Posting unapproved minutes with ZBA decision does not start the clock for purposes of filing appeal

by Eric Christianson

Burroughs v. Davenport ZBA
(Iowa Supreme Court, May 25, 2018)

To operate a daycare in the City of Davenport one must obtain a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).  In March 2014, the ZBA granted Tiny Tots Learning Center a permit. Tiny Tots closed its doors in late 2014, and in July 2016 a new lessee of the premises, Mz Annie-Ru Daycare Center, opened at the same location. The new day care center supervises more children and is open for longer hours than Tiny Tots was. The Davenport Zoning Administrator determined the special use permit issued to Tiny Tots “run[s] with the land” and the new daycare center would not need to obtain another special use permit.

Burroughs along with other neighbors disagreed and appealed that decision to the Board of Adjustment. On October 13 the ZBA voted 4-0 to uphold the administrator’s decision that the special use permit continued to apply. After that hearing, staff advised the residents that they could file a petition to revoke the special use permit. They did so and on December 8 the board held a public hearing to determine if the permit should be revoked. The BOA voted 0-4 against revoking the permit. Shortly after both of these meetings city staff posted unofficial minutes to the city’s website; however, they were not officially approved until the subsequent meeting of the ZBA.

On January 25, Burroughs along with five other residents appealed these decisions to District Court claiming that the ZBA had acted improperly in refusing to revoke the permit. The City filed a motion to dismiss the case, asserting that the petition was untimely because it was not filed within thirty days of the challenged decisions.

Iowa Code 414.15 states:

Any person […] aggrieved by any decision of the board of adjustment […] may present to a court of record a petition […] Such petition shall be presented to the court within thirty days after the filing of the decision in the office of the board.

The district court granted the City’s motion. Considering the posting of the minutes online to be the “filing of the decision.” Because the minutes of the December 8 meeting were posted on December 19th. The appeal on January 25th was untimely.

The court concluded that the:

“thirty-day time period begins to run from the time the appealing party has either actual knowledge or is chargeable with knowledge of the decision to be appealed.”  Because it was “undisputed” that plaintiffs attended both the October 13 and the December 8 meetings, they had actual knowledge of the Board’s decisions as of those dates: “[T]he Court cannot hold that they did not have actual knowledge or chargeable knowledge of the decision which they witnessed firsthand.”

 

Burroughs and the other plaintiffs appealed this dismissal.

The Iowa Supreme Court considered four possibilities of when the decision was “filed” in this case:

  1. The time that the decision is made in a public meeting wherein the parties gain “actionable knowledge.”
  2. When the unofficial minutes of the meeting are posted to the city websites.
  3. When approved official minutes have been posted online.
  4. When a signed physical document is present in the offices of the BOA and available for public inspection.

Both parties had an initial and fallback opinion. The city argued that the decision was “filed” at the meeting when the vote was taken and the parties were aware of the action. If that was not accepted, then they argued that the posting of the unofficial meeting minutes online should be considered filing the decision.

The plaintiffs argued principally that that for a decision to be filed it had to be a physical signed document including findings of fact and available for public inspection at the board’s offices. By this argument neither the October 13th decision nor the December 8th decisions had ever been properly filed and thus could still be appealed. If the court did not accept this argument, then they argued that only the posting of the approved minutes online could be considered “filing.” This fallback position would only preserve the December 8th refusal to revoke the permit for appeal as the approved minutes containing that decision were not posted until January 6th.

The court gave a few principles that can be used to determine when a ZBA decision has been filed and, therefore, how long plaintiffs have to appeal.

First, a decision cannot be simply oral.  It must exist in some documentary form. Simply having knowledge of what the decision is is not sufficient.

Second, the decision can be filed in electronic rather than paper form. The plaintiffs in this case tried to argue that a public document must be physical. The court disagreed indicating that in fact most of the Court’s own documents exist only digitally.

Third, a document has been filed in the “office of the board” when it has been posted on the board’s publicly available website that the board uses as a repository for official documents. The “office of the board” does not have to be a single physical location as long as the documents are accessible to the public.

Finally, the thirty-day period is triggered when the board posts the decision on its public website.  However, what is posted must be an actual decision.  Proposed minutes that have not yet been approved do not constitute a decision, but approved minutes do.

