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

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.”

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