Resolution to create pocket park is not an ordinance

by Gary Taylor

Rickie and Darlene Suiter v. City Council of the City of Princeton
(Iowa Court of Appeals, February 5, 2014)

The Suiters own property in Princeton bounded on the east by the Mississippi River and on the west by South River Drive.  The property in dispute in this case abuts the Suiter property on the north.  It is zoned R1-Residential.  It was the subject of a past court case between the Suiters and the city which concluded with the title to the property being awarded to the city.

In September 2012 the city adopted a resolution declaring the property “shall from this day forward be used as a public park and/or green space in accordance with the permitted use under the R-1 zoning district.”  The Suiters sued the city, raising a number of claims.  The primary claim concerned the legal effect of the resolution.  The Suiters claimed that the resolution was “null and void” because the city “failed to comply with Iowa Code 414.4 [and the Princeton City Code] by failing to first publish notice of a public hearing and to hold a public hearing on the proposed reclassification of the permitted use before adopting” the resolution.

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the Suiters.  The notice provisions of Iowa Code 414.4 only apply to ordinances.  The city’s action was correctly characterized as a resolution since there was no change to the zoning of the property and also no change in the city’s comprehensive plan.  Princeton’s R-1 district allows for public or private parks as permitted uses, and so the resolution did not result in a de facto change in zoning either.

Appellant in rezoning denial cannot turn appeal into inverse condemnation action

by Gary Taylor

Dahm v. Stark County Board of County Commissioners
(North Dakota Supreme Court, December 19, 2013)

Richard Dahm submitted an application to the County Board for a rezoning to change his property designation from agricultural to residential. Dahm also sought approval of a preliminary plat called Duck Creek Estates, a 99 lot residential subdivision to “provide a rural living environment in a quasi-urban setting . . . .” The land is two miles west of the Dickinson city limits, and located in between Interstate-94 to the north and Highway 10 to the south. The property is adjacent to a previously platted subdivision called Maryville Subdivision.  Two public hearings were held before the Planning and Zoning Commission. At the first hearing, the city/county planner recommended denial based on several alleged deficiencies, including: Dahm did not specify which residential district he wanted to rezone his property to; there was no contract with adjacent land owners ensuring access to Highway 10; the application did not indicate whether road and access widths would meet or exceed Stark County regulations; the application did not indicate what type of bridge would overpass Duck Creek; the application did not delineate the location of wetlands or flood plains or include a flood plain analysis and environmental study; development could result in “pinching” the water flow of Duck Creek; and no potable water was available at the site. The planner also found the application was inconsistent with the Stark County Comprehensive Plan.

Rather than making a formal recommendation to the County Board, the Zoning Commission continued the hearing to allow Dahm to revise his application. Dahm submitted additional information, including a letter responding to the deficiencies, a development narrative, an application package addendum, and proposed zoning maps. The Southwestern District Health Unit also submitted a letter stating that Dahm’s plans for a sewer system were satisfactory. Prior to the second public hearing, the city/county planner again recommended denying Dahm’s application based on several deficiencies, including: the lack of a traffic impact analysis; road access did not meet Stark County standards; the application did not include the location of wetlands and flood plains; the absence of a flood plain elevation study to ascertain whether the project met the requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program and state law; the absence of a field wetland delineation for use during U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 404 Permit Process; no potable water; and that the application was inconsistent with the Stark County Comprehensive Plan.

At the second public hearing, Dahm’s attorney stated that an adjacent landowner agreed to provide highway access, on the condition that the adjacent owner’s property could also be re-zoned. Dahm’s attorney also claimed traffic density would be about 925 vehicles per day. Members of the neighboring Maryville subdivision voiced their opposition to the application based on concern over traffic and dust control. The planner also spoke in opposition to the application. Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission reiterated their trepidation about traffic access points, increased traffic density, and the lack of a study concerning the wetlands and flood plains. Based on these concerns, the Zoning Commission voted 8-0 to recommend a denial of the zoning amendment request.  The County Board adopted the recommendation of the Zoning Commission and denied Dahm’s request by a vote of 5-0. In voting to deny the application the County Board also included a provision that Dahm could not appear before the County Board for six months.

