for which the fee is imposed.

Noting that any prescribed fee “must be by ordinance,” the Court of Appeals reviewed the township’s zoning and fee ordinances and found no provision that permits the township to impose a fee on a property owner when a CUP application is denied and the CUP applicant fails to pay the costs incurred by the township in processing the application. The township relied on a section in the fee ordinance that requires that a $300 nonrefundable fee and a minimum $1,200 escrow payment be submitted with a CUP application, but the court found that this language does not authorize the township to impose a service charge on the owner of the property for which the CUP was sought.

The township was not authorized to impose a service charge against Great Western for the expenses incurred by the township in processing RTS’s conditional use permit application, and the ruling fell in favor of Great Western.

 

Conditional Uses/Special Uses, Minnesota courts, Procedural Issues , ,

News from around Iowa: More MidAmerican Energy wind investments

October 17th, 2014

To conclude what I’ve come to think of as “wind week” here at the BLUZ, here is a story of MidAmerican Energy’s latest western Iowa project.  The Iowa-based utility company will add 67 wind turbines at two western Iowa locations:  64 in Adams County in southwest Iowa, and three in O’Brien County northwest Iowa.  The turbines have the potential to generate 162 megawatts of energy, enough to power 48,000 homes.

More than 27 percent of Iowa’s energy comes from wind, the highest state percentage in the nation. Iowa also has the seventh-best wind resource, or potential for wind energy generation, in the U.S. (in other words, the wind blows a lot here).  Wind energy production in Iowa has received little of the resistance experienced in other locations around the country.  The western Iowa counties where the wind farms are locating – in addition to being the windiest parts of the state – are also some of the most sparsely populated.  Few of the rural residents are non-agland holders, meaning that the landowners affected by the turbines are also the people that gain the most financially from the industry’s growth.

The Des Moines Register article is here.  It includes a good summary of the investments in the wind industry in Iowa.

current news, Wind and solar energy ,

Vermont neighbor can bring nuisance claim for wind farm, despite losing fight against permit

October 16th, 2014

Note:  This case is from the Federal District Court for Vermont, but it is interesting and in keeping with our “wind week” theme.   It was originally posted by Patricia Salkin on her blog, The Law of the Land http://lawoftheland.wordpress.com.

Brouha v Vermont Wind, LLC
(Federal District Court for Vermont, September 23, 2014)

Plaintiff alleges that the Sheffield Wind Project that the Defendants owned and operated created an unreasonable noise impact, that the noise prevented the Plaintiff from gardening, eating outside, walking and other activities similar, and the Plaintiff therefore suffered stress, pain and suffering and loss of the use of his property.

The District Court of Vermont found that the Plaintiff submitted sufficient information for a private nuisance claim, due to interference with the use and enjoyment of another’s property that is both unreasonable and understanding. Defendants contended that the Plaintiff’s complaint should be collaterally estopped because the claims litigated were already decided when the Plaintiff unsuccessfully contended and appealed against the granting of the permit, but Plaintiff in return claims that the standard applied for the permit were different from the standard applied for private nuisance.

The court found that the enjoyment of the Plaintiff’s property has never been litigated, and the restrictions imposed by the permit did not cover a private nuisance issue. Collateral estoppel does not apply here as the private nuisance claim was not raised in the first action, and the general nuisance claim that focused on the impact to the community was not identical to the private nuisance issue. Defendants’ motion was to dismiss Plaintiff’s private nuisance claim was therefore denied.

 

Federal courts, Nuisance, Wind and solar energy , ,

Delay that doomed wind farm project did not give rise to substantive due process claim

October 15th, 2014

by Rachel Greifenkamp and Gary Taylor

CEnergy-Glenmore Wind Farm #1, LLC v. Town of Glenmore
(Federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, August 7, 2014)

In Glenmore, Wisconsin, CEnergy planned to develop a wind farm. CEnergy obtained a conditional use permit from the town but did not obtain the required building permits for the wind turbines. CEnergy had entered into a power purchase agreement with the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation to sell wind energy for 20 years; however, the agreement was contingent upon CEnergy satisfying a variety of requirements, including obtaining all necessary permits, by March 1, 2011.

