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Posts Tagged ‘Ordinance interpretation’

Conditional rezoning agreement limits processing and retail sales to deer season

November 14th, 2013

by Kaitlin Heinen and Gary Taylor

Patricia D. and Michael P. Fowler v. Muscatine County Board of Supervisors
(Iowa Court of Appeals, October 23, 2013)

Patricia and Michael Fowler asked the Muscatine County Zoning Commission to rezone their property from A-1 agricultural to C-1 commercial, to permit the operation of a seasonal deer processing facility and retail counter. The Fowlers executed an agreement that restricted the property’s use to “[o]nly wild game processing….[r]etail products in the wild game category…and supporting wild game products….” This agreement included a description of “Steve’s Meat Shop” and its products. Once executed, the commission recommended that the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors approve the zoning request, which the board did, passing an ordinance that rezoned the Fowlers’ property accordingly.

The Fowlers petitioned to have their property rezoned again to “add service of ready-to-eat food,” such as hot sandwiches. The commission recommended that the board deny this request; the board did so. The Fowlers sought to annul and vacate the board’s denial of their application in district court. The board resisted, and additionally argued that retail services could only be offered seasonally. The district court allowed the retail services to be conducted year-round, but denied the Fowlers’ request to include “ready-to-eat foods” or a “deli shop.” Both the Fowlers and the board appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

The issues before the court in this case include: “(1) whether an ordinance that rezoned certain agricultural property to a commercial classification authorized the operation of a year-round retail establishment and (2) whether the retail establishment could sell ready-to-eat foods.”

The court initially observed that if an “ordinance is plain and its meaning is clear,” the court cannot search for meaning beyond those express terms. However, if the “ordinance is ambiguous, it is appropriate to apply the general rules of construction for statutes.” The board argued the “conditional rezoning agreement contains ‘no reference to year-round retail service,’” so the district court erred in the absence of such words to interpret. The Fowlers countered that the conditional rezoning agreement contains no time restrictions for the retail services, so the district court correctly concluded that they could operate year-round.

Both parties rely on the preamble of the ordinance—“the Property is…to be used as a seasonal deer processing and retail service.” The board argued “the term ‘seasonal’ ‘unambiguously and undeniably places limits on the privileges conferred by the spot zoning.’” The Fowlers countered the term “requires deer processing to occur on a seasonal basis but does not limit ‘retail service.’” The court reasoned that these competing arguments in regards to the term “seasonal” meant that there was ambiguity in the ordinance.

When confronted with an ambiguity, we may consider, among other factors: (1) the object sought to be attained (2) the circumstances under which the statute was enacted, (3) the legislative history, (4) the common law or former statutory provisions, (5) the consequences of a particular construction, (6) the administrative construction of the statute, and (7) the preamble or statement of policy.

The court examined the circumstances surrounding the ordinance’s passage. “At the first meeting with the zoning commission, Michael Fowler explained his reasoning for his rezoning request as follows: ‘[W]hat we’d like to do is to have a seasonal deer processing. We’d like to have a small retail counter that would just be open between October and January.’” Further, when asked whether the retail services would only be open during that period, he replied, “Yeah, deer season.” This resolves the ambiguity of the term “seasonal,” and thus the court concluded the Fowlers’ retail services were to operate seasonally. The court reversed the district court’s judgment in this part.

As for the second issue, the Fowlers argued the court erred in concluding they could not sell ready-to-eat foods at their retail counter. They contended that “retail service” encompasses the sale of ready-to-eat foods. However, the conditional rezoning agreement authorizes them to “prepare products for resale.” The court agreed with the district court that the conditional rezoning agreement did not authorize the sale of deli-style sandwiches that could not “be considered wild game specialty items.” In his statements to the zoning commission, “Michael Fowler stated that the retail store would be limited to wild game, ‘nothing domestic, like beef or pork.’” In addition, “Patricia Fowler explained that deer meat would be bought from a farmer and then sold to the customers.” These statements conclude that the retail service does not encompass ready-to-eat foods. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment in this part.

