ND Attorney General: Junk ordinance not “zoning” to allow for use in extraterritorial zoning area

by Gary Taylor

North Dakota Attorney General Letter Opinion 2014-L-6 (March 13, 2014)

N.D.C.C. § 40-06-01(2) provides that the governing body of a municipality has general police power jurisdiction “[i]n and over all places within one-half mile . . . of the municipal limits for the purpose of enforcing health ordinances and regulations, and police regulations and ordinances adopted to promote the peace, order, safety, and general welfare of the municipality.” A city is also authorized to apply its zoning and subdivision regulations up to four miles beyond the city limits, depending upon the population of the city.

The city of Grand Forks’ extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction extends to four miles beyond the city limits.  In 1978, the North Dakota Supreme Court determined that a city has complete zoning control in this extraterritorial zoning area; however, since state law changes in 2009, the city and the county now exercise joint jurisdiction within the two to four mile area. The city of Grand Forks and Grand Forks County have signed a zoning and subdivision agreement which provides that the “[c]ity shall be responsible for all zoning and subdivision administration, activities and regulation for areas within the 2 mile area beyond the city limits.”  Grand Forks County has argued that the city’s nuisance ordinances regulating the accumulation of junk may be treated as zoning ordinances pursuant to the city’s general authority to regulate land and thus be enforced in the city’s extraterritorial zoning area.  The North Dakota Attorney General (AG), however, disagrees.

The AG looked to the North Dakota Supreme Court case of Jamestown v. Tahran, involving ordinances of the city of Jamestown that prohibited the storage or accumulation of trash, rubbish, junk, junk automobiles, or abandoned vehicles on any private property. The court rejected the argument that the ordinance constituted a zoning ordinance, stating, “[t]he plain language of the ordinance . . . indicates it is a criminal ordinance generally applicable throughout the City . . . and not a zoning ordinance.”  Similarly, the AG considers the plain language of the city of Grand Fork’s ordinances regarding the accumulation of junk to indicate they are criminal ordinances and not zoning ordinances.

The AG also noted that because the city’s junk ordinances are not zoning ordinances, there is no limitation on the county’s ability to enforce its own junk ordinances within the extraterritorial area in question.

 

“Auto graveyard” fails to exhaust state administrative remedies

by Kaitlin Heinen

Joseph P. Stanislaw v. Thetford Township
(Federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, February 20, 2013)

In July 1983, Joseph and Lorraine Stanislaw submitted a “vehicle dealer supplemental location license application” to sell used cars in Thetford Township, Michigan.  The township’s zoning ordinance required that automobile sales be conducted inside an enclosure, so the planning commission ordered the Stanislaws to construct such an enclosure in 30 days. In April 1984, a neighbor, Daniel Case, complained about the Stanislaws’ property. So Joseph Stanislaw appeared before the Planning Commission in May 1984 and August 1984 and received approval of a a plan that included an enclosing fence.  Thetford Township approved a new zoning ordinance in 1989, and the Stanislaws’ business was grandfathered in as a previously approved non-conforming use.

In September 2005, Case complained to the Township that the Stanislaws’ property was a junk yard. In 2004, Michigan passed an act that required car dealers to obtain “written verification from the appropriate governing or zoning authority that the established place of business meets all applicable municipal and zoning requirements” prior to any license renewal. So in December 2005, Lorraine Stanislaw submitted the necessary form to  renew the car dealership’s license. The Thetford Township Building Inspector, Mark Angus, inspected the property before signing. He refused to sign the Stanislaws’ forms concluding that the fence was in poor condition and that the property was “an auto graveyard.”

The Stanislaws submitted the license-renewal form to Michigan anyway. The state ordered the Stanislaws to fix their incomplete application by January 31, 2006. On January 24, 2006, the Stanislaws met with Angus, the Township Supervisor (Luther Hatchett) and the Police Chief (Thomas Kulcher). Lorraine Stanislaw testified that the Township said that they would revisit their application if the fence was restored and the cars were moved out of view. So Angus wrote a letter to the state asking for an extension to allow the Stanislaws more time to comply with the zoning ordinances. Joseph Stanislaw made the repairs to the fence. Hatchett sent Chief Kulcher to inspect the property.  Kulcher refused to sign the form because he found that vehicles were still sitting out front on the property.