Dahm appealed the County Board’s decision to the district court and also sought to introduce evidence of similar zoning requests that had been previously approved by the County Board. The court denied Dahm’s motion to submit additional evidence and affirmed the County Board’s decision to deny the application for zoning change.  Dahm appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court.

The Court first noted that in framing its zoning decisions, the Zoning Committee and County Board looked to the Stark County Comprehensive Plan, a growth management policy amended in 2010 based on the county’s rapid growth in the agricultural and energy sectors. In its official recommendation, the Zoning Commission stated “there continues to be concerns with density, traffic, and sewer and water issues for residential development of the property.” Additionally, the Zoning Commission determined the application was inconsistent with at least four goals of the Comprehensive Plan related to compatibility of environmental characteristics of the site, adequacy of sewer and water services, the preservation of open spaces and natural resources, and the prohibition against locating development away from paved roads. The Court concluded that the procedure followed by the county “characterizes an exercise of discretion” that is “the product of a rational mental process by which the facts and the law relied upon are considered together . . . .”

Dahm also argued that when a subdivision plat addresses all issues listed in a county’s subdivision regulations it becomes the “mandatory duty” of the zoning authority to approve a subdivision plat.  The Court disagreed, stating that “The board shall consider all other relevant facts and determine whether the public interest will be served by the subdivision. . . . If it finds that the proposed plat does not make appropriate provisions, or that the public use and interest will not be served . . . then the board of county commissioners shall disapprove the proposed plat.”  The Zoning Commission and the County Board did take into account such factors as open spaces, drainage, streets, water supplies, and waste disposal, in addition to other considerations, in denying the application. Because it found Dahm’s application was at odds with the Comprehensive Plan, it was under no duty to approve the request.

Finally, Dahm argued the six-month restriction from appearing before the County Board was not only arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable, it was also unconstitutional because a new ordinance (increasing minimum lot sizes from 7,000 square feet to 5 acres) was passed during the six-month prohibition period.  Because Dahm purchased the property in reliance on the original ordinance and subdivision regulations, the County Board’s denial deprived Dahm of all reasonable use of the property.  The Court stated that the moving party in a denial of a change in zoning request cannot turn his appeal into an inverse condemnation action, and declined to address Dahm’s claim of an unconstitutional taking of his property. It found that the decision to implement a six-month appearance restriction was also not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.  The Board noted that Dahm had presented the Duck Creek Estates project three months in a row without adequately resolving the issues of roads, sewage, water, and population density. As the district court reasoned, “the time and effort expended by the Stark County Zoning Board, the City and County Planner, and by the Stark County Commission persuades the Court that there was no violation of Stark County’s authority and obligation to regulate land use . . . by their decision to impose the six month prohibition.” Given the repeated attempts to re-zone and the failure to make the requisite adjustments, it was not unreasonable for the County Board to implement a six-month wait period.

Supermajority requirement for county (MN) zoning ordinance amendment allowed to stand

by Gary Taylor

Motokazie! Inc., et al., v. Rice County, Minnesota
(Minnesota Court of Appeals, December 17, 2012)

Motokazie! Inc., sought to build a motorsports facility in Rice County, Minnesota that would include snowmobile and go-kart racing – land uses not allowed in the zoning district. Motokazie! and co-appellant Portinga Brothers LLC applied for a text amendment to Rice County Zoning Ordinance so that the uses they desired could be allowed with a conditional use permit. The Rice County Board of Commissioners (Board) considered the proposal and voted three-to-two in favor of the proposed change; however, under the Rice County zoning ordinance a supermajority (four-fifths) vote is required to adopt a zoning amendment.  Therefore, the amendment proposed by Motokazie! and Portinga was deemed defeated.

