Failure to sue the proper party proves fatal to rezoning challenge

Rita Aust, et al. v. Platte County, PC Homes L.L.C., Kelly Jo Yulich Trust, Arlene Kagan and Wendy Winer
Missouri Court of Appeals, December 29, 2015

Real Estate developer PC Homes entered into a purchase agreement with three landowners to buy their property with the purpose of developing it into a single-family community in Platte County, MO. Platte County Planning and Zoning Commission twice denied the application to rezone the property from “agricultural” and “rural estates” to “single family high density” and “planned residential.” The Platte County Commission approved the rezoning to “planned residential.”

Aust and 41 other Platte County property owners (Appellants) filed a petition in the Circuit Court of Platte County for a writ of certiorari and declaratory judgment that the Commission’s decision was illegal, unreasonable and arbitrary. They wanted the rezoning to be denied or rescinded. Platte County was the only defendant on the petition. Platte County filed to dismiss the petition on multiple grounds.

The circuit court dismissed the petition, which was followed by an appeal.

The Appellants argued that the circuit court erred in dismissing their complaints because: (1) the provided proper notice to all parties; (2) their failure to file the record of the administrative proceedings within the statutorily-required time frame was not fatal to their claim; (3) declaratory relief was available to them; and (4) they sufficiently pled a claim for injunctive relief.

In addressing the first two points on appeal, the court referenced Section 64.660. Even though Platte County is a non-charter first class county, its planning and zoning program operates under statutes of second and third class counties. Section 64.660 provides in part, that any land owners disturbed by a county commission decision may present a petition in circuit court within 30 days after the decision. The statute also provides that after the petition is presented the court should allow a writ of certiorari. The court is allowed to reverse, affirm or modify the decision brought up for review (64.660.2).

The Appellants filed the petition against the County, not the County Board of Commission. This led to the Appellants being unable to file the record within 30 days of filing their petition. The Appellants sought to include the individual Commissioners within their official capacities, they did not ask to join the Commission as a body. Because the Appellants failed to seek a writ of certiorari against the proper party under Section 64.660 and did not turn in the record within 30 days the first two points were denied.

Regarding the third point, Section 64.660 provides for judicial review of the Commission’s zoning decisions through a petition for writ of certiorari. A declaratory judgment is not available to the Appellants because the option of the legal remedy precludes declaratory relief. Point three was denied.

Regarding point four, parties are not allowed to obtain equitable relief, such as an injunction, “unless the facts pleaded in the petition show they lack an adequate remedy at law”. The Appellants did not plead any facts showing that they lacked an adequate remedy at law. Point Four was denied and the circuit court’s judgment was affirmed.

Hearing before planning commission not a ‘contested case’ under Missouri Administrative Procedures Act

by Andrea Vaage

450 N. Lindbergh Legal Fund v. City of Creve Coeur, Missouri
Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, June 16, 2015

Biermann Company owned a 1.98 acre tract in Creve Coeur, Missouri. The property was located in a General Commercial zoning district, which allows assisted-living facilities as a conditional use. Biermann Company applied for a conditional-use permit for an assisted-living facility for the elderly. The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the CUP after a public hearing, and the City council later approved the permit application.

Plaintiffs sought judicial review of City of Creve Coeur’s approval of the conditional-use permit as a contested case under the Missouri Administrative Procedures Act (MAPA). The trial court dismissed the petition on its merits.  The plaintiffs appealed the decision.

The threshold question before the Court was whether the case could be tried as a contested case (versus a noncontested case) under MAPA.  MAPA  defines a contested case as “a proceeding before an agency in which legal rights, duties or privileges of specific parties are required by law to be determined after hearing.” In order for a case to qualify as contested, parties must be given an opportunity for a formal hearing with the presentation of evidence, including sworn testimony and cross-examination of witnesses.  Contested cases also require written findings of fact and conclusions of law.  The hearing must be mandated by a statute or ordinance outside the MAPA.

As per rules set out in Creve Coeur City Code 405.170, the Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing about the conditional-use permit for the assisted-living facility. The City Code provides no procedural requirements for the hearing. The hearing for the assisted-living facility was held on the record and those who spoke were sworn in; however, no witnesses were examined or cross-examined, no objections to evidence were made, and no formal rules of evidence were followed.  Furthermore, the hearing was held for the Planning and Zoning Commission to make a recommendation to the City Council. The City Council made the final decision for the CUP application; therefore, the hearing held before the Commission did not determine the legal rights, duties, or privileges of specific parties.