In February 2006, the Planning Commission passed a motion, requiring the Stanislaws to construct a 6-foot-tall fence on the property.  The Stanislaws wanted to appeal this motion to the Zoning Board of Appeals, but Chief Kulcher supposedly told them that they could not. Kulcher denied saying this, testifying that he did not know anything about zoning appeals procedures. The Stanislaws instead filed this action in federal district court; however, the district court determined that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to consider the Stanislaws’ claim that the Thetford Township’s decision constituted a taking. This is because the Stanislaws did not give the state court the opportunity to adjudicate the issue of whether or not the State failed to provide just compensation.

The Stanislaws never appealed in state court Angus’ denial or the ZBA’s acceptance of Angus’ denial and order to construct a fence. The Stanislaws partly claim that they failed to the December 2005 ZBA vote because Chief Kulcher had told them that they could not. According to the federal district court, the Stanislaws provided no legal support that this would have excused them from their failure to appeal the ZBA’s decision. “Chief Kulcher is not familiar with appellate zoning procedures; however, the Stanislaws are quite familiar having dealt with the local zoning regulations on their property over the past two decades.”

The 6th Circuit Court agreed with the district court that the Stanislaws’ failed to exhaust their state administrative remedies.   “if a State provides an adequate procedure for seeking just compensation, the property owner cannot claim a violation of the Just Compensation Clause until it has used the procedure and been denied just compensation.” The Stanislaws argued that their claim was to be left alone to continue to do what they have been doing to earn a living for decades – not a taking of real estate, but rather their business interests.  The court held that the Stanislaws’ claim encompassed “some sort of ill-defined Fifth Amendment takings claim.” The Court disagreed with the assertion that the Stanislaws did not raise a takings claim; and agreed with the district court that the  claim was not ripe for federal review.

The Stanislaws’ other claims, according to the Court, were “somewhat jumbled and poorly explained” and “abstractly involved” procedural due process, substantive due process, and equal protection. They did not cite any case law that suggested a hearing would have been required for a decision to sign or not sign the license-approval form. Rather, the Stanislaws “had numerous hearings and opportunities over the course of two decades to remedy their non-conforming use of the property.” If a decision had been made without appropriate process, the correct recourse still would have been first to the state courts, not the federal courts. As for the equal protection claim,  The Stanislaws “failed to identify any similarly situated businesses who were actually treated differently,”  Thus the 6th Circuit Court affirmed the district court’s judgment.

Conditional use permit requirement did not constitute a taking

by Victoria Heldt

Peter J. Butzen, D/B/A Falls Metals, Inc. v. City of Sheboygan Falls
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, February 29, 2012)

Peter J. Butzen owns a piece of property within the City of Sheboygan Falls that is zoned C2 commercial.  He operated a scrap metal recycling business on the land during the 1990s which grew in size to the point that it appeared to be a junkyard.  In January 2000 the City decided the use of the land exceeded the scope of what was permitted in the C2 district.  It advised Butzen to clean up and make some modifications and apply for a conditional use permit, which Butzen did in February.  In April 2000 (before it considered Butzen’s application) the City amended the ordinance under which Butzen applied with Ordinance 11.  This ordinance eliminated all permitted uses in C2 zoning districts unless the owner received a conditional use permit.  The City advised Butzen that if he performed the specified cleanup actions, the committee would recommend his permit application be granted.  Butzen was given several deadlines through 2001 to complete the cleanup, but never completed the actions.

In November 2007 Butzen filed for a conditional use permit but was denied since the application was incomplete.  In July 2008 the Supreme Court decided Town of Rhine v. Bizzell in which it concluded that a zoning provision such as Sheboygan Falls’ Ordinance No. 11 is unconstitutional on its face if it precludes any use as of right in a zoning district and if the limitation bears no substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals or general welfare.  In response, the Sheboygan Falls passed a moratorium on development in its C1, C2, and C3 zoning districts to prevent any further development until it decided how to move forward after the Town of Rhine ruling.