The Supreme Court of Iowa reversed the District Court’s dismissal of the December 8th ZBA decision. The case is remanded back to district court for further proceedings on the legality of that decision.

Court of Appeals affirms ZBA’s denial of liquor permit

by Eric Christianson

Shop N Save v. City of Des Moines Board of Adjustment
(Iowa Court of Appeals, January 24, 2018)

Note: this is a separate case from Shop N Save v. City of Des Moines Zoning Board of Adjustment decided in August of 2017 year. Although both permits were denied at the same ZBA meeting citing much of the same evidence, they concern separate Shop N Save locations.

Shop N Save operates a convenience store located on Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway in Des Moines. As a limited food / retail sales establishment, it may derive no more than forty percent of its gross sale receipts from the sale of liquor, wine, beer, and tobacco products. In March 2015, Shop N Save applied for a conditional use permit to operate as a liquor store, which would eliminate the store’s limit on gross sales receipts from the sale of those products.

At the zoning board of adjustment hearing held in April 2015, city staff recommended denial of the permit, and neighbors testified of crime and nuisance issues associated with liquor sales at the location. The board also noted the close proximity of the liquor store to residential property.

Based on this testimony and the proximity to residential uses, the board voted to deny the permit.

In May of 2015 Shop N Save appealed to district court arguing that the board illegally denied the permit. The district court affirmed the decision finding that the board had relied on substantial evidence to deny the permit. Shop N Save appealed again to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals examined the case to determine if the Zoning Board of Adjustment acted within its authority in denying the permit.

According to the City of Des Moines’s zoning ordinance a conditional use permit must be show to conform to the following criteria:

  1. The business conforms with [zoning restrictions].
  2. The proposed location, design, construction and operation of the particular use adequately safeguards the health, safety and general welfare of persons residing in the adjoining or surrounding residential area.
  3. The business is sufficiently separated from the adjoining residential area by distance, landscaping, walls or structures to prevent any noise, vibration or light generated by the business from having a significant detrimental impact upon the adjoining residential uses.
  4. The business will not unduly increase congestion on the streets in the adjoining residential area.
  5. The operation of the business will not constitute a nuisance.

Failure to comply with any one of these conditions is fatal to the application.

Shop N Save argues that the denial was not supported by substantial evidence because “only four individuals” spoke against the permit, and all of the issues raised took place when the store was under previous ownership.

The court disagrees, finding that the testimony of the neighbors in addition to an additional email from the neighborhood association were substantial evidence that issuing the permit could create a nuisance. The court states that Shop N Save’s assertions that things would be better in the future could have reasonably been accepted by the board, but they were not and that is within the board’s discretion.

Because the ZBA’s ultimate decision was supported by substantial evidence. The boards decision is affirmed.

South Dakota Supreme Court defers to local interpretation of zoning ordinance

by Eric Christianson

Croell Redi-Mix v. Pennington County Board of Commissioners
(South Dakota Supreme Court, December 13, 2017)

Croell Redi-Mix owns and operates a quarry located in Pennington County, South Dakota. The quarry has been in operation since the 1970s and was acquired by Croell in 2015. Croell intended to expand the operation. After the quarry was opened, but before it was acquired by Croell, Pennington County adopted zoning ordinances. The quarry falls into the “A-1 General Agricultural District” which allows “temporary quarries” ,by right, and mining operations, provided that a construction permit is obtained.

In late 2015, working in consultation with staff from the Pennington County Planning Department, Croell submitted an application for a construction permit to expand its operations. On February 8, 2016 staff issued a recommendation that the permit be granted subject to 11 conditions. The Pennington County Planning Commission reviewed the report and approved the application subject to the recommended conditions that same day.

On February 10, 2016, the Pennington County Board of Commissioners received a letter signed by 37 area residents requesting an appeal of the approval of the permit. The Board of Commissioners held a special meeting on March 2 to consider the appeal. Opponents expressed concerns about the quarry’s expansion including: dust, traffic, availability of groundwater, runoff, and depreciation of property values. At a second hearing the board voted 4-1 to reverse the approval of the permit.

Croell appealed to the circuit court which reversed the Board of Commissioners decision finding:

  1. The residents who sent the letter did not have standing to appeal.
  2. The Commissioners misinterpreted their own ordinance in their decision.
  3. The Commissioners’ decision to deny the permit was arbitrary.