The Court found that the recommendation of the Planning and Zoning Commission could not be reviewed as a contested case, and since plaintiffs sought judicial review under the sections governing contested cases it was improper for the trial court to consider the case.  As a result, the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the case and remanded it to the trial court with instructions to dismiss the petition for review on grounds that plaintiffs failed to state claim upon which relief can be granted.

Non-conforming use protections may apply to entire mobile home park, not individual home sites

by Gary Taylor

Heck v. City of Pacific and City of Pacific Board of Zoning Adjustment
Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, October 28, 2014

The Hecks have operated Pacific Mobile Home Manor on the same tract of land since 1983.  Within Pacific Manor is a mobile home pad addressed as 303 South Second Street, which is positioned approximately 14 feet from the pad to its south, and the same distance from the pad to its north.  When renters moved out with their mobile home in the late 2000s, the Hecks attempted to install a new mobile home of the same size on the vacant pad around two years later.  The city of Pacific, however, informed the Hecks that the new mobile home could not be placed upon the pat unless they obtained a variance from the city code provision – adopted in 1996 – that requires 20-foot spacing between mobile homes or other structures.  Mr. Heck testified before the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) that he was under the impression that he already had a variance for the pad because the pad and mobile home on the pad were permitted when he bought Pacific Manor in 1983.  The ZBA voted to deny the variance, and the Hecks appealed.

The Hecks argued that Pacific Manor existed in its present configuration, including the spacing of mobile home pads, prior to the adoption of the 20-foot spacing requirement in 1996; in other words, that their legal nonconforming use applies to the mobile home park as a whole and not on a “per pad” basis.  Mr.  Heck testified “I mean I can’t really move all the trailers out and get rid of them and totally reorganize that all.  So I’m just trying to maintain the property and keep it as nice as I can.”

The city, on the other hand, argued that even if the present configuration and spacing of pads in Pacific Manor was a lawful nonconforming use, it has since been extinguished by “structural alteration” – moving the old mobile home off the pad.  Furthermore, the city argued that the nonconforming use was abandoned because the pad sat vacant without a mobile home for two years.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the BZA did not analyze the case as a nonconforming use case; rather, the BZA was simply concerned with whether the Hecks’ application met the standard for a variance.  “A nonconforming use differs from a variance.”  The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the ZBA to hear evidence on the issue of whether the Hecks are entitled to continue a lawful nonconforming use, noting that “if in fact the Hecks have continued their lawful nonconforming use of Pacific Manor, the spacing requirements [of the city code] do not apply and no variance is needed.”

Record sufficient to show council considered all CUP standards

by Kaitlin Heinen

Thomas DeBold v. City of Ellisville, MO
(Missouri Court of Appeals, August 29, 2013)

Wal-Mart was granted a conditional use permit (CUP) from the city council of Ellisville, Missouri on September 5, 2012. The CUP was valid for 12 months via passage of Ordinance No. 3083. Prior to the Ordinance, the CUP had been reviewed by the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission, the City Attorney, the City Planner, St. Louis County, and several other persons and entities. During the July 18, 2012 City Council meeting, the City introduced 27 documents, including reviews done by both City staff and outside consultants.  On September 19, 2012, Thomas DeBold filed an appeal with the City challenging the CUP, but on October 3, 2012, DeBold’s appeal was denied. The trial court found the decision to grant the CUP supported by competent and substantial evidence upon the record, which DeBold appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals.

First, the court must “consider the ruling of the municipal agency, not the circuit court” and decide only whether the municipal agency’s decision is supported by substantial and competent evidence upon the record. DeBold argued that the trial court applied the incorrect standard of review and “failed to make the required factual findings and legal conclusions.” However, the Missouri Court of Appeals found otherwise after considering the extensive documents reviewed and the factual findings published by the trial court in their “Order and Judgment.”

DeBold also argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion for judgment. City Code Section 400.150 (B)(1) provides that, “[i]f an authorized agent or the leaseholder of the use is requesting the conditional use permit, the property owner must also sign the conditional use permit application.” DeBold claimed that Clarkchester Apartments Association (the landowner) did not sign authorization for the CUP. However, the record shows that all 8 members, who own the Clarkchester apartment buildings, signed the forms, thus satisfying Section 400.150(B)(1) and properly allowing the trial court to deny DeBold’s motion for judgment on these grounds.