Butzen continued to use his property and filed a complaint seeking a judicial determination regarding the constitutionality of Ordinance 11 and questioning the validity of the City’s moratorium.  The circuit court, following the lead of the Supreme Court in the Town of Rhine case, declared Ordinance 11 to be unconstitutional.  It did, however, uphold the validity of the moratorium.  Butzen filed an inverse condemnation complaint asserting that the City’s actions amounted to a taking of his property.  He also raised a substantive due process claim under 42 U.S.C. §1983 that the City’s efforts to enforce the ordinance violations were arbitrary and capricious.  The circuit court found that he did not sufficiently establish either of the claims and that they were barred by a statute of limitations.  This appeal followed.

On appeal, Butzen focused only on the “takings” claim.  He asserted that “because of the Town of Rhine ruling, Ordinance No. 11 unconstitutionally eliminated all use of his C2-zoned property without a conditional use permit, resulting in a regulatory taking.”  According to statute, a regulatory taking occurs when a regulation denies a landowner all or substantially all practical uses of his or her property.  The Court noted that Butzen overlooked two key findings within the circuit court’s rulings.  First, the denial of Butzen’s permit was based on the ordinance in effect prior to Ordinance 11, so the determination of Ordinance 11 as unconstitutional was not relevant to his claimed injury.  Second, the fact that Butzen needed a conditional use permit to run the scrap metal shop did not deprive him of “substantially all” beneficial uses of the property since he could still conduct other business there.  The Court concluded Butzen did not sufficiently show that a regulatory taking occurred and affirmed the circuit court’s decision.

Legal non-conforming use still subject to junk and nuisance ordinances

by Victoria Heldt

Soo Township v. Lorenzo Pezzolesi
(Michigan Court of Appeals, October 25, 2011)

Lorenzo Pezzolesi purchased a piece of property in Soo Township in 1987 when the property was zoned commercial.  He began using it as a junk/salvage yard soon after that.  In 2001, the property was zoned residential and Soo Township passed a nuisance ordinance and a junkyard ordinance.

Subsequently, the Township filed a complaint against Pezzolessi claiming that he was in violation of the ordinances, that the property wasn’t zoned to be a junkyard, and that he did not have a license to operate a junkyard.  The Township’s Supervisor testified that the junkyard did not even classify as “commercial” since no commercial signs were up, the entrance was blocked on a regular basis, and no evidence of commercial activity existed.  Pezzolesi argued that his operation was a salvage yard, not a junkyard.  He claimed to have made sales two weeks prior to the trial and, when asked about employees, he responded that he called “Peter, Joe, and Bob” on the weekends when they were free.  He was unable to provide the last names of his helpers.  The trial court ruled in favor of Pezzolesi.  It found that his salvage yard constituted a commercial operation on property that was zoned commercial at the time of purchase.  The property was rezoned residential after the establishment of the salvage yard; therefore the salvage yard was a legal nonconforming use not subject to the license requirement in the zoning ordinance.  The trial court also found that Pezzolesi was not subject to the nuisance ordinance for the same reason.

The Township appealed, first arguing that the defendant abandoned his right to a nonconforming use when he ceased operating a “commercial” business.  The Court denied this argument, noting that the act of abandonment required “an act or omission on the part of the owner or holder which clearly manifests his voluntary decision to abandon.”  The Court found no such action.  Next, the Township argued that the Pezzolesi’s property was subject to the nuisance ordinance and the junkyard ordinance.  On this issue, the Court agreed.  It distinguished between a zoning ordinance and a regulatory ordinance in that “zoning ordinances regulate land uses, while regulatory ordinances regulate activities.”  It cited a previous case in which it ruled that “a regulatory ordinance can be imposed on a prior nonconforming user, but a zoning ordinance cannot.”  It found that in this case, the junkyard ordinance and the nuisance ordinance constituted regulatory ordinances since they governed people’s behavior regarding the operation of junkyards.  Similarly, the nuisance ordinance “address activity or conditions that could apply to any property, regardless of its location.”  Therefore, the ordinances applied to Pezzolesi’s junkyard/salvage operation.