Contracts/Conditional Zoning, Iowa Court of Appeals, Rezoning, Zoning ordinance interpretation , ,

Village junk vehicle ordinance broader than state traffic regulations, but validity of ordinance could not be determined

April 11th, 2013

by Kaitlin Heinen

Village of North Hudson v. Randy J. Krongard
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, March 12, 2013)

In November of 2011, the Village of North Hudson issued 2 citations to Randy Krongard for having 2 junk vehicles in plain view on his property, which was contrary to North Hudson Village Ordinance §§ 90-41 and 90-44. The vehicles were considered junk vehicles because they had expired registrations. In December, Krongard pleaded not guilty in municipal court; however, he did not appear at the scheduled trial, so the court entered default judgment against him. In March of 2012, Krongard moved to vacate the municipal court’s judgment because “90-44 is void, unlawful, and invalid as preempted, contrary to, and inconsistent with” Wisconsin state law.  His motion was denied. Krongard appealed to the circuit court, which also denied his motion, and then to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The Village argued that Krongard’s appeal was an improper one because Krongard should be prohibited from appealing a default judgment. However, Krongard appealed the order denying his motion to vacate the default judgment. So Krongard’s appeal was properly before the circuit court and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

Before the court, Krongard argued that the circuit court wrongly denied his motion because the judgment against him was void, since the Village’s junk vehicle ordinance was invalid based on its conflict with state traffic regulations. An ordinance regarding traffic regulation “must be in strict conformity with state law,” otherwise it will be preempted. Krongard asserted the conflict stemmed from the ordinance’s defining unregistered vehicles as junk vehicles and regulating unregistered vehicles on private property. Wis. Stat. § 340.01(25j) does not include unregistered vehicles in its definition of a “junk vehicle.” Instead it defines a “junk vehicle” as a “vehicle which is incapable of operation or use upon a highway and which has no resale value except as a source of parts or scrap” and a “vehicle for which an insurance company has taken possession of or title to if the estimated cost of repairing the vehicle exceeds its fair market value.” Also, state traffic regulations allow for vehicles to be parked on private property with the owner’s consent and only permit municipalities to regulate unregistered vehicles on highways. So Krongard held that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals must conclude the ordinance is invalid, rendering his judgment void.

The Village counter-argued that the state traffic regulations are concerned “with the licensing, regulation of, outfitting and operation of vehicles” and its ordinance is “concerned with the upkeep of private property,” which are “two completely different issues.” The Village also contended that its junk vehicle ordinance is not inconsistent with or contrary to the state’s definition of a junk vehicle.  The Village argued that, under Wis. Stat. § 340.01(25j), a vehicle is junk if it is not capable of legal operation on the highway, and an unregistered vehicle is incapable of legal operation on the highway and therefore constitutes a junk vehicle.  Finally, the Village contended that parking motor vehicles is different than storing vehicles on private property.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals concluded that nothing in the state traffic regulations provides that a municipality can regulate unregistered vehicles on private property and that Wis. Stat. § 340.01(25j) defines a junk vehicle as one that is inoperable, not legally inoperable.  Therefore, the Village’s definition was broader than the traffic regulation. The ordinance requires owners of junk vehicles to notify and return the vehicle’s certificate of title to the Department of Transportation, but requires owners of unlicensed vehicles to keep their vehicles out of the public’s view. As such, the Village’s argument regarding the purpose of the ordinance and the ordinance’s language itself suggest that the ordinance is not a traffic regulation and the Village did not enact it pursuant to the power granted under the state traffic regulations.  Instead, it appears the ordinance may have been enacted using a different power, such as its zoning authority. However, because it could not be determined from the record whether the ordinance in question was a traffic regulation or part of a different regulatory scheme, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the order to the circuit court to determine the validity of the Village’s ordinance.

Ordinance interpretation, Preemption, Wisconsin courts , , ,

40-foot “rear yard” requirement is a setback requirement

September 13th, 2012

by Kaitlin Heinen and Gary Taylor

Quin R. Feuerstein v. Sawyer County Board of Appeals
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, August 14, 2012)

In 2008, the Feuersteins presented a certified survey map (CSM) to Sawyer County (WI) for approval. The CSM was denied by the Sawyer County zoning administrator, however, because a boat house on the lot was only 10 feet from the rear lot line, which the zoning administrator identified as such because it roughly paralleled the shoreline.  As a result, the administrator concluded that the 40 foot rear yard setback found in the zoning ordinance was required to the rear of the boat house (not the principal residence as urged by the Feuersteins). The Sawyer County Zoning Board of Appeals upheld the administrator’s decision.  The Feuersteins appealed.

