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Inside the belly of the “beastly bureaucracy” lies the zoning board of adjustment

February 6th, 2014

“Fuse the thrill of watching a council meeting on TV with waiting in line at the DMV, and you have a basic idea of what it’s like to attend a zoning board of adjustment meeting.”

How could you not like an article that begins like that?  The full article, about one man’s ZBA adventure in Kansas City, can be found here.

current news, Zoning board of adjustment

Wisconsin town zoning board has no jurisdiction in shoreland zoning area regulated by county

October 8th, 2013

by Kaitlin Heinen

Stephen Hegwood v. Town of Eagle Zoning Board of Appeals
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, September 25, 2013)

Stephen Hegwood owns shoreline property in the town of Eagle upon which he built an outdoor fireplace and pergola…located, respectively, fourteen and eight feet from the lot line.  The property was in an area under the jurisdiction of the Waukesha County shoreland zoning ordinance. Hegwood applied for variances from the county’s twenty-foot setback requirement after these structures were built. Waukesha County conditionally approved both. Then Hegwood applied for variances from the town of Eagle’s twenty-foot setback requirement, but the Town Zoning Board Appeals denied his application. Hegwood filed for certiorari in circuit court. The court reversed the Board’s decision, so the Board appealed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

The Board argued the circuit court erred when it reviewed Hegwood’s appeal as a certiorari action. However, both Hegwood and the Board agreed that Wis. Stat. § 62.23(7)(e)10 governed an appeal of a board of appeals’ decision, which states that “[a]ny person … aggrieved by any decision of the board of appeals … may … commence an action seeking the remedy available by certiorari.” On certiorari review, the court must presume the correctness of the board of appeals’ decision and review the board’s decision to determine whether it “(1) kept within its jurisdiction; (2) proceeded on a correct theory of law; (3) acted in an arbitrary, oppressive or unreasonable manner that represented its will and not its judgment; and (4) ‘might reasonably make the order or determination in question based on the evidence.’” Hegwood was an “aggrieved person” and was “specifically authorized…to seek relief by means of a certiorari action,” according to Wis. Stat. § 62.23(7)(e)10. The statute also allowed the court to determine whether the Board proceeded under a correct theory of law. Thus Hegwood’s action was appropriately brought as a certiorari action.

In addition, the Board argued the court erred in concluding that the Board proceeded on an incorrect theory of law when it applied the town’s zoning code to the fireplace and pergola. Hegwood argued that “Wis. Stat. § 59.692 vests counties with the exclusive authority to zone shorelands.” However, the Board countered that “there is no specific statutory language prohibiting towns from adopting and enforcing zoning ordinances affecting shorelands and that it is permitted to do so pursuant to its village powers.”

The court has previously held that the “legislature has given shoreland zoning authority to counties.” The court concluded that towns do not have zoning authority over the same shorelands, except for limited circumstances, and proceeded to examine the possibilities for town jurisdiction over shorelands asserted by the town.

Wis. Stat. § 281.31 (the “Navigable waters protection law”) subsection (1) “authorize[s] municipal shoreland zoning regulations.” Subsection 2(c) of that statute defines a “municipality” as “a county, village, or city”—towns are not included. Furthermore, Wis. Stat. § 281.31(2)(e) provides that “‘Regulation’ means ordinances enacted… pursuant to any of the zoning…powers delegated by law to cities, villages and counties.” The court reasoned that “[h]ad the legislature intended to generally permit towns to regulate shorelands, we would expect to see a reference to such authority in § 281.31; but no such reference is made.”

The court also considered Wis. Stat. § 59.692 (“Zoning of shorelands on navigable waters”). Subsection 59.692(1m) states that “each county shall zone by ordinance all shorelands in its unincorporated area.” Subsection (2)(a) states that “ordinances…related to shorelands and enacted under § 59.692 ‘shall not require approval or be subject to disapproval by any town or town board.’” The legislature “specifically prohibited towns from having authority to approve or disapprove of county shoreland ordinances operating within the town.” Additionally, subsection (2)(b) established that town regulations in regards to shorelands would have effect only “if they were in existence before enactment of the county ordinance and were more restrictive than the county provisions affecting the same shorelands.” In this case, the town ordinance was adopted after the county ordinance. Even in regards to the DNR’s shoreland zoning standards (Wis. Stat. § 59.692(4)(a)), “the legislature did not include a reference to towns.”

