Community group did not have standing to challenge rezoning denial

by Hannah Dankbar and Gary Taylor

Iowa Coalition Against The Shadow (ICATS) and Rockne Cole v City Council of Iowa City
Iowa Court of Appeals, January 27, 2106

Iowa City owned property zoned as “Neighborhood Public Zone” (P-1) that was no longer needed for city purposes.  The City Council requested developers to submit proposals, and accepted a proposal for a twenty-story building that would have both commercial and residential units. The proposed building would require the property to be rezoned as CB-10, which contains no height restrictions.  Cole and others filed an application to rezone the property to “Central Business Support Zone” (CB-5) to prevent a building that height from being constructed (CB-5 allows for mixed-use buildings that are less than 75 feet fall). None of the rezoning applicants owned property neighboring the parcel in question or sought to purchase the property to erect a building to comply with CB-5 zoning.  Their application urged the City Council to “protect our cherished commons, and allow future generations of children to enjoy the bright sunlight at Chauncey Swan Park without a 20 story tower looming over them.

The Planning and Zoning Commission held multiple meetings, and ultimately recommended denial of the rezoning application.  The City Council ultimately denied the request.  this left the property as P-1

Cole and ICATS filed a petition for a writ of certiorari claiming that the denial of the rezoning application was arbitrary and discriminatory because City Council had prejudged the issue and intended to grant CB-10 to accommodate the development. They argued that CB-10 zoning violated the comprehensive plan and Iowa Code section 414.3 (2013) and was illegal spot zoning. The district court determined that Cole and ICATS did not have standing because they did not suffer an injury and did not have a vested interest in the property. Cole and ICATS appealed the decision.

On appeal, Cole argued that because he applied for rezoning he had standing. ICATS claimed that they had standing to assert the rights of its members in challenging the rezoning denial.

To determine whether a person has sufficient interest to challenge a zoning decision Iowa is guided by a decision of the Florida Supreme Court: “(1) proximity of the person’s property to the property to be zoned or rezoned; (2) character of the neighborhood, including existence of common restrictive covenants and set-back requirements; (3) type of change proposed; and (4) whether the person is on entitled to receive notice under the zoning ordinance.” (Renard v. Dade County, 261 So. 2d 832, 837 (Fla. 1972)).

The court applied those factors to this case and determined that neither Cole nor ICATS had standing. There is nothing in the character of the neighborhood or the proposed zoning change that indicates Cole or ICATS had a particular interest in the change. They were interested in the change primarily so community members could enjoy the sun, but people with only a general interest shared by the public are not permitted to initiate action to promote judicial enforcement or interpretation of zoning regulations.

In addition to affirming that neither Cole nor ICATS had standing, the court also agrees that leaving that property zoned P-1 furthered the interest of ensuring residents can enjoy the sun. The specific injury that was the concern of Cole and ICATS (blocking the sun) did not occur by the denial of the rezoning application. Also, if the rezoning application was approved, there was nothing to prevent the developer from submitting an application to rezone the property to CB-10, so this zoning application did not necessarily prevent the injury Coke and ICATS sought to avoid.

The decision of the district court was upheld.

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