In September of 2010 the applications for the building permits to build the turbines were submitted to the Town Board.  In December 2010, CEnergy had provided all necessary information for the permits and informed the Chair of the Board that the permits would need to be approved by March 1 for CEnergy to satisfy the power purchase agreement. Over the course of the next three months, public sentiment had turned decidedly against the project, with the Board Chair receiving threats to his physical safety.  The Board did not take up the the issue of the building permits at the January or February meetings, ostensibly because the town’s attorney needed more time to review the documentation submitted by CEnergy.   The applications for building permits were finally considered and granted at a meeting on March 7, but citizens at that meeting became “accusatory and threatening” toward Board members and other town officials.  The Chair reopened the meeting and, after further discussion, the Board voted to rescind the granted permits.  One week later, however, the Board held a special meeting and nullified the rescission, thereby reinstating the granted permits.

When the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation backed out of the power purchase agreement due to CEnergy’s failure to obtain the necessary permits in time, CEnergy filed suit against the Town of Glenmore claiming a denial of its right to substantive due process and a violation of the town’s state law obligation to deal in good faith. The federal district court dismissed the due process claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the district court also declined to retain jurisdiction over the supplemental state law claim. CEnergy appealed the decision to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

On the issue of the denial to substantive due process, the Court of Appeals noted that while both the Supreme Court and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals have acknowledged the possibility that a land-use decision could constitute a deprivation of property without substantive due process of the law, neither have definitively concluded such. However, like the district court, the Court of Appeals concluded that the substantive due process claim fails because the Board’s actions were not arbitrary.  “As far as the Constitution is concerned, popular opposition to a proposed land development plan is a rational and legitimate reason for a legislature to delay making a decision….The idea in zoning cases is that the due process clause permits municipalities to use political methods to decide.”  While the courts have stated the substantive due process standard in many ways – decisions must “shock the conscience,” be “egregious,” “arbitrary and capricious,” or “random and irrational” – the Board’s decision making process did not meet any of the tests.

The Court of Appeals further held that CEnergy’s claim must fail because it did not seek recourse under state law. The court has held in the past that a plaintiff who ignores potential state law remedies cannot state a substantive due process claim in federal court.  The standard process for obtaining a building permit in Glenmore involves submitting the request to the Town Zoning Administrator and then, if denied, bringing the request to the Board of Appeals. This typical process does not involve the Town Board at all. Because CEnergy went along with the political process and did not seek another administrative course of action to get their building permits approved, there is no opportunity for them to regain the lost profits from the wind farm.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment in favor of the Town of Glenmore.

 

Due Process, Federal courts, Wind and solar energy , ,

News from around Nebraska: 11,000-acre wind farm proposed south of Lincoln runs into turbulence

October 14th, 2014

An 11,000-acre wind farm proposed for southern Lancaster and northern Gage county is running into public resistance. Volkswind USA wants to build 54 turbines on 7,000 acres of land in Lancaster County and 4,000 acres in Gage County, near Hallam and Cortland.  More than 50 landowners already have signed leases; however, Volkswind has already withdrawn its permit application for one wind turbine on 160 acres within the one-mile territorial jurisdiction of Hallam and canceled a planned public meeting.  Volkswind had invited neighbors to attend after some area residents voiced concerns at at a Hallam village board meeting that the turbines would be unsightly and noisy and would cause health problems and lower their property values.

The Lincoln Journal-Star articles are here:  September 29, October 8.

current news, Wind and solar energy ,

Insufficient evidence to establish uncut lawn was a public nuisance

October 13th, 2014

by Rachel Greifenkamp and Gary Taylor

County of Forest v. Dwayne Pasternak
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, July 1, 2014)

In Forest County, Wisconsin Robert Lawrence filed a nuisance complaint against his neighbor, Dwayne Pasternak, for not cutting a portion of his lawn. Pasternak was given ten days to mow his lawn by the County. On July 15, 2013, Pasternak was issued a nuisance citation which he filed a motion to dismiss. The complaint went to trial at the circuit court for Forest County where court concluded that Pasternak’s uncut lawn constituted a public nuisance.  Pasternak appealed.

The county ordinance defines a nuisance as “any  condition which is injurious to health, offensive to the senses, or interferes with public or private use of property….”  In the circuit court, the County argued, and the court concluded, Pasternak’s uncut lawn constituted a public nuisance because it promoted mosquitos, pollen, weeds, and small animals. The court of appeals stated, however, that “if we agreed Pasternak’s uncut lawn constituted a public nuisance on that basis, that determination has no standard of enforcement and has the potential of applying to all lawns in Forest County.”

