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.

Iowa C.A. says one-bedroom B and B “smallest of small” home occupations

by Allison Arends

Meduna v. City of Crescent
(Iowa Court of Appeals, December 17, 2008)

One-bedroom bed and breakfast fits within definition of “small home occupations” in Crescent, Iowa zoning ordinance.

In 2004 the Medunas purchased a home in the Loess Hills Scenic By-way in the city of Crescent, and established a single room bed and breakfast in 2005. The Medunas purchased the home with the intention of setting up the bed and breakfast.  Under the City’s R-1 Residential Single Family Dwelling District, “small home occupations” are a permitted use.  The ordinance does not define “small home occupations.”  The Medunas were under the impression that their one room bed and breakfast would fit within the definition of small home occupations under the R-1 zoning district. 

Thirty-four of the Meduna’s neighbors signed a petition against the bed and breakfast arguing that it would cause increased traffic, and reduce privacy and security of the neighborhood.  The city council found the bed and breakfast in the R-1 zone to be a municipal infraction.  The Medunas filed for declaratory judgement, asking the district court to enter a decree finding the ordinance does not prohibit them from operating their bed and breakfast or, to find the ordinance unconstitutional. 

The district court found that the small bed and breakfast did not meet the requirements of the “small home occupation” exception, based largely on the fact that the R-3 Residential District in the city’s zoning ordinance specifically allows ‘Rooming Houses’ and ‘Tourist Houses,’ which would allow the Medunas’ bed and breakfast.  The Medunas were ordered to cease and desist operation of their bed and breakfast. 

The Court of Appeals reversed.  Because the zoning ordinance fails to specify the meaning of “small home occupations,” the Court of Appeals sought to apply the “common and ordinary” meaning of the term.  The dictionary defines “small” as “limited in scope or degree”, “home” as “a dwelling place,” and “occupation” as “an activity or pursuit in which a person is engaged; especially a person’s usual or principal work or business.”  Under these definitions the Court of Appeals found that the Medunas’ use of one bedroom and its attached bathroom of their house for a bed and breakfast is the “smallest of small” home occupations, and should be permitted under the R-1 zoning ordinance.

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