The Board also claimed that it acted appropriately because the town had concurrent zoning authority with the county over shorelands and that it had the authority to reject Hegwood’s application for a variance, since the town passed the zoning ordinance pursuant to village powers. The statute the Board points to (Wis. Stat. § 60.22(3)), however, clearly indicates that “permitting general town regulation of shorelands under village powers does conflict with the statutory scheme of Wis. Stat. §§ 281.31 and 59.692…[and] deliberately excludes towns from having shoreland zoning authority.” The court concluded that from “[t]he plain language of…Wis. Stat. §§ 281.31 and 59.692, the legislature intended that towns would not have authority to regulate shorelands.” Thus, the Board’s claim of authority failed.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals concluded that the Board had no authority to consider Hegwood’s application for variances. “Had the Board proceeded on a correct theory of law, it would have recognized that Hegwood’s property was subject only to the county’s shoreland zoning ordinance and dismissed his application for the variances as unnecessary.”  The circuit court’s reversal of the Board’s decision was affirmed.

Jurisdiction, Wisconsin courts, Zoning board of adjustment , ,

Issue preclusion can be applied to bar zoning board proceedings, but applicants for 1998 and 2011 special exceptions were different

September 9th, 2013

by Gary Taylor

Prybil Family Investments, Ltd., v. Board of Adjustment of Iowa City
(Iowa Court of Appeals, September 5, 2013)

In July 2011 Streb Construction Company filed an application for a special exception to operate a wet batch concrete plant on land zoned “General Industrial”  in the Scott-Six Industrial Park in Iowa City.  After a public hearing the Iowa City Board of Adjustment (Board) approved the special exception in September 2011.

Prybil Family Investments owns agricultural property adjacent to the land in question.  The land has been used for farming, and will continue to be for the forseeable future. Prybil filed a writ of certiorari to contest the Board’s decision.  Prybil’s main argument was that the same property owner filed an application for a special use permit to operate a cement plant on the same property in 1998, and was denied.  Therefore the doctrine of issue preclusion prevented the Board from considering the 2011 application (issue preclusion prevents the same issue from being reconsidered again in a later proceeding).  Alternatively, Prybil argued that the Board’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence. The district court disagreed on both claims and allowed the permit to stand.  Prybil appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals began by noting that Iowa case law has never addressed whether the concept of issue preclusion applies to zoning board determinations.  It did acknowledge that in Johnston v. Christenson, the Iowa Supreme Court stated that “an administrative adjudication by an entity such as the board of adjustment can have a preclusive effect in a judicial proceeding..”  It also referenced Am. Jur. 2d, Zoning and Planning, which states that “res judicata (a concept that encompasses issue preclusion) applies to administrative zoning decisions in order to promote finality of decisions unless it is shown that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the earlier ruling.” The Court, therefore, determined that issue preclusion can be applied to bar a second application for a special exception if the following elements, cited in Johnston v. Christenson, are met: (1) the issue must be identical; (2) the issue must have been raised and litigated in the prior action; (3) the issue must have been material and relevant to the disposition of the prior action; and (4) the determination made in the prior action must have been essential and necessary to the resulting judgment.” “However,” the Court noted, “if there has been a substantial change of circumstances” the concept will not apply.

Before beginning its analysis of the four factors it cited, it determined that, in any event, Prybil’s issue preclusion claim failed because the applicant for the 2011 special exception was not the same as the applicant for the 1998 special exception. Even though “Streb Construction Company” applied for the 2011 permit, and “A.F. Streb” applied for the 1998 permit the Court concluded that “Prybil presented no evidence showing that the parties were identical or [in close legal relation].”  The Court went on, however, to note that Prybi’s claim would also fail on the Christenson factors.  The mobile wet batch plant desired in 2011 incorporates improved environmental protections.  The 2011 and 1998 applications were for different lots in the Industrial Park.

After a lengthy discussion about what issues related to the substantial evidence claim were properly preserved for appeal by Prybil, the Court addressed the substantial evidence claim itself.  Prybil contended that the dust pollution from the plant will interfere with Prybil’s use an enjoyment of its property by damaging crops, but the Court did not disagree with the Board’s conclusion that conditions attached to the special exception – requiring Streb to pave the surrounding roads and plant trees to act as a screen from adjacent properties – were sufficient to satisfy the concern.  Prybil also contended that its property values would be diminished by the plant, but the Court again found sufficient evidence to support the Board’s conclusion that there were no Heavy Industrial zones in Iowa City where the plant could locate by right and any opinions on effect on future property values were merely speculative.  Although Prybil offered contrary testimony from two realtors, the Court said that the information presented at the hearing was sufficient to support the Board’s decision.

