by Gary Taylor
Iowa Court of Appeals, November 2, 2022
In May 2021, Okoboji Community School District (OCSD) submitted applications to the Milford Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) seeking special use permits for the construction of a bus barn and a multipurpose building on its high school campus. The next month, the ZBA discussed OCSD’s applications during a special meeting, which the Brinkleys and their representatives attended. The Brinkleys raised multiple issues with the project, primarily focusing on OCSD’s failure to fully comply with a 2004 ZBA decision imposing a condition that OCSD must “plant, cultivate and maintain vegetative screening in an adequate and appropriate manner on the School’s property adjacent to the north, west and south of the Brinkley property” to receive a special use permit. It was essentially indisputable that OCSD had not installed or maintain the required vegetative screening along substantial portions of the border between the properties. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the hearing on the special use permit the ZBA approved the application. One of the conditions attached to the approval was that “The vegetative screens plan as presented by the school must be planted within 12 months after the ‘substantial completion’ of the school project.” The Brinkleys filed a petition for writ of certiorari, arguing the ZBA acted without substantial evidence and illegally by granting the special use permit despite OCSD’s failure to plant the vegetative screen required in the 2004 ZBA decision. The district court found the ZBA acted legally, and this appeal was taken.
The Court of Appeals found nothing illegal or arbitrary about the ZBA’s decision. Upon review the court concluded that the ZBA was not unreasonable in concluding that OCSD met the criteria for special use permits found in the Milford zoning ordinance, nor was it unreasonable to allow the 12-month window from project completion to install new vegetative screening. On the issue of the city’s failure to enforce the screening condition from 2004, “[a]lthough the city had an obligation to enforce its zoning requirements, such [failure to carry out its] duty does not equate to an illegality.” Mandamus action could have provided the Brinkleys a vehicle to compel compliance with the 2004 decision, but that avenue was lost when the ZBA granted the current permit.