The Board of Commissioners appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court which granted certiorari.

The Supreme Court reconsidered the three findings of the circuit court.

Standing to Sue Pennington County’s Zoning Ordinance states:

“Any action taken by the Planning Director in administering or enforcing Section 507(A) may be reviewed by the Pennington County Board of Commissioners upon the request of any person affected by such action.” [PCZO § 507(A)(7)(f)]

Croell argues, and the circuit court agreed that this right to appeal only extends to considerations of erosion and storm water control. The Supreme Court reads this passage differently, interpreting the word ‘administer,’ ‘affected,’ and ‘any’ above quite broadly:

PCZO § 507(A) is titled “Erosion and Storm Water Control,” the right to appeal under §507(A)(7)(f) extends to anyone “affected” by “any action taken by the Planning Director in administering . . . Section 507(A)[.]” (Emphasis added.) Noticeably absent from §507(A)(7)(f) is any language limiting the right to appeal to matters involving erosion and storm – water control. Thus, §507(A)(7)(f) provides a right to appeal any action taken by the Planning Director under §507(A). In this case, the action challenged is the Director’s issuance of a construction permit — i.e., the Director’s administering of §507(A)(3).

Because the individuals appealing would be affected by the zoning administrators decision, they have standing to appeal.

Statutory Interpretation Croell argues that the use of its property as a quarry is a permitted use in an A-1 General Agricultural district given that the statute permits temporary quarries and requires only a building permit for the “extraction of sand, gravel, or minerals.”

The County claims that Croell would need to obtain a seperate mining permit as required in the plain language of the ordinance which states, “no extraction of any mineral or substance […] shall be conducted without a Mining Permit.” Here the court identifies a question of statutory interpretation and supports the Commissioners’ interpretation. Further the Court cites the US Supreme Court’s opinion from Chevron v. Nat. Res. Def. Council (1984), which established the principle of “Chevron deference.” Chevron established the principle that courts will defer to the interpretation of those administering a statute as long as that interpretation is “based on a permissible construction of the statute.” In this case the South Dakota Supreme Court found that the Pennington Board of Commissioners interpretation was permissible.

Arbitrariness Because the Supreme Court found that the Board of Commissioners was able to consider more than erosion and storm water control in its decision making, the argument for arbitrariness is moot. The Board’s decision was based on evidence in the scope of its review.

The Supreme Court found that the circuit court erred in reversing the Commissioners’ decision.

Untimely Filing Fatal to Appeal of Board of Adjustment Decision

McCleary v. City of Des Moines Zoning Board of Adjustment
(Iowa Court of Appeals, April 19, 2017)

In September 2014, McCleary applied to the Des Moines Zoning Board of Adjustment seeking several conditional use permits and variances to allow him to operate a pet boarding business out of his home. A public hearing was held on September 22. The board voted to deny all of McCleary’s requests on October 23, 2014. On November 25, 2014 McCleary filed a petition for writ of certiorari appealing the board’s decision. Because of constitutional claims, the case was first sent to federal court. On March 11 the federal district court dismissed all McCleary’s federal claims and the case was remanded to state court.

On October 6, 2015 the Board of Adjustment filed a motion to dismiss arguing that McCleary’s petition for a writ of certiorari was late. State law allows for appeals to be filed only in the 30 days after a decision is made final. On November 2, McCleary filed a motion to disqualify the board’s attorney as that same attorney had previously represented McCleary in another matter. The district court determined on December 18 that McCleary’s petition was indeed untimely. The court also concluded that the plaintiff did not provide substantial evidence that his prior relationship with the defendant’s attorney bore “any relationship to the instant matter.” The district court granted the board’s motion to dismiss.

McCleary appealed that dismissal to the Iowa Court of Appeals. They reviewed the district court’s decisions in the areas of the timeliness of McCleary’s appeal as well as whether the board’s counsel should have been disqualified.

Timeliness Iowa Code section 414.15 establishes the right to appeal a decision from a zoning board and provides “[s]uch petition shall be presented to the court within thirty days after the filing of the decision in the office of the board.” Because McCleary filed his appeal more than 30 days after the board made its decision, the district court did not have jurisdiction to hear it. McCleary asserted that his motion for declaratory relief was not subject to the same timeliness requirements as writs of certiorari. The Court of appeals disagrees. “Regardless of the avenue of relief McCleary chose, he was still appealing the decision of the zoning board and was subject to the statutory requirements of such an appeal.”