Conditional Uses/Special Uses, Iowa Court of Appeals, Procedural Issues, Zoning board of adjustment , , , ,

BZA cannot condition permit on removal of nonconforming billboards when all criteria for granting permit are met

May 16th, 2013

by Gary Taylor

Curry Investment Co., et al. v. Kansas City Board of Zoning Adjustment
(Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, May 7, 2013)

On May 20, 2011, MLB Holdings filed an application with the Kansas City Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) requesting a special use permit to operate a pawn shop in Kansas City, Missouri. The landowner, Curry Investment Company, agreed to lease its building and parking lot to MLB.  The property where the building and parking lot are located contains two nonconforming outdoor advertising signs, which Curry Investment leases to CBS Outdoor. The BZA held a hearing on July 12, 2011, concerning MLB’s application. The BZA staff submitted a report at the hearing that cited the requisite special use permit criteria, and concluded that “all of these criteria are met with the proposed application.” The report also stated:

In recent years staff has had a general policy that as property is redeveloped,3 any existing billboards that are on the site are removed within five years of the approval of the development. The City Plan Commission has affirmed that position several times, specifically in the last several months . . . . Staff believes as part of the approval process for a pawn shop that this development be held to the same standard as other developments within other areas of the City.

Curry Investment opposed any condition that required removal of the signs. Ultimately, the BZA approved the special use permit subject to  conditions, including removal of the outdoor advertising signs. Curry Investment and MLB requested a rehearing. The BZA held a hearing on the request for rehearing, and the BZA thereafter denied a rehearing.

Curry appealed the BZA decision to circuit court, which found that the BZA’s decision to require removal of the two outdoor advertising signs for special use permit approval for the pawnshop was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, was unrelated to any impact generated by the pawnshop use at the property, and exceeded the BZA’s authority. The BZA then filed a notice of appeal to the Missouri court of appeals.

The BZA contended that its authority to require removal of nonconforming signs as a condition for a special use permit comes from its mandate to determine if a proposed special use complies with the standards of the Code, whether it is in the interest of the public convenience and will not have a significant adverse impact on the general welfare of the neighborhood or community, and whether it is compatible with the character of the surrounding area in terms of building scale and project design. The Court of Appeals disagreed.  The record reflected that the BZA staff examined all of the special use criteria set forth in the zoning code and concluded that “all of these criteria are met with the proposed application.” Therefore, the staff found the proposed pawn shop, in its proposed location: 1) to be in compliance with the standards of the Code, 2) to be in the interest of public convenience and to not have a significant adverse impact on the general welfare of the neighborhood or community, 3) to be compatible with the character of the surrounding area in terms of site planning and building scale and project design, 4) to be compatible with the character of the surrounding area in terms of operating characteristics, such as hours of operation, outdoor lighting, noise, and traffic generation, and 5) to not have a significant adverse impact on pedestrian safety or comfort. “While the BZA now contends otherwise on appeal, nothing in the record suggests that removal of the nonconforming outdoor advertising signs was related to any of the special use criteria set forth in the Code. To the contrary, the BZA staff stated that all of the special use criteria were met, but that sign removal was recommended based on a ‘general’ staff policy that as property is redeveloped, the removal of existing billboards is required….Once it was determined that the criteria for the special use permit were met, it was unreasonable to require removal of the nonconforming signs as a special use permit condition. While the BZA may want to foster a general policy that, as property is redeveloped, any existing billboards on a site are removed, where the BZA has proven no relation to sign removal with the special use criteria set forth in the zoning code, this policy is in contradiction to [the protection of] nonconforming signs.”

Missouri Courts, Non-Conforming Uses, Signs and billboards, Zoning board of adjustment , , ,

Decision to approve expansion of nonconforming use supported by evidence; nearby property owner lacked standing to challenge

January 7th, 2013

by Kaitlin Heinen

Daniel E. Stuckman, Sr. & Jr. v. Kosciusko County Board of Zoning Appeals
(Indiana Court of Appeals, September 25, 2012)

Ned and Bertha Stuckman purchased Lots A through K of the Lake Papakeechie Subdivision Number 2 in the 1950’s, and opened an automobile salvage yard on Lots E through K. In 1975, a Kosciusko County Zoning Ordinance took effect, and Ned and Bertha’s land was zoned residential; however, the automobile salvage yard constituted a lawful, nonconforming use so Ned and Bertha continued its operation. In the early 1980’s, Ned and Bertha cleared brush from Lots A through D and began stacking vehicles in that area. The Board investigated complaints by area residents, and the Indiana Court of Appeals eventually concluded that Ned, Bertha, and Gary (their son) had unlawfully expanded the automobile salvage yard to Lots A through D and ordered them to cease all salvage yard operations until they complied with certain restrictions.

