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.