Motokazie! and Portinga brought an action against Rice County, arguing that: (1) the zoning amendment was actually approved by the three-to-two vote because Minn. Stat. § 375.51(1) dictates that a simple majority approves such amendment, and (2) the zoning amendment was automatically approved under Minn. Stat. § 15.99(2)(a) because it was not approved or denied within 60 days. The district court denied relief on both arguments.  The case was appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Supermajority.  The Court of Appeals concluded that while there is no explicit or specific grant of authority to create the supermajority requirement , such authority is clearly contemplated within chapter 394.  Minn. Stat. § 394.21(1) authorizes counties “to carry on county planning and zoning activities.” Minn. Stat. § 394.25(7)(a) authorizes a county to adopt “procedures to be employed in land development.”  Minn. Stat. § 394.312 refers to “procedures for the administration of official controls.”  Moreover, it is well settled that counties have the authority to exercise not only the powers as are expressly granted to them by the state, but also have the authority to enact such procedural rules and requirements necessary to exercise such powers.  Because chapter 394 authorizes the county to enact procedural controls, the enactment of a supermajority rule for zoning amendments was within the authority of the county and is not inconsistent with the procedural requirements of section 375.51.

60-day deadline. Minn. Stat. § 15.99(2)(a) states in part that “an agency must approve or deny within 60 days a written request relating to zoning, septic systems, watershed district review, soil and water conservation district review, or expansion of the metropolitan urban service area for a permit, license, or other governmental approval of an action. Failure of an agency to deny a request within 60 days is approval of the request….”  Motokazie! and Portinga argued that the 60-day rule required approval of the requested amendment and that it was undisputed that respondents did not comply with the 60-day rule.  The county responded that the 60-day deadline was extended by Motokazie’s agreement to a timeline that went beyond 60 days, and by an e-mail from a county official indicating that the decision would come after the 60-day deadline had passed.  The county further argued that a text amendment request is not “a written request relating to zoning . . . for a permit, license, or other governmental approval of an action” within the meaning of the statute. The Court of Appeals sided with the county on the statutory interpretation argument, concluding that a text amendment is of a different character than a permit or license, and therefore not contemplated by section 15.99(2)(a).  The Court observed that amending the text of a zoning ordinance would apply to all properties of that type in the county, rather than the specific property to be permitted, licensed, subdivided, or rezoned; making it “a pure exercise of the legislative power of the county.”  Also, approval of text amendment request would not allow the applying party to undertake an action, rather the request is for the government to take an action. The Court viewed this conclusion as being consistent with the policy goals for section 15.99, believing that “it benefits the public interest to have [text amendments that affect a] large class of property be made with adequate time for a fully deliberated decision” rather than having an automatic approval penalty result in approval without any justifications.

The district court decision was affirmed.

With no vested right to develop under old ordinance, clock requiring agency action does not start

by Victoria Heldt

Kraemer Mining & Materials, Inc v. City of Sauk Rapids
(Minnesota Court of Appeals, July 5, 2011)

In 2004, Kraemer Mining Materials leased 164 acres of land located within the Sauk Rapids Township with the intent to mine granite deposits from the property.    At that time, Joint Board Ordinance 13 governed land use regarding mining operations.  It stated that mining was a conditional use and required a conditional use permit that would expire automatically in five years.  On May 11, 2007 Kraemer requested a conditional use permit and a variance from the five-year limit in Ordinance 13 since they anticipated the project to last between 20 and 40 years.    The Board was informed of Kraemer’s request, but did not review it because the size of the proposed mine required an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW).  Kraemer was notified of the need for an EAW on May 29, 2007.  The same notification also stated that the 60-day deadline for an agency to act on a zoning request (required by Minn. Stat. § 15.99) would not begin to toll until the EAW process was complete.

During the 15 months that it took Kraemer to complete the EAW, the Board amended its zoning ordinances.  The goal of the amendment was to ensure that similar conditions were placed on future mines as those that the Board previously placed on a mine operated by Bauerly Bros. Inc.  In 2005, the Board granted an interim-use permit to Bauerly that contained conditions that were not contained in Ordinance 13.  In August of 2007, the Board adopted Ordinance 23 which it later included as Section 14 in Ordinance 25.  Ordinance 25 codified Ordinance 13 and all subsequent amendments into one easy, user-friendly ordinance.