In February 1988, Ned, Bertha, Gary, the Papakeechie Protective Association, and the Board of Zoning Appeals entered into a written Agreement, which provided that Papakeechie would join with Ned, Bertha, and Gary to file an application for an exception for modification of a preexisting, nonconforming use on Lots A through G. The Agreement placed restrictions, limitations, and covenants on the use of the property. For example, Ned, Bertha, and Gary agreed to construct a buffer mound near the edge of Koher Road. Ned, Bertha, and Gary also agreed to plant pine trees on the buffer mound to provide additional screening. All salvage yard activities were to be conducted to the east or north of the buffer mound, and vehicles were to be stacked so as not to be visible from Koher Road. In addition, Ned, Bertha, and Gary agreed to not install a sign indicating the existence of a salvage yard, except as necessary to meet state requirements. Following this Agreement, Gary filed the request for an exception for modification of a preexisting, nonconforming use, which was approved by the BZA. After Ned and Bertha died, Gary inherited Lots A through G, and his brother, Daniel Sr., inherited Lots H through K. Gary continued to operate the salvage yard on his lots, and Daniel Sr. operated Stuckman Sanitation on his lots, and with his son Daniel Jr., he also owned and operated Northern Indiana Recycling, LLC and Stuckman & Son Trucking on these lots as well. In 2008, Daniel Sr. filed a request for an exception for modification of a preexisting, nonconforming use, seeking approval for the construction of three new buildings, the installation of a scale, and the relocation of driving areas on his lots. The BZA approved these modifications.

In January 2010, Gary filed a request for an exception to expand the salvage yard as a nonconforming use. The BZA held a hearing in February 2010, where Gary submitted plans of his proposed changes, which included the removal of several mobile homes along the highway, the relocation of the buffer mound, the installation of a new location sign, and the construction of three new buildings to move the operations indoors to control the noise and dust. Following the hearing, the BZA unanimously approved the modification of the nonconforming use. In March 2010, the Daniel Stuckmans filed a petition for Writ of Certiorari, seeking judicial review of the BZA’s decision. They alleged that their businesses would be damaged by the approval of Gary’s plan. Gary died during the proceedings, so his estate was substituted as a party in March 2011. The trial court held a hearing in July 2011, where the Stuckmans argued that the BZA did not apply the appropriate section of the zoning ordinance. Zoning Ordinance Section 5.5 gives the BZA power to authorize changes of lawful nonconforming uses. However, the BZA  reviewed a checklist from Section 5.4 of the zoning ordinance, which applies to exceptions. In September 2011, the trial court concluded that Daniel Jr. lacked standing to contest the BZA’s decision because he was not an adjacent property owner and that the BZA’s decision required additional findings of fact, so it remanded the case to the BZA . In December 2011, the BZA found that the modification of the preexisting, nonconforming use complied with the Agreement and Section 5.5 of the Zoning Ordinance. The BZA also found no evidence that the proposed changes would adversely affect the neighborhood properties. Rather, the BZA noted that Gary’s changes would constitute a significant improvement to the neighborhood and be of benefit to adjoining neighbors, so his application for modification was approved. The trial court confirmed the BZA’s findings and conclusions, so Daniel Sr. and Jr. appealed.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling that Daniel Jr. did not have standing to contest the BZA’s decision. With regard to the challenge by Daniel Jr., the court stated that he does not own property adjacent to Gary’s, and he presented no evidence at the hearing to indicate an adverse effect on his property.

The court also affirmed that the BZA did not err in granting Gary’s request for an exception to modify and change the preexisting, nonconforming use of his property. The court determined that the error committed by the BZA in applying the wrong section of the zoning ordinance was remedied when the case was remanded by the trial court to the BZA for further findings of fact to support their decision. On remand, the BZA explained that although it had inadvertently used a checklist for an exception, Gary’s petition was clearly to modify a preexisting, nonconforming use and at no time were board members confused. The BZA further found that pursuant to Section 5.5 of the Ordinance, there was no evidence presented, which indicated that the proposed modifications would adversely affect the neighborhood properties. The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that these findings were supported by substantial evidence.