Disqualifying Counsel Because the attorney representing the board had previously been involved in representing McCleary, he claimed that the attorney should be disqualified.In determining if a prior relationship is enough to disqualify an attorney the court must determine if the two matters are substantially related. To do so, the court examines three factors:

  1. the nature and scope of the prior representation;
  2. the nature of the present lawsuit; and
  3. whether the client might have disclosed a confidence to [their] attorney in the prior representation which could be relevant to the present action.

The attorney described their prior relationship as, “providing a model letter of intent for a business purchase and reviewing a draft of the letter written either by [the former partner] or by Mr. McCleary.” He also stated that he, “did not meet Mr. McCleary in person and recall no further involvement in the transaction.” McCleary claims a connection exists because the prior representation involved the same property on which he eventually attempted to establish his pet boarding business.  The court failed to see how assisting McCleary’s representation in the property transaction would make him privy to any information that would be relevant to this zoning variance request.

On both matters the court of appeals affirmed the ruling of the district court.

Substantial evidence supported ZBA’s denial of conditional use permit for liquor sales

by Gary Taylor

Shop N Save Food v. City of Des Moines Zoning Board of Adjustment
Iowa Court of Appeals, August 2, 2017

Shop N Save applied for a conditional use permit (CUP) that would allow the business to sell wine and beer.  The store in question is located in a C-1 neighborhood retail commercial district in Des Moines.  Previous owners of the store had been permitted to sell liquor, beer, and wine, but the store’s liquor license was suspended for the year leading up to the CUP application, and due to changes in the city’s zoning regulations the new owner was required to seek a CUP to resume alcohol sales.

At the beginning of the hearing on the CUP, city staff presented its report to the Des Moines Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) recommending approval of the CUP subject to ten conditions.  Staff presented the ZBA with letters from local neighborhood associations, as well as police reports from the neighborhood.  Staff noted, however, that the Shop N Save had either been closed or barred from selling alcohol for most or all of the time covered by the police reports.

Counsel for Shop N Save, in his presentation, conceded “there had been problems in the past” with crime around this Shop N Save, but asserted the new owner was willing to work with the neighborhood associations to address those problems.  In responding to the testimony of the neighborhood association representatives that voiced concerns about crime, Shop N Save counsel resisted their recommendations for the imposition of conditions over and above those recommended by staff, and suggested the best course would be to “come up with a plan together.”

ZBA members questioned the legitimacy of the ownership transfer. Shop N Save counsel acknowledged that the store was being run by “a combination of [old and new management] but it’s generally the new management…running the store” and admitted that the official transfer of ownership had not yet occurred.

In a 4-1 vote the ZBA denied the CUP, citing concerns about the ambiguity in the ownership transfer and the problematic history of the location.  Shop N Save appealed this decision to the district court, which affirmed the denial, finding substantial evidence for the ZBA’s decision.  Shop N Save appealed to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals highlighted several well-settled points of law concerning the consideration of conditional use permits by zoning boards of adjustment, and by courts reviewing those decisions, that are worth reviewing:

  • A conditional use permit is meant to provide flexibility in what otherwise would be the rigidity of zoning ordinances, while at the same time controlling troublesome aspects of somewhat incompatible uses by requiring certain restrictions and standards.
  • It is the burden of the applicant to show that all the conditions of the ordinance are satisfied.
  • A decision by a zoning board of adjustment enjoys a strong presumption of validity.
  • A board may deny a conditional use permit for reasons relating to public health, safety, and welfare, but generalized or unsupported neighborhood opposition does not, by itself, provide a legally sufficient reason for a CUP denial.
  • If the reasonableness of the board’s action is open to a fair difference of opinion, the court may not substitute its decision for that of the board.
  • An appellate court is bound by the district court’s factual findings if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Evidence is “substantial” if a reasonable person would find it adequate to reach the given conclusion, even if a reviewing court might draw a contrary reference.