On August 27, 2008 Kramer was notified that the EAW process was complete, and that it did not need to file an environmental impact statement.  Two days later, on August 29, 2008, Kraemer received a notice from Marney Curfman (City Planner) stating its conditional use permit application was now incomplete as it did not contain all of the information required by Section 14 under Ordinance 25.  The notice also informed Kramer that the 60-day deadline for acting on an application would not start until a complete application was received Although Kraemer felt that Ordinance 13 still applied to their application since it was in effect when the request was submitted, they submitted a second application for a conditional interim use permit (CIUP) that conformed to Ordinance 25.  In January of 2009 the Board unanimously approved Kraemer’s conditional use permit but denied its request for a variance from the five-year limit.

In district court, Kraemer argued that the Board violated the Minn. Stat. § 15.99, requirement that an agency address a permit application within 60 days.  They also claimed that several conditions in Section 14 were invalid under state law a lacked a rational basis.  Kraemer attempted to depose several people (i.e. the City Attorney, City Planner, and Community Development Director) but the Board objected to the depositions.  The court granted summary judgment for the Board.

On appeal, Kraemer brought forth its original two claims in addition to a challenge of the district court’s decision to deny Kraemer’s motion to compel depositions.  Kraemer argued that the Board violated Minn. Stat. § 15.99 based on two points.  It was of the opinion that Ordinance 13, and not Ordinance 25, applied to its application for a permit.  If this were the case, the clock on the 60-day limit would have begun to tick on August 27, 2008, when the environmental review process was complete, and the Board would have had to address it by October 27, 2008.  The Court disagreed with this logic.  It noted that the language of Ordinance 25 was clear in that it was to be “effective immediately.”  This means it applies to pending applications, consistent with the well-recognized principle that “there is no vested right in zoning.”  Only if a development has “progressed sufficiently with the physical aspects of the project or made a binding commitment to develop the property” can a developer use the vested rights principle to avoid the application of new rules.  Kraemer attempted to counter this decision with a previous case (Eagle Lake) where the Court ruled that a new zoning rule should not be retroactively applied.  This argument was rejected because the decision in Eagle Lake in fact held that the city could have discretion on which zoning rule to apply.  In this case, the Board has the discretion to apply the new ordinance if it so chooses.  The second part of Kraemer’s first claim asserts that the Board violated section 15.99 on the grounds that the letter received from the City Planner did not constitute notification by an “agency action” as required by the statute.  The Court dismissed this claim, stating that Curfman’s status as an employee of the City of Sauk Rapids is sufficient evidence that her letter is an agency action.

Next Kraemer contends that a CIUP is a “hybrid” permit that the Board is not authorized to make.  The Court disagreed, noting that Minn. Stat. § 462.3597 specifically allows municipalities to grant permits for interim uses of property.” The fact that the Board referred to the permit as a conditional interim use permit (as opposed to an interim use permit, with conditions) is irrelevant.  It is still simply an interim use permit regardless of its title.  Finally, Kraemer claimed that the five-year limitation on conditional permits lacks a rational basis because it does not “minimize conflicts with future development.”  All future development is hypothetical and the Board cannot predict when development will begin.  The Court decided that the five year limit is reasonably related to the purpose of preserving the transitional nature of the area, which will minimize conflicts with future development.  The Court also dismissed Kraemer’s claim that the mine will not have a detrimental effect on the surrounding property based on many complaints from property owners surrounding the Bauerly mine.

The Court ruled that the district court was correct in its refusal to compel depositions since the Board’s decision would be limited to the administrative record, the information was irrelevant, and the depositions would “impermissibly inquire into the mental impressions of the Board and its staff as well as information protected by attorney-client privilege.”

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court decision.

Rejection of amendment to zoning ordinance not subject to referendum

by Melanie Thwing and Gary Taylor

Grant County Concerned Citizens v. Grant County Board of Commissioners
(South Dakota Supreme Court, February 2, 2011)

Grant County Concerned Citizens proposed an amendment to the zoning code of Grant County, South Dakota as allowable under SDCL 11-2-28 . This amendment would increase setbacks for Class A, B, C, and D Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. The amendment was referred to the Planning and Zoning Board for review and recommendation. The Planning and Zoning Board took testimony, deliberated, and ultimately voted unanimously to reject the proposed amendment.  At the County Commissioners’ meeting public comments were again received.  A motion to approve the amendment died for lack of a second, and therefore the amendment was officially rejected.