Then DeBold argued that the trial court erred in finding that the application for the CUP met the requirements of City Code Section 400.150(F) and that the application was supported by competent and substantial evidence. The City countered that DeBold failed to address 13 of the 17 requirements set out in the Ordinance relating to the granting of a CUP, which thus waives any possible argument on those factors.

In regards to competent and substantial evidence on the record, the court held that there was enough to support the City Council’s decision. As for traffic conditions, the City reviewed the October 11 “Trip Generation and Distribution Technical Memo” and the March 2012 “Traffic Impact Study,” both of which showed that assumptions made on traffic conditions during and after the Wal-Mart Supercenter’s development seemed reasonable and had an overall positive impact. Additionally, the area for the development has been zoned as C-3 Commercial for many years, and the development is similar in size to existing retail centers to the north and east of the area. Also, “there was evidence that the proposed development would not negatively impact traffic, would not increase fire hazards, would increase stormwater capabilities and water quality at the site, would lead to improved utilities, would result in environmental contaminants being cleaned up, would discourage crime through the use of bright lighting, manned store entrances, and surveillance cameras, would increase the City’s revenue, and would catalyze further development within the City”—all compatible uses with the surrounding neighborhood. The City also found “that the proposed project is consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan and will feature many of the attributes envisioned as part of the Great Streets Master Plan.” All of this is competent and substantial evidence that the development is consistent with “standards of good planning practices” and is evidence that the proposed use of the development is both reasonable and appropriate for a commercially zoned area.

Finally, DeBold argued that the Ordinance No. 3083 (the CUP) makes no reference to some factors related to the CUP standard.  However, the certified record indicates that City considered all 17 factors required by the City Code. He also claimed that the trial court erred in holding that he failed to adequately plead procedural irregularities before the trial court. Even if he had, “he failed to identify and/or raise any procedural irregularity before the City Council.” To the contrary, “the record demonstrates that DeBold had every opportunity to raise any alleged procedural problem because every document and information necessary to do so was made available to him months before he filed his lawsuit.” (“As public records of the City, these documents were available to any member of the public, from and after the July 18, 2012, meeting.”) Rather, “DeBold has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies [in the context of review of city zoning decisions pursuant to Chapter 89] and thus is not now entitled to judicial review.”

The Missouri Court Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

BZA cannot condition permit on removal of nonconforming billboards when all criteria for granting permit are met

by Gary Taylor

Curry Investment Co., et al. v. Kansas City Board of Zoning Adjustment
(Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, May 7, 2013)

On May 20, 2011, MLB Holdings filed an application with the Kansas City Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) requesting a special use permit to operate a pawn shop in Kansas City, Missouri. The landowner, Curry Investment Company, agreed to lease its building and parking lot to MLB.  The property where the building and parking lot are located contains two nonconforming outdoor advertising signs, which Curry Investment leases to CBS Outdoor. The BZA held a hearing on July 12, 2011, concerning MLB’s application. The BZA staff submitted a report at the hearing that cited the requisite special use permit criteria, and concluded that “all of these criteria are met with the proposed application.” The report also stated:

In recent years staff has had a general policy that as property is redeveloped,3 any existing billboards that are on the site are removed within five years of the approval of the development. The City Plan Commission has affirmed that position several times, specifically in the last several months . . . . Staff believes as part of the approval process for a pawn shop that this development be held to the same standard as other developments within other areas of the City.

Curry Investment opposed any condition that required removal of the signs. Ultimately, the BZA approved the special use permit subject to  conditions, including removal of the outdoor advertising signs. Curry Investment and MLB requested a rehearing. The BZA held a hearing on the request for rehearing, and the BZA thereafter denied a rehearing.

Curry appealed the BZA decision to circuit court, which found that the BZA’s decision to require removal of the two outdoor advertising signs for special use permit approval for the pawnshop was not supported by substantial and competent evidence, was unrelated to any impact generated by the pawnshop use at the property, and exceeded the BZA’s authority. The BZA then filed a notice of appeal to the Missouri court of appeals.