The Court of Appeals noted that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has held “offensive” to mean “giving pain or unpleasant sensation,” “revolting” or “obnoxious.” In the conclusion reached by the circuit court, Pasternak’s uncut lawn was declared offensive and a nuisance because it did not look nice. Based on precedent, however, just because something is disliked or disagreeable it does not make it a public nuisance. The court of appeals concluded that there was insufficient evidence in the record to establish that the uncut lawn was “offensive” and therefore a public nuisance under the definition in the county code.  The judgment of the circuit court was therefore reversed.

Nuisance, Wisconsin courts ,

News from around Minnesota: Justice department sues Minneapolis suburb over denial of permit for mosque

September 2nd, 2014

The Justice Department is suing the city of St. Anthony, Minnesota for denying a request for a permit to establish a mosque.  The U.S. Attorney contends that the city council applied its zoning laws unevenly, and the federal government is seeking an injunction (presumably under RLUIPA).

A group of Somali immigrants formed the Abu Huraira Islamic Center in 2009 in hopes of establishing a worship center.  After years of trying to find a suitable location, the group bought a building in an area zoned light industrial.  The group applied for a conditional use permit, which was rejected by the city council after a crowded, contentious public meeting.  St. Anthony previously approved a conditional use permit for the Operating Engineers Union Local 49, which is also located in a light industrial zone, allowing the union to rent out its banquet hall to other groups. The US Attorney asserts that the meetings at the union hall constitute assemblies, and that RLUIPA prohibits cities from treating religious meetings differently than secular assemblies.

The USA Today article is here.

current news, RLUIPA ,

Ten Commandments monument in Fargo ND does not violate First Amendment Establishment Clause

August 29th, 2014

by Gary Taylor

Red River Freethinkers v. City of Fargo
(Federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, August 25, 2014)

A stone monument depicting the Ten Commandments, which was given to the City of Fargo by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1958, has been the subject of over a decade of litigation.  In addition to the Ten Commandments, the monument includes other symbols such as the American flag and the “all-seeing eye” atop a pyramid. In 1961, the monument was installed in its current location on the City Plaza, “a grassy, open area mall” on City property, where it sat without legal challenge for over forty years.  In 2002, the Red River Freethinkers sued the city seeking a declaration that the display of the Ten Commandments violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  The federal district court found in favor of the city on the grounds that because of the purpose of the gift and the other secular symbols and messages on the monument “a reasonable observer could not perceive the city as adopting or endorsing the religious message of the display.” The court went further to state that “to exclude the request of a private organization, such as the Fraternal Order of Eagles, to engage in religious speech in a recognized forum on the sole grounds that their speech has religious content could arguably be a violation of their constitutional rights.”

Seizing on this language, the Freethinkers offered their own monument to the city with a request that it be placed near the Ten Commandments monument.  It was to be inscribed:

THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS NOT, IN ANY SENSE FOUNDED ON THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION
From the Treaty of Tripoli, Approved Unanimously by the United States Senate, June 7, 1797. Signed by President John Adams
Presented to the City of Fargo by the Red River Freethinkers in recognition of the First Amendment right of every American to believe, or not believe, in any god

The city commission voted to reject the Freethinkers offer, and in order to avoid litigation further decided to donate the Ten Commandments monument to a private entity, who would then move it to a location off of city property.

This caused a stir. many opposed this decision, and a petition garnering more than 5,000 signatures required the commission to either adopt, or submit to a vote of the people, an ordinance that simply stated:

A marker or monument on City of Fargo property for 40 or more years may not be removed from its location on City of Fargo property.

The city adopted the ordinance and left the monument in place.  A month later, the city adopted a policy of not accepting any additional monuments for display on the City Plaza.  The Freethinkers sued again, claiming that the petition, and the city’s reaction to it, had made the monument impermissible under the Establishment Clause.  After jurisdictional issues were addressed, the district court granted summary judgment for the city.  The Freethinkers appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals applied the standard announced by the US Supreme Court (USSC) for evaluating “passive monuments.”  In that USSC case, a Ten Commandments monument stood for over 40 years on the Texas Capitol grounds alongside other (“17 monuments and 21 historical markers”) secular symbols.  The USSC found that the monuments represented the several strands in the State’s political and legal history,” and that “the monument had a dual significance, partaking of both religion and government.” The 8th Circuit found the Fargo monument to be identical to the Texas situation in every legally relevant way.  The Freethinkers argued that the Christian overtones to the petition movement changed public perception of the monument to one with a single religious message; however the Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that petitioners expressed both religious and secular reasons to retain the monument, and that the city commission cited the costs of a legal challenge and the importance of “embracing and tolerating all people” as the basis for its decision.  By adopting the petition, the city did not “necessarily endorse the specific meaning that any particular petitioner sees in the document.”  The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court and dismissed the Freethinker’s petition.