The petitioners then filed a petition under SDCL 11-2-22 and SDCL §§ 7-18A-15 to -24 to refer the amendment to a public vote. At the next County Commissioners meeting, the request for a referendum petition was rejected on the grounds that the matter was not one that could be referred to the voters under state law.

The petitioners appealed the denial of the referendum in circuit court, which issued a letter agreeing with the Board. It agreed that the amendment was not a legislative decision and could not be referable to a referendum.

The petitioners appeal to the Supreme Court arguing that a proposed amendment to a zoning ordinance that has been rejected by the county commission is referable to a referendum vote.

SDCL §11-2-22 states:

The comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance, and subdivision ordinance may be referred to a vote of the qualified voters of the county pursuant to §§ 7-18A-15 to 7-18A-24.  The effective date of the comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance, or subdivision ordinance on which a referendum is to be held shall be suspended by the filing of the referendum petition until the referendum process is completed.”

The court determines that the language of the statute does not contemplate referring to the referendum process a proposed amendment that was rejected, as suspension of the effective date of the plan or ordinance implies that there must be some affirmative action.

Even if the rejected amendment could be construed to fall under SDCL §11-2-22, it would still need to be consistent with §§ 7-18A-15 to 7-18A-24. These state that an ordinance must be “adopted by a board of county commissioners” to qualify for a referendum.  In this case the board rejected, and did not adopt the amendment.

Further, §§ 7-18A15.1 limits the referendum process to only issues of legislative decisions of a board. It defines a legislative decision as one, “that enacts a permanent law or lays down a rule of conduct or course of policy for the guidance of citizens or their officers.  Any matter of a permanent or general character is a legislative decision [.]”  Using this definition, the circuit court came to the conclusion that the decision was not legislative because it enacted nothing. The Supreme Court agreed with this decision, stating that for the action to be eligible for referendum it must be an affirmative action that effects some change in an existing ordinance , ultimately it must change the “status quo.”

The court held that the process of referendum is present to serve as a constitutional right for the people to have an act submitted for their approval, which without the action would become law. It is also a means to stop laws which are not in effect to give the people an additional way of expressing their views on a legislative proposition. The circuit court was correct in their decision.

Council is proper party in claim of illegality of zoning amendment

by Gary Taylor

Rude v. City of Mapleton Board of Adjustment
(Iowa Court of Appeals, May 29, 2009)

Claim that zoning amendment is inconsistent with comprehensive plan must be brought against city council within 30 days of council decision.

In 2006 Long Lines Wireless applied for a special use permit to construct a cell tower on land it intended to purchase in Mapleton.  A public hearing was held by the Mapleton board of adjustment, at which Ronald Rude voiced objections, stating that the city zoning ordinance did not permit cell towers.  Long Lines withdrew its application.  The planning and zoning commission later recommended text changes to the ordinance to accommodate cell towers, and in June 2007 the city council adopted those changes.  Long Lines resubmitted its application and in November 2007 the board of adjustment issued a special use permit.  Long Lines completed construction of its tower in December 2007.  In the same month, Rude filed a writ of certiorari claiming the board of adjustment’s actions in granting the special use permit were illegal.  The district court dismissed the claim, and Rude appealed.

Rude raised two objections: (1) that the zoning amendments were adopted by the city council without consideration of the city’s comprehensive plan, and (2) that the special use permit granted Long Lines permission to violate the setback and frontage provisions of the zoning ordinance.

The Court of Appeals dispensed with Rude’s first claim by noting that Rude did not raise the issue at the special use permit hearing before the board of adjustment.  “An issue must first be presented to the agency [in this case, the board of adjustment] in order to be preserved for appellate review.”  The court also noted that the lawsuit was brought against the board of adjustment, not the city council.  The council was the legislative body that amended the ordinance.  To attack the legality of the ordinance it would have been necessary for Rude to file his action within 30 days of the city council’s adoption of the zoning ordinance amendments.

On the second claim, the Court of Appeals found that Rude was misinterpreting the city’s zoning ordinance with regard to the application of the setback regulations.  The amendments adopted in June 2007 were specifically applicable to cell towers, and the setback provisions in those amendments clearly supplanted those to be applied to other uses.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision in favor of the city.

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