by Melanie Thwing
DeCook v. Rochester International Airport Zoning Board
(Minnesota Supreme Court, March 30, 2011)
“Where land use regulations, such as the airport zoning ordinance here, are designed to benefit a specific public or governmental enterprise, there must be compensation to landowners whose property has suffered a substantial and measurable decline in market value as a result of the regulations” McShane v. City of Faribault. 292 N.W.2d at 258-59
Leon and Judith DeCook purchased 240 acres of land for $159,600 just north of the Rochester International Airport in Minnesota in 1989. 19 acres of this land fell within Safety Zone A (the most restrictive zone) for the airport. Ordinance No. 3 which allowed for agriculture, commercial or industrial sites controlled this land. No dwellings were allowed in the zone as well as any use that brought more than 10 people to any acre or more than 50 people to a commercial industrial site.
Then in 2002 the Board enacted Ordinance No. 4 which allowed for fewer land uses in Safety Zone A than previously allowed. Ordinance No. 4 also brought another 28 acres of the DeCook’s land into the zone.
In 2005 the DeCooks filed an action in district court arguing that there was a substantial decline in market value of the property that benefited a public or governmental enterprise. They argued this constituted “a constitutional compensable taking under the principles of McShane v. City of Faribault.” Summary judgment was granted for the Board and the DeCooks’ appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals held that the DeCooks’ must be compensated if their property had a substantial decline in value and remanded to the district court. A jury found that the property diminished in value by $170,000; however, the district court found that the diminution did not constitute a compensable taking as a matter of law. The court sited that the ordinance did not affect the “primary use” of the DeCook property.
The DeCooks appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded in favor of the DeCooks. The Airport Zoning Board sought review with the Minnesota Supreme Court. The DeCooks argued that the ruling in McShane controls regulatory taking claims from airport safety-zone ordinances. The Board argued that a more flexible ruling from Penn Central should control the case. The Minnesota Supreme Court determined that the language in Minn. Const. art. I, § 13, which states that, ‘[p]rivate property shall not be taken, destroyed or damaged for public use without just compensation [emphasis added],” is broader than the takings clause in the United States Constitution’s, and because of this McShane controls.
McShane found that whenever a governmental enterprise is benefited and there is a substantial decline in market value there must be compensation to land owners. Whether that diminution is substantial is a question of law. In this case the Supreme Court found that the $170,000 is substantial, in that the damages exceed the purchase price of the 240-acre parcel before the enactment of Ordinance No. 4, which ultimately caused the diminution.
A regulatory taking did occur under the Minnesota Constitution. The Court of Appeals decision was affirmed and the case is remanded to the district court for judgment in favor of the DeCooks.