Indiana courts, Non-Conforming Uses, Zoning board of adjustment , , ,

E-mail from planning department staff member after building permit issued was not an “appealable decision” regarding the permit

December 13th, 2012

by Gary Taylor

BT Residential, LLC v. Board of Zoning Adjustment of the City of Kansas City
(Missouri Court of Appeals, December 4, 2012)

On July 16, 2010, the City of Kansas City issued a permit for the construction of a cellular tower to the American Tower Corporation (ATC). In early August 2010, BT Residential (BT), the owner of a neighboring property, became aware of the construction of the cellular tower after a 150-foot, steel pole was erected and contacted the City to review the plans for the tower. On August 10 representatives for BT met with members of the City Planning Department to discuss perceived violations of the Development Code. On August 17 the attorney for BT met with the Director of the Department and explained why BT believed that the building permit had been improperly issued because the cellular tower and equipment building on the property did not meet the requirements of the Development Code. On August 18 BT’s attorney sent a follow-up email reiterating his points and asking the Department to issue a stop-work order and to revoke the permit. On August 29 the attorney sent an email to another member of the Department indicating that he had not yet received a written response from the Department. On August 30 The Department member sent the attorney an email stating: “My apologies if there was any miscommunication, I intended the written response to follow once information to allow a complete response was available. We have been unable to locate the documentation related to the demonstration of need provisions, but have been in contact with the applicant and now expect receipt by midweek. We will continue to follow-up with the applicant as needed, and will provide you an update once we have confirmed compliance to those provisions.” The e-mail went on to cite the relevant provisions of the Development Code as they related to the project.  On September 3 BT filed an appeal with the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) claiming to challenge “the determination of the City’s Building Official… that the permit issued to American Tower Corporation for construction of a new cell tower complies with the City’s Zoning and Development Code, Chapter 88.” ATC filed a response opposing BT’s appeal and moving for dismissal of that appeal based upon the fact that BT had not filed its appeal within fifteen days of the issuance of the building permit or within fifteen days of discovering that such a permit had been issued as required under the Development Code.  The BZA dismissed BT’s appeal, concluding that the August 30 email from the staff member of the Planning Department was not an appealable decision under the Development Code.  When BT appealed the BZA decision the trial court affirmed.

In response to BT’s claims that the August 30 email constituted an appealable administrative determination, the Court of Appeals reviewed the City’s Development Code and concluded that in order for the e-mail to constitute an appealable decision two elements must be present: (1) that the Director of the Planning Department had the authority to revoke the building permit and (b) that he delegated that authority to the staff member who sent the e-mail.  The Court determined that neither were the case.  No provision of the City Development Code grants the Director the authority to revoke a previously granted building permit based on considerations which existed at the time of the permit’s original issuance. Furthermore, even if the authority did exist somewhere in the Development Code there was no evidence in the record that such authority was delegated to to the staff member or for that matter, whether the staff member even purported to exercise such authority. While BT argued that it could be inferred from the fact that the staff member handled communication with BT following BT’s request that the permit be revoked that the Director had authorized the staff member to decide whether to revoke the permit, the BZA was not required to make such an inference. In addition, the language contained in Franzen’s e-mail could just as reasonably be interpreted as an explanation of the Director’s decision to issue the permit, as opposed to a decision whether to revoke that permit. Thus, the BZA could reasonably have concluded that Franzen’s e-mail was not an appealable decision.

Missouri Courts, Procedural Issues, Zoning board of adjustment , ,

Investigations by zoning board member outside the hearing process did not give rise to due process violation

December 6th, 2012

by Kaitlin Heinen and Gary Taylor

Timothy Hutchinson v. Wayne Township Board of Zoning Appeals
(Ohio Court of Appeals, 12th Appellate District, September 10, 2012)

Tim Hutchinson filed an application for a conditional use permit from Wayne Township Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to operate a Halloween-themed nature walk on part of Jana Hutchinson’s farm, which was zoned A-1, agricultural district. The BZA held a hearing for Tim Hutchinson’s application in July of 2008. At this hearing, it was found that the nature walk would be open 6-8 weekends per year during the Halloween season from 5pm-midnight. Traffic would come from Wayne-Madison Road using two unpaved roads, while parking would be provided in nearby open fields. The BZA  found that Wayne-Madison Road is a narrow, two-lane, dead-end road with no lighting and with narrow berms that steeply slope into drainage ditches, although Hutchinson presented expert testimony from a traffic engineer that Wayne-Madison Road would be able to handle the additional traffic. The BZA also heard complaints from residents in the area, which addressed safety issues arising from the use of Wayne-Madison Road by drivers who are inexperienced with gravel roads as well as the peace and the security of the residents in area that may be affected by the increased traffic. The BZA adjourned the hearing in progress, expressing concern that Tim Hutchinson was not a proper applicant since he was only a tenant on the property and not the landowner. Jana Hutchinson was then joined on the application for a conditional use permit, and when the hearing resumed she provided additional information to BZA about security, traffic, road maintenance, and insurance for the nature walk.