Judge Bye dissented.  After reciting other details of the history of the monument (including the then-mayor’s statement at the 1961 dedication ceremony that the monument “would be a constant reminder to one and all that Fargo shall go forward only as it respects and lives according to the principles of the Ten Commandments”), Justice Bye noted several distinctions between the Fargo monument and the Texas monument, including: (a) unlike the Texas monument, no other monuments share the Civic Plaza in Fargo, (b) the city now has adopted a policy that no other monuments may stand in Civic Plaza, (c) Civic Plaza is flanked on three sides by public buildings, and sidewalks from the entrances to those buildings directly intersect at the monument.  Judge Bye concludes from these facts that the city has rendered the Ten Commandments monument an “active monument” subject to a more stringent test, and that summary judgment in favor of the city was not appropriate.

Federal courts, First Amendment claims ,

8th Circuit finally addresses “in writing” requirement of Federal Telecommunications Act

August 25th, 2014

by Gary Taylor

NE Colorado Cellular v. City of North Platte
(Federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, August 22, 2014)

NE Colorado Cellular, dba Viaero Wireless (Viaero) filed an application to construct a cell tower in North Platte, Nebraska (City).  The application first went to the City’s planning commission.  the commission conducted a public hearing and received both live testimony and letters from property owners near the proposed tower site.  After the hearing,the commission issued a summary report recommending denial of the application because the tower would not be in harmony with the character of the area as required by the North Platte zoning code provisions concerning cell towers.  The commission provided this report to the city council.  The city council then conducted its own public hearing, where two people spoke in favor of the tower and twelve spoke in opposition.  The council voted 6-2 to deny the application.  The minutes of the council meeting included the finding that the proposed tower “does not meet the minimum standards stated in the [zoning ordinance]…based on the [finding] that the use is not in harmony with the character of the area and it is not the most appropriate use of the land as it is a historic neighborhood and the tower could decrease property values in the area.”

Viaero filed suit against the City, alleging that the decision was neither “in writing,” nor “supported by substantial evidence” as required by the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA).  The district court upheld the City’s decision, and Viaero appealed to the Federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In writing.  The interpretation of the TCA’s “in writing” requirement up until this time has been an open question in the 8th Circuit.  The 1st, 2nd and 9th Circuits require that a decision (1) be separate from the written record; (2) describe the reasons for the denial; and (3) contain a sufficient explanation of the reasons for denial to allow a reviewing court to evaluate the evidence in the record that supports those reasons.  The 6th Circuit does not require that the decision and record be separate writings as long as the record permits the reviewing court to “focus with precision on the action that was taken and the reasons supporting such action.”  The 4th and 11th Circuits consider the burden on local governments to be even lighter than that imposed by the other interpretations.  The 4th Circuit has noted that “Congress knows how to demand findings and explanations” and has not done so in the TCA.  Similarly, the 11th Circuit has stated that the decision and the bases thereof can be found in the transcript of the hearing and the minutes of the meeting in which the hearing was held; neither a separate written document, nor specific findings of fact are required.**

The 8th Circuit was persuaded that the 4th and 11th Circuits articulated the better rule.  The Court did not find anywhere in the text of the TCA where the denial and the written record be separate documents.  Likewise, the language of the TCA does not require that the written denial state findings of fact or the reasons for the denial.  “Congress may require an agency or board to state its findings.  Congress did not do so here.”

Supported by substantial evidence.  The Court began by noting that “the TCA’s ‘substantial evidence’ requirement does not impose substantive standards on local governments. Rather, it requires a reviewing court to determine whether the local authority’s decision comports with applicable local law….It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”  The city’s ordinance requires that a tower “shall be in harmony with the character of the area and the most appropriate use of the land” in order to be approved.  The Court found that the city council had before it the testimony of a dozen residents that the proposed tower would be an “eyesore,” would be inappropriate for the neighborhood, and would not be harmonious with the neighborhood.  This, the Court concluded, was enough for a reasonable mind to accept as adequate to support a conclusion that the proposed tower would would not be in harmony with the neighborhood.


**Note:  The US Supreme Court has accepted the case of T-Mobile South, LLC. v. City of Roswell, 731 F.3d 1213 (11th Cir. 2013), cert. granted, 134 S.Ct. 2136 (2014) to resolve these differing interpretations.

 

cell towers, Federal courts ,