Shop N Save argued that the ordinance requirement that “the proposed location, design, construction and operation of the particular use adequately safeguards the health, safety, and general welfare of persons residing in the adjoining or surrounding residential area” may not even apply to the sale of beer and wine because the sale of such products is separate from the “physical characteristics of the property.”  The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, finding that the language is broad enough to regulate not only the location, design, and construction of the business but its operation as well.  The Court further found that the ZBA’s denial was based on more than generalized or unsupported neighborhood opposition, and included reliance on specific incidents described in neighbors’ testimonies, and on the dramatic reduction in crime that resulted when liquor sales were ended at a similarly situated convenience store in another neighborhood.  Finally, the Court found the ZBA was well within its authority to consider the pending owners’ “tepid” responsiveness to neighbors’ serious reservations as a signal that past problems were likely to continue into the future, regardless of any conditions the ZBA could impose.

The ZBA’s denial was affirmed.

Only the Board of Adjustment can approve Special/Conditional Use Permits

by Eric Christianson

Holland v. Decorah

Iowa Supreme Court, April 2, 2003

This is an older case, a classic of Iowa planning and zoning case law. However, the issue of the role of the zoning board of adjustment is one that still comes up quite frequently.

In the late 1990s Wal-Mart began planning a new location in Decorah, Iowa. The location selected was located in the floodplain of the Upper Iowa River. To build there, Wal-Mart had to place fill in the floodplain. First, Wal-Mart obtained the required permits from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Then, Wal-Mart applied to the Decorah City Council for a permit to place fill on the floodplain. The city’s zoning code contained among its permitted uses in the F-1 floodplain district:

Dumping of approved materials for landfill purposes, subject to prior approval of the city council and appropriate state agencies. [emphasis added]

Following this section of city code, Walmart’s representatives appeared before the city council on August 15, 2000 and requested approval to fill the property. After a heated and confrontational public comment period, the city council approved the request by a vote of four to three. The council’s vote was only to approve the fill. It did not change the zoning of the area or approve of a site plan.

Previously, Upper Iowa Marine, which owns adjacent land, had attempted to dump fill in the floodplain. They also applied for and obtained the proper permits from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Instead of presenting their request to the city council. They applied for a special exception to the zoning ordinance from the zoning board of adjustment. The board of adjustment found the application inconsistent with the comprehensive plan and denied the request.

A group of citizens in Decorah filed suit, arguing that Wal-Mart’s request should have been submitted to the board of adjustment as Upper Iowa Marine had done rather than the city council.

The case hinges on two main issues (1) the authority of the board of adjustment and the city council and (2) definition of a special use.

Iowa Code 414.7 states that a city council should appoint a board of adjustment so that it, “may in appropriate cases and subject to appropriate conditions and safeguards make special exceptions to the terms of the ordinances…”

Further on in 414.12 Iowa Code defines the powers of the board of adjustment including, “to hear and decide special exceptions to the terms of the ordinance…”

Courts in Iowa have been very clear that no other entity has this power. In The City of Des Moines v. Lohner in 1969 the court said that the power to make special exceptions are “placed exclusively in the board [of adjustment] and effectively restricted by statute.” Likewise in Depue v. City of Clinton in 1968 the court asked itself, “[I]s the jurisdiction of the board of adjustment, conferred by sections 414.7 and 414.12 and exclusive jurisdiction? We think the answer[ is] affirmative.”

It is clear then in Iowa case law that approving special uses is the exclusive jurisdiction of the board of adjustment. At issue is whether conditioning a permitted use on “prior approval of the city council” was essentially the same as a permitted use. Wal-Mart argued that the council’s grant of permission was not a special exemption because it was listed as a permitted use and the council had only a “limited, technical review.” Walmart argued that the city council was not examining whether the proposed change was consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan. Instead they were simply ensuring that the appropriate permit had been obtained from the Department of Natural Resources and that the fill material was free from waste materials.

In its reasoning, the court took special note of the contested nature of the public discussion period before the vote at the council meeting. During this meeting evidence and opinions were presented on both sides and one council member even attempted unsuccessfully to convene a task force to study the issue further.

The issuance of special-use permits is quasi-judicial or administrative. […]  The problems with allowing a political, legislative body such as a city council to rule on applications of this nature (in addition to lacking statutory authority) are apparent in this case.  The city council had no hearing procedures, notice requirements, or the type of guidelines that would govern the board of adjustment.