In December of 2008, the hearing was reconvened. Tim Hutchinson testified that he estimated 500 cars would be expected at the nature walk each evening. However, BZA member Carleen Yeager stated that she had researched attendance at other Halloween-themed events and, to the contrary, 500 cars would be a “light night” and that nearly 1500 cars would be expected on a “good night.” Tim Hutchinson countered that the nature walk was new and that he was “starting off small.” At the end of the hearing, BZA member Jerry Gerber moved to deny the Hutchinsons’ application.  The vote was unanimous against the application. The Hutchinsons appealed the BZA’s oral denial of the application to the Butler County Court of Common Pleas and the case was remanded to the BZA for the issuance of a written decision.

In March of 2010, the BZA issued its written decision, which found that the Hutchinsons’ nature walk would be inconsistent and incompatible with the current uses of the surrounding area and would adversely affect the general welfare of neighboring residents in the area. The Hutchinsons’ appealed. In January of 2012, the common pleas court issued its decision that affirmed the BZA’s denial of the Hutchinsons’ application for a conditional use permit.

The issue before the Ohio Court of Appeals in this decision then is that “the common pleas court erred to the prejudice of the [appellants] by affirming the BZA’s decision.” The Hutchinsons claimed that the trial court erred in its affirmation of the BZA’s decision, even though the appellants had satisfied all requirements of the zoning resolution, and that the trial court erred in finding that their due process rights were not violated by BZA member Yeager’s outside investigation.

In regards to the Hutchinsons’ first claim, the township’s zoning code requires that conditional uses must meet several criteria, such as not adversely affecting the health, safety, comfort and general welfare of the surrounding area by threats of traffic hazards, noise disturbances, night lighting, fire hazards, etc. (Section 25.053). However, citing prior case law the court stated that satisfaction of these requirements does not make approval automatic, and that the township zoning code also requires the BZA to “give due regard to the nature and condition of all adjacent uses and structures” surrounding the proposed conditional use. After reviewing the record, the court found that the Hutchinsons did not satisfy all the requirements in the code. Despite the Hutchinsons’ presentation of an expert witness, the BZA had reason to find that the increased traffic would be incompatible with the surrounding area. Thus the trial court did not err in their decision to affirm the BZA’s denial on this count.

As for the due process violation alleged, “[t]he essence of due process dictates, at the very least, that an individual have an opportunity to be heard and to defend, enforce and protect his rights before an administrative body in an orderly proceeding.” Here, Yeager admitted to making “some calls” inquiring into the reasonable number of cars to be expected for a Halloween-themed event. The Hutchinsons argued that her statement negatively affected their ability to have a fair hearing, since they were not able to cross-examine Yeager’s informants as well as Yeager herself, at the risk of losing her vote. Again citing previous caselaw, the court stated that “[t]he combination of investigative, executive and adjudicative functions does not necessarily create a risk of bias or unfairness in an administrative adjudication.” The court noted that the BZA’s decision stated, in part, that it was denying appellants’ application because the Nature Walk “would significantly increase traffic flow, according to applicant’s testimony, by hundreds of cars each evening.” From this statement, according to the court, “it is clear that the BZA did not rely on Yeager’s view that as many as 1,500 cars would be traveling Wayne-Madison Road, but only that 500 cars would be on the road, as indicated by Tim Hutchinson.”

Further, the court noted that the BZA unanimously denied appellants’ application. Thus, even if Yeager’s statements demonstrated her own bias and prejudice toward the Nature Walk, the exclusion of her vote would not have altered the result.   No due process rights were violated.

The judgment of the trial court was affirmed, maintaining the denial of the Hutchinsons’ application for a conditional use permit to operate a Halloween-themed nature walk.