The Court remanded the decision to the lower court to take further evidence and hear arguments on whether Pezzolesi’s operation in fact violated either of the regulatory ordinances.

Landowner’s defense in zoning enforcement action barred by issue/claim preclusion

by Gary Taylor

Sharkey v. Dubuque County Zoning Board of Adjustment
(Iowa Court of Appeals, November 24, 2010)

Dennis Sharkey owns two parcels in Dubuque County.  Parcel A is zoned M-1 Industrial and M-2 Heavy Industrial. Parcel B is zoned R-3 Single Family Residential.  The properties, and Mr. Sharkey, have been the subject of numerous disputes since the 1980s.  In 1988 Sharkey entered into a stipulated agreement with the county to resolve a zoning enforcement action.  Under the terms of the agreement Sharkey was “permanently enjoined from conducting or permitting any vehicle salvage operation or storage of any vehicles or junk” on the property.  In 1989 Sharkey was found in contempt of the order.  In 1994 Sharkey was convicted of unlawful storage and disposal of hazardous waste on the property and sentenced to prison.

In March 2007, the Dubuque County zoning administrator sent Sharkey two letters outlining problems with his property. In regard to Parcel A, the letter stated there were semitrailers, scrap metal, wood, appliances, and vehicles being stored outside on the property, in violation of zoning ordinances. In regard to Parcel B, the zoning administrator stated there were boats, junk cars and trucks, scrap metal, tires, and piles of wood being stored outside on the property, in violation of zoning ordinances. The letters also noted no flood plain management permit had been issued for either property.

Sharkey appealed the zoning violations to the Dubuque County Zoning Board of Adjustment, and at a June 5, 2007 hearing the Board determined both properties were being used as illegal junkyards and that the proper flood plain permits had not been obtained.  Sharkey challenged the decision in district court raising several defenses, including that he had a permissible existing nonconforming use and that the definition of “junkyard in the Dubuque County zoning ordinance was impermissibly vague.  The district court found that Sharkey was barred from using these defensed by the legal doctrine of “issue preclusion” – that these issues were decided when Sharkey and the county entered into the 1988 stipulated agreement.  Sharkey appealed to the Court of Appeals.

A party asserting issue preclusion – in this case Dubuque County – must show (1) the issue concluded in the previous action is identical to that in the present action; (2) the issue was raised and litigated in the prior action; (3) the issue was material and relevant to the disposition of the prior action; and (4) the determination of the issue was necessary and essential to the resulting judgment.  The Court of Appeals concluded that issue preclusion did apply.  The issue of whether Sharkey’s property is subject to the Dubuque County Zoning Ordinance, as well as the issue of whether the Flood Plain Management Ordinance applies, was determined in the 1988 action. The district court found the use of the property for auto salvage and the storage of vehicles and junk constituted a public nuisance and was not permitted under the Dubuque County Zoning Ordinance. The court also found Sharkey needed to follow the Dubuque County Flood Plain Management Ordinance.

The Court found that “claim preclusion” applied to Sharkey’s assertion that the term “junkyard” is impermissibly vague.  Claim preclusion involves the following elements: (1) the parties in the two actions were the same; (2) the claim in the second action could have been fully and fairly adjudicated in the prior case; and (3) there was a final judgment on the merits in the prior action.  The Court found that the issue concerning the definition of “junkyard” could have been fully and fairly adjudicated by Sharkey in 1988.

Finding sufficient evidence that Sharkey was impermissibly storing semitrailers, scrap metal, appliances, boats, junk cars and trucks, tires, and piles of wood on property in the M-2 Heavy Industrial District without a special use permit, the Court affirmed the decision of the district court.

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