Even on the cold minutes of the meeting, it is apparent the council would have known by the time the discussion was concluded, if they did not already know, they had a tiger by the tail.  The residents were deeply divided on the issue, raising concerns about the environmental impact, the fairness of the proceedings (especially in view of the fact the board of adjustment had denied a similar permit), and the prospect of 120,000 cubic yards of fill being placed in the floodplain in the event the DNR appeal was successful or the construction plans were thwarted for some other reason.

In the end, the court concluded that whether or not dumping fill in the floodplain was a special or conditional use in Decorah’s code, the city council’s actions violated state code.

If it was a special use, is clear that the city council had no authority to allow it. Even if it is not, however, it would violate chapter 414 of Iowa Code which requires that zoning be done “in accordance with the comprehensive plan.” In fact, Decorah’s comprehensive plan expressly addresses protecting its floodplains as natural resources “for use as permanent open space.” In making a decision in direct opposition to the comprehensive plan, the application of the ordinance would still be illegal.

 

Historical Note:

Walmart had already completed construction on the $20 million building that their superstore would occupy at the time of this decision. The building had been sitting vacant since the previous fall awaiting the outcome of this lawsuit. Eventually, the parties settled. Wal-Mart agreed to make a donation to the Decorah library and to fund a study of the floodplain. Wal-Mart also agreed to lease their old building the the city for $1 a year with all proceeds from subleases going to fund the construction of a river trail. The Wal-Mart, much like confusion over roles in planning and zoning, is still with us today.

No need to make specific finding that building qualified as accessory building when granting special exception

by Hannah Dankbar

Hasanoglu v Town of Mukwonago and Town of Mukwonago Plan Commission
Wisconsin Court of Appeals, October 14, 2015

The Hasanoglus appealed a circuit court decision upholding a decision of the Town of Mukwonago Plan Commission to grant a special exemption to the Hollerns to build an accessory building on their property. The Hasanoglus argue that the Plan Commission does not have jurisdiction to grant this exception and that the exception was arbitrary and unreasonable.

The Hollerns applied for a zoning permit to build a riding arena on their property in rural Mukwonago. Mukwonago determined that the arena would be in “substantial compliance” with the town ordinances, except for the height and square footage of the building. The Plan Commission met and approved the proposal by granting a exception to the zoning ordinance. Their neighbors, the Hasanoglus, filed a certiorari action which sustained the decision.

On appeal, the Hasanoglus argued that according to the Town of Mukwonago Municipal Code §82-25(a)(2)(b)(2) the Town Board could grant this exception, but the Plan Commission does not have jurisdiction to do so in this case. While it is true that this section of the code gives this power to the Town Board, a different part of the code gives the same power to the Plan Commission (Town of Mukwonago Municipal Code §82-25(b)(3)). The court determined that §82-25(b)(3) is the appropriate subsection because there was no finding of a rural accessory building on the Hollerns’ property as is required by §82-25(a)(2)(b)(2).

Next, the Hasanoglus argued that: (1) the Hollerns did not follow the correct procedure to apply for the special exception; (2) that the Plan Commission agenda was not specific enough to give notice of the Hollerns’ request; and (3) the Plan Commission did not conduct a sufficient inquiry into whether the proposed riding arena qualified as an accessory building.

First, the question of whether the Hollerns followed the correct procedure was not raised in circuit court and the section of the municipal code that the Hasanoglus cite is only for property owners seeking exceptions for setbacks. This argument was not considered on appeal.

Second, the Plan Commission’s agenda states, “ACCESSORY BUILDING HEIGHT AND SIZE INCREASE FOR S64W27645 RIVER ROAD, MICHAEL AND LAURA HOLLERN PROPERTY OWNER.” The minutes show approval of the request. The Plan Commission is not obligated to be any more specific than that.

Lastly, The Plan Commission is not required to record a specific discussion and determination in its minutes that a building qualifies as an accessory structure.  The Plan Commission placed multiple conditions on the approval of the exception (an example being that there can be no commercial use) which demonstrated that it considered the issue and exercised its judgment.

These arguments failed, so the decision was upheld.