Conditional Uses/Special Uses, Conflict of interests and/or bias, Due Process, Ohio courts, Zoning board of adjustment , , , ,

Greyhounds are dogs “normally associated with domestic enjoyment” under Dubuque County zoning code

October 4th, 2012

by Gary Taylor

Zenner v. Dubuque County Board of Adjustment
(Iowa Court of Appeals, October 3, 2012)

In July 2003 when the Zenners planned to purchase property in Dubuque County, they requested a variance from the 500-foot setback requirement for kennels. They wanted to build the kennels with a 200-foot setback from the surrounding residences.  After consulting with the county attorney, the Dubuque County Zoning Administrator advised the Zenners that the Kennel would not be allowed in the A-1, Agriculture district.  The district allows kennels, except that “no kennel shall be allowed to harbor, breed, train, buy, sell, exchange or offer for sale any animal to be used solely for attack purposes nor any animal not normally associated with domestic enjoyment.”  The ordinance also lists examples of the types of animals prohibited: “Such ban shall include but shall not be limited to jungle cats, venomous snakes or other reptiles larger than four feet in length, pit bulls, coyotes, wolves, foxes, skunks, deer or other similar wild animals.”  Undaunted, the Zenners went ahead with their plans, purchased the property, and built a kennel that violated the setback requirements for kennels.  Learning of this, the zoning administrator notified the Zenners that they were in violation of the ordinance.  The Zenners appealed the violation to the Dubuque County Zoning Board of Adjustment, which upheld the zoning administrator’s violation.  The district court upheld the decision. An appeal to the Iowa Court of Appeals resulted.

Starting its analysis by noting that a court “construes zoning restrictions strictly in order to favor the free use of property,” the Court of Appeals concluded that the county attorney misinterpreted the county’s zoning ordinance.  The county attorney based his conclusion that the kennel was raising greyhounds  “not normally associated with domestic enjoyment” on the fact that the dogs were for commercial sale. However, the Court pointed out that the zoning ordinance identifies another type of kennel – “kennel, hobby” – that does not include commercial activity or breeding or sale for a consideration.  The implication is that use of the word “kennel” by itself could not be meant to exclude commercial kennels.  “Following the county attorney’s analysis could lead to a determination that any kennel raising dogs for show instead of as pets would not be permitted because it would be ‘a non-exempt commercial use.’”

To further support this conclusion the Court pointed to the existence of Iowa Code 99D.27 – which requires dog tracks to maintain a racing dog adoption program – as “evidence public policy and law in Iowa considers greyhounds to be normally associated with domestic enjoyment.”  The Court also noted that the only dog listed in the banned animals is “pit bull.”  According to the Court greyhounds “possess [none] of the characteristics associated with the litany of prohibited animals.”

The Court of Appeals found in favor of the Zenners, reversing the district court.

Iowa Court of Appeals, Zoning board of adjustment, Zoning ordinance interpretation , , ,

Minn. shoreland zoning variance requirement of unnecessary hardship still applies to requests for area variances

May 24th, 2012

by Victoria Heldt

Ed Mutsch, et al. v. The County of Hubbard, et al., Daniel J. Rehkamp, et al.
(Minnesota Court of Appeals, April 30, 2012)

The Rehkamps own property on Fifth Crow Wing Lake in Hubbard County (County) that is operated as a resort.  The property includes 11 boat slips.  In November 2009 the Rehkamps applied for a conditional use permit (CUP) to convert the resort into a residential planned unit development (PUD).  The request was heard by the County Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA), and the County Board of Commissioners.  The Board of Commissioners initially approved the CUP with three permanent boat slips and one access dock, per the County’s Shoreland Ordinance.  It recommended that the Rehkamps apply to the ZBA for a variance in order to retain all 11 boat slips.  The Rehkamps did so and were granted a variance.  The entire plan was approved by all necessary boards in April 2010.  Days after approval, Ed Mutsch (a resident on Fifth Crow Wing Lake) filed a complaint challenging the issuance of the variance.  The district court reversed the granting of the variance, concluding that the ZBA’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, and not according to law since it did not consider all the factors required by law.  This consolidated appeal followed.

On appeal, the Rehkamps first argued that Mutsch lacked standing to appeal the ZBA’s actions because he did not participate in the hearings and meetings regarding the variance.  The Court dismissed this argument, noting that Minnesota statute grants the right to appeal a ZBA decision to any aggrieved person without any requirements to participate in initial proceedings.  Since Mutsch is a property owner on Fifth Crow Wing Lake and evidence shows his property value will likely decline as a result of the additional boat slips, he qualifies as an “aggrieved person.”

The second issue questioned what type of zoning variance the ZBA granted since it was never specified during the trial.  Mutsch purported that it was a use variance, which requires a showing of “particular hardship” while the Rehkamps argued it was an area variance, which only requires a showing of “practical difficulties” according to the Minnesota Supreme Court’s opinion in In re Stadsvold (2010). The Rehkamps argued that Mutsch waived the argument that it was a use variance when the issue was not property raised in district court.  The Court agreed, and declined to address the question since it was not properly raised in initial proceedings.  Consequently the Court of Appeals analyzed the variance as an area variance.