The Feuersteins’ argument was that the zoning ordinance is ambiguous, and therefore must be construed in favor of private property owners. The Feuersteins argued that the ordinance is ambiguous because it does not define “rear lot line,” and that the Board could not reasonably conclude that the lot line behind the boat house was the rear lot line.  However, “rear yard” is defined as an “open[,] unoccupied space on the same lot with the building between the rear line of the building and the rear line of the lot and extending the full width of the lot,” according to SAWYER COUNTY, WI, ZONING ORDINANCE § 2.1(106). Additionally, SAWYER COUNTY, WI, ZONING ORDINANCE § 18.4(a) states that 40 feet of yard is required in areas zoned as RR-1. The Feuersteins’ argument that the ordinance’s use of the phrase “yard required” instead of “setback” created ambiguity was rejected by the court.

The Feuersteins also argued that § 2.1(106)’s reference to building in the singular adds to the ordinance’s ambiguity; asserting that since their cabin is the principal building on their lot, then it is sufficiently distant from the lot line for their proposed CSM to comply with the ordinance.  However, The Wisconsin Court of Appeals disagreed, The ordinance clearly states in § 2.1 that references made in the singular include the plural. Additionally, SAWYER COUNTY, WI, ZONING ORDINANCE § 4.26(1) states that a permanent, roofed structure not attached to the principal building shall conform to the setback requirements.

The Court of Appeals stated that the setback requirements unambiguously apply to the Feuerstein’s boat house: “The ordinance is evidently clear when read as a whole in its requirement of a 40 foot setback from even the accessory buildings on the lot in question.”  The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the Board’s decision in upholding the order for the Feuersteins to comply with the 40 foot setback of the rear lot line from their boat house.

Wisconsin courts, Zoning ordinance interpretation , ,

Iowa C.A. says one-bedroom B and B “smallest of small” home occupations

October 14th, 2009

by Allison Arends

Meduna v. City of Crescent
(Iowa Court of Appeals, December 17, 2008)

One-bedroom bed and breakfast fits within definition of “small home occupations” in Crescent, Iowa zoning ordinance.

In 2004 the Medunas purchased a home in the Loess Hills Scenic By-way in the city of Crescent, and established a single room bed and breakfast in 2005. The Medunas purchased the home with the intention of setting up the bed and breakfast.  Under the City’s R-1 Residential Single Family Dwelling District, “small home occupations” are a permitted use.  The ordinance does not define “small home occupations.”  The Medunas were under the impression that their one room bed and breakfast would fit within the definition of small home occupations under the R-1 zoning district. 

Thirty-four of the Meduna’s neighbors signed a petition against the bed and breakfast arguing that it would cause increased traffic, and reduce privacy and security of the neighborhood.  The city council found the bed and breakfast in the R-1 zone to be a municipal infraction.  The Medunas filed for declaratory judgement, asking the district court to enter a decree finding the ordinance does not prohibit them from operating their bed and breakfast or, to find the ordinance unconstitutional. 

The district court found that the small bed and breakfast did not meet the requirements of the “small home occupation” exception, based largely on the fact that the R-3 Residential District in the city’s zoning ordinance specifically allows ‘Rooming Houses’ and ‘Tourist Houses,’ which would allow the Medunas’ bed and breakfast.  The Medunas were ordered to cease and desist operation of their bed and breakfast. 

The Court of Appeals reversed.  Because the zoning ordinance fails to specify the meaning of “small home occupations,” the Court of Appeals sought to apply the “common and ordinary” meaning of the term.  The dictionary defines “small” as “limited in scope or degree”, “home” as “a dwelling place,” and “occupation” as “an activity or pursuit in which a person is engaged; especially a person’s usual or principal work or business.”  Under these definitions the Court of Appeals found that the Medunas’ use of one bedroom and its attached bathroom of their house for a bed and breakfast is the “smallest of small” home occupations, and should be permitted under the R-1 zoning ordinance.

Home occupations, Iowa Court of Appeals, Ordinance interpretation , , , ,