Diesel repair business met all criteria for conditional use permit in agricultural zone

Hortian, et al., Relators vs Fischer and Wright County Planning Commission
Minnesota Court of Appeals, December 7, 2015

In 2006 the Wright County Planning Commission granted a CUP to Fischer to operate a diesel repair business as a home-extended business on property that is zoned General Agricultural (AG). Under this zoning classification home-extended businesses are allowed. The Hortians live on the neighboring property and complained about the business multiple times over multiple years. The Wright County Sheriff’s Department inspected the property and noted multiple violations. Fischer was told to file for an amended CUP, which he did. Fischer estimated that 40% of his business was agricultural and that his activities on the property still complied with the zoning classification. Realtors testified that Fischer’s business injured his neighbor’s properties. The Commission granted the amended CUP.

The Hortians appealed the Commission’s decision. On appeal, the Hortians must show that the Commission did not follow the standards for CUPs set forth in the zoning ordinance and that granting the CUP was an abuse of discretion.

The Hortians challenged the county’s interpretation of WCZO §741(3) which mandates that there should be “no outside storage of supplies, equipment or maintenance items; all work and work related items shall be kept in an enclosed structure.” They claim that customers’ cars parked outside of Fischer’s building waiting for repair qualify as “equipment” or “work-related items”.  The Commission instead determined that the cars were neither “equipment” nor “work-related items,” but were rather regulated by another part of the ordinance that only prohibits parking unlicensed or inoperative vehicles.  The Commission attached a specific condition to the amended CUP that “all vehicles and trailers on the property must have current registration and/or licensure unless otherwise exempt by law.” The court sided with the Commission. Considering these vehicles as “equipment” or “work-related items” is a narrow definition that would limit Fischer’s ability to work from home.

The Hortians claimed that the Commission made an error in granting the amended CUP because Fischer’s business is injurious to neighboring properties because of the additional wear on the roads, the high volume of sounds from the tools, and the bright lighting installed around the building. During a site visit the Commission found that none of these were true and that the operation complied with the ordinance.  The court did not dispute that finding, either.

The Hortians argued that Fischer’s business did not fit in an agriculturally zoned area. The Commission found that, while the business is industrial in nature, it serves an agricultural community and an agricultural purpose and therefore fit in the zoning classification.

The Commission did not err by granting the CUP.

Neighbor testimony sufficient evidence to support CUP denial

by Andrea Vaage

August v Chisago County Board of Commissioners
Minnesota Court of Appeals, August 17, 2015

Jeffrey August purchased a 20-acre tract of land in Sunrise Township, in Chisago County, Minnesota. August built a fenced-in arena and later an announcement system for mounted shooting events he hosted on the property. In 2013, August formed a club, Cowboy Mounted Shooting, which held competitions and clinics. Mounted shooting involves contestants on horseback who shoot .45 caliber blanks at balloons on posts in the middle of the arena. These competitions were held throughout the summer, typically starting in the afternoon and continuing until dusk. In 2014, the Chisago County zoning department inspected the property after hearing complaints. The department found the use of the property did not conform to its zoned agricultural use. The zoning department then recommended August apply for a conditional use permit (CUP). August complied and filed a request to allow a rural retail tourism/commercial outdoor recreation use.

Two entities provided recommendations on the CUP: Sunrise Township and Chisago County Planning Commission. Sunrise Township recommended denial of the CUP based on the excessive and disruptive noise. The County Planning Commission also recommended denial of the CUP based on comments at a public hearing that noise levels were high and consistent and a planning report which stated that, although the noise was below the allowed decibel limit, it was still clearly audible from neighboring properties.

The public hearing for the CUP was held on July 16, 2014. The County Board of Commissioners denied the permit based on that hearing and the recommendations provided by the Planning Commission. August appealed. At issue is whether the denial of the CUP was unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious. The test to determine if a zoning board decision was sound is two-pronged: the reasons given for denial are legally sufficient and the reasons had a factual basis in the record.

The legal basis for denying the CUP was Section 4.15(D)(5) of the Chisago County Zoning Ordinance (CCO) regulating rural retail tourism. Pursuant to this section, a proposed rural retail tourism use will only be allowed if it “will not negatively impact the neighborhood by intrusion of noise, glare, odor, or other adverse effects.”