Next, the Rehkamps and the County challenged the district court’s determination that the ZBA’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.  The district court concluded the decision was arbitrary because the ZBA failed to consider all of the required factors.  In regard to variances, there are two relevant guidelines for the Court to consider.  Section 1104 of the local Shoreland Ordinance provides a list of factors to consider and requires applicants to show an “unnecessary hardship” to receive a variance.  In addition, a list of factors provided in the Stadsvold opinion is applicable when determining whether an area variance is warranted.  The County first argued that, in light of the Stadsvold decision, section 1104 of the Shoreland Ordinance (unnecessary hardship) no longer applies to area variances in the shoreland zoning area, but rather the “practical difficulties” test solely should be applied.  The Court rejected this argument, ruling that the Stadsvold opinion did not render section 1104 of the Shoreland Ordinance inapplicable to area variances requested on land to which shoreland zoning applies.

The Rehkamps next argued that the BOA “melded” the factors in the Stadsvold opinion with the factors in section 1104.  The ZBA was required to “articulate the reasons for its ultimate decision, with specific reference to relevant provisions of its zoning ordinance.”  The ZBA used a worksheet addressing each of the six Stadsvold factors (practical difficulties) when making its decision.  The Court concluded that, since those six factors are not the same as the factors listed in section 1104, it did not “sufficiently articulate its reasons for ruling that the section 1104 factors (unnecessary hardship) were satisfied.”  It found the ZBA’s decision to be premature, not necessarily arbitrary and capricious.  It therefore remanded that portion of the decision to the ZBA for further consideration of the section 1104 standards.

The Rehkamps’ last argument was that the district court erred when it determined that not all of the ZBA’s findings in regards to the Stadsvold factors (practical difficulties) were supported by the record.  The Court reviewed the evidence that supported each of the ZBA’s findings and found each to be supported by the record.  It therefore reversed that part of the district court decision which found that the ZBA’s decision regarding the Stadsvold factors were not met.

Minnesota courts, Variances, Zoning board of adjustment , , , , ,

Owner of purchase option has standing to apply for variance in Nebraska

May 14th, 2012

by Gary Taylor

Field Club Home Owners League v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the City of Omaha
(Nebraska Supreme Court, May 11, 2012)

Volunteers of America (VOA) proposed to build an apartment-style building for veterans in Omaha.  To construct the building as planned, VOA applied to the Omaha Zoning Board of Appeals (Board) for variances from area and use restrictions. The appellants, Field Club Home Owners League and Thornburg Place Neighborhood Association (Field Club) opposed the application. The Board granted the variances, concluding that the 1987 Code created an unnecessary hardship because it did not contemplate a project like VOA’s. The district court affirmed the Board’s decision, and Field Club appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Field Club argued that VOA lacked standing to request variances from the Board because VOA had not obtained a certificate of authority pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. 21-20,169(1), which provides that “[a] foreign corporation transacting business in this state without a certificate of authority may not maintain a proceeding in any court in this state until it obtains a certificate of authority.”  The Nebraska Supreme Court found the provision inapplicable because, although VOA is a foreign corporation, VOA was not “maintaining” a court proceeding. It was Field Club that petitioned the district court and named VOA as a defendant.

Field Club also contended that because the owner of the property was Kiewit Construction Company, and not VOA, that VOA lacked standing because it had no legally cognizable interest in the property. The Supreme Court noted that the majority of courts that have considered the issue hold that a prospective purchaser under a purchase agreement subject to the grant of a variance or rezoning has standing to seek the change. Similarly, courts have held that the holder of an option to purchase property has standing to apply for a variance when the holder is bound to purchase the property if the variance is obtained or when the property owner anticipated that the option holder would seek the variance to complete the sale.  The Supreme Court agreed with these other jurisdictions, and further noted that the principles hold true in administrative proceedings as well as judicial proceedings.

However, the Supreme Court noted that Field Club did not raise the issue of standing until the case reached the Supreme Court.  Partly as a result of this, the record did not contain evidence addressing VOA’s interest in the property.  Therefore, the Supreme Court remanded the case to district court to receive additional evidence and determine whether VOA had sufficient interest in the property to seek the variances.

Nebraska courts, standing, Variances, Zoning board of adjustment , , ,