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

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.

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