The Board established several facts in regards to the noise issue. The Board relied in part on neighbors’ testimony that there was a significant increase in noise and traffic on weekends when the mounted shooting events were held. The arena for these events was located within 500 feet of adjacent homes, and noise was heard by neighboring residents. Additionally, the planning commission members’ trip to the property confirmed the high levels of noise resulting from the gunfire.

August argued the Board cannot rely on neighbor’s testimony, however, the court relied on previous rulings that found that “a municipal entity may consider neighborhood opposition when it is based on something more concrete than non-specific neighborhood opposition.

August also argued that the CUP could only be denied if the noise levels exceeded decibel levels set by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MCPA). The Court found that the county zoning ordinances were not in conflict with the MCPA standards because it regulates noise based on neighborhood intrusion, not decibel levels.

The County Board of Commissioners decided to deny the CUP based on sufficient legal and factual basis and was not unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious. The Board’s decision is affirmed.

Zoning Board of Adjustment properly carried out its role in approving application for CAFO

by Andrea Vaage

Grant County Concerned Citizens & Tyler v Grant County
South Dakota Supreme Court, June 24, 2015

Teton LLC applied for a conditional use permit to construct a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) to house 6,616 swine larger than 55 pounds (“finisher” swine according to the Zoning Ordinances of Grant County (ZOGC)) and 1,200 swine smaller than 55 pounds (“nursery” swine in the ZOGC). The proposed operation would classify as a Class A CAFO-the largest possible designation under the ZOGC.  The Grant County Board of Adjustment (BOA) approved the permit after a hearing attended by 200 individuals. Grant County Concerned Citizens (GCCC) appealed.  Several procedural events are not included here, but the case eventually made its way to the South Dakota Supreme Court.  The Court’s conclusions on GCCC’s claims follow.

After the circuit court made a decision affirming the Board’s decision, GCCC submitted an affidavit signed by Tyler explaining the purpose of the excavation was to obtain water for his horse herd. The Board and Teton moved to strike the affidavit from record, upon which the circuit court granted the motion.

Private well. Under the ZOGC, a CAFO cannot be constructed within 2,640 feet of a private well. The ZOCG does not provide a definition of a “well,” however, SDCL 46-1-6(18) defines “well” as “an artificial excavation or opening in the ground, made by means of digging, boring, drilling, jetting, or by any other artificial method, for the purpose of obtaining groundwater.” GCCC claimed that the BOA’s decision improperly allows a CAFO within 2,640 feet of a well on neighbor Tyler’s property; however, the evidence showed that the well was actually dug on or just before the day of Teton’s application and that the excavation produced 12 gallons of water that day. The Board determined the Tyler’s constructed the well in order to frustrate the Teton’s application and as such the excavation did not meet the definition of “well.”  The Court affirmed, concluding that the BOA’s finding that the purpose of the excavation was to frustrate the CAFO application was material to the statute’s definition of “well” when the definition requires a well to be dug “for the purpose of obtaining groundwater.”  It was irrelevant that the excavation actually obtained 12 gallons of water.

Manure management and operation plan. Section 1034(4) of the ZOCG stipulates that the proposed CAFO must provide a manure management plan. GCCC contests that Teton’s did not find adequate acreage on which to spread manure, because Teton “significantly overstated” the amount of land on which it could apply manure.  The Court concluded that the Board made proper factual determinations on this issue, noting that ZOCG offers little in the way of specific requirements for a manure management and operation plan.

Failure to give notice to Melrose Township. The access road to the CAFO was jointly maintained by two townships. One of the two townships, Melrose Township, was not notified of the proposed CAFO by Teton.  Section 1304(12)(K) of the ZOCG requires “Notification of whomever maintains the access road (township, county and state).” An individual at the hearing for the permit testified that both townships had known about the proposed CAFO and decided not to upgrade the access road. It is irrelevant that the township was not notified by Teton, because the township had actual notice of the proceedings as evidenced by this individual’s testimony.

Nutrient management plan.  GCCC asserts that the proposed CAFO would not be able to obtain the water required to operate as evidenced by Teton’s nutrient management plan.  The Court considered this argument waived because the ZOGC’s requirements related to nutrient management plans do not address the water requirements of a CAFO.

GCCC made a number of other similar claims, but the Court found nothing in the record to suggest in these or any of the discussed claims that the Board did not regularly pursue its authority. The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the trial court.

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