The BZA contended that its authority to require removal of nonconforming signs as a condition for a special use permit comes from its mandate to determine if a proposed special use complies with the standards of the Code, whether it is in the interest of the public convenience and will not have a significant adverse impact on the general welfare of the neighborhood or community, and whether it is compatible with the character of the surrounding area in terms of building scale and project design. The Court of Appeals disagreed.  The record reflected that the BZA staff examined all of the special use criteria set forth in the zoning code and concluded that “all of these criteria are met with the proposed application.” Therefore, the staff found the proposed pawn shop, in its proposed location: 1) to be in compliance with the standards of the Code, 2) to be in the interest of public convenience and to not have a significant adverse impact on the general welfare of the neighborhood or community, 3) to be compatible with the character of the surrounding area in terms of site planning and building scale and project design, 4) to be compatible with the character of the surrounding area in terms of operating characteristics, such as hours of operation, outdoor lighting, noise, and traffic generation, and 5) to not have a significant adverse impact on pedestrian safety or comfort. “While the BZA now contends otherwise on appeal, nothing in the record suggests that removal of the nonconforming outdoor advertising signs was related to any of the special use criteria set forth in the Code. To the contrary, the BZA staff stated that all of the special use criteria were met, but that sign removal was recommended based on a ‘general’ staff policy that as property is redeveloped, the removal of existing billboards is required….Once it was determined that the criteria for the special use permit were met, it was unreasonable to require removal of the nonconforming signs as a special use permit condition. While the BZA may want to foster a general policy that, as property is redeveloped, any existing billboards on a site are removed, where the BZA has proven no relation to sign removal with the special use criteria set forth in the zoning code, this policy is in contradiction to [the protection of] nonconforming signs.”

E-mail from planning department staff member after building permit issued was not an “appealable decision” regarding the permit

by Gary Taylor

BT Residential, LLC v. Board of Zoning Adjustment of the City of Kansas City
(Missouri Court of Appeals, December 4, 2012)

On July 16, 2010, the City of Kansas City issued a permit for the construction of a cellular tower to the American Tower Corporation (ATC). In early August 2010, BT Residential (BT), the owner of a neighboring property, became aware of the construction of the cellular tower after a 150-foot, steel pole was erected and contacted the City to review the plans for the tower. On August 10 representatives for BT met with members of the City Planning Department to discuss perceived violations of the Development Code. On August 17 the attorney for BT met with the Director of the Department and explained why BT believed that the building permit had been improperly issued because the cellular tower and equipment building on the property did not meet the requirements of the Development Code. On August 18 BT’s attorney sent a follow-up email reiterating his points and asking the Department to issue a stop-work order and to revoke the permit. On August 29 the attorney sent an email to another member of the Department indicating that he had not yet received a written response from the Department. On August 30 The Department member sent the attorney an email stating: “My apologies if there was any miscommunication, I intended the written response to follow once information to allow a complete response was available. We have been unable to locate the documentation related to the demonstration of need provisions, but have been in contact with the applicant and now expect receipt by midweek. We will continue to follow-up with the applicant as needed, and will provide you an update once we have confirmed compliance to those provisions.” The e-mail went on to cite the relevant provisions of the Development Code as they related to the project.  On September 3 BT filed an appeal with the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) claiming to challenge “the determination of the City’s Building Official… that the permit issued to American Tower Corporation for construction of a new cell tower complies with the City’s Zoning and Development Code, Chapter 88.” ATC filed a response opposing BT’s appeal and moving for dismissal of that appeal based upon the fact that BT had not filed its appeal within fifteen days of the issuance of the building permit or within fifteen days of discovering that such a permit had been issued as required under the Development Code.  The BZA dismissed BT’s appeal, concluding that the August 30 email from the staff member of the Planning Department was not an appealable decision under the Development Code.  When BT appealed the BZA decision the trial court affirmed.

In response to BT’s claims that the August 30 email constituted an appealable administrative determination, the Court of Appeals reviewed the City’s Development Code and concluded that in order for the e-mail to constitute an appealable decision two elements must be present: (1) that the Director of the Planning Department had the authority to revoke the building permit and (b) that he delegated that authority to the staff member who sent the e-mail.  The Court determined that neither were the case.  No provision of the City Development Code grants the Director the authority to revoke a previously granted building permit based on considerations which existed at the time of the permit’s original issuance. Furthermore, even if the authority did exist somewhere in the Development Code there was no evidence in the record that such authority was delegated to to the staff member or for that matter, whether the staff member even purported to exercise such authority. While BT argued that it could be inferred from the fact that the staff member handled communication with BT following BT’s request that the permit be revoked that the Director had authorized the staff member to decide whether to revoke the permit, the BZA was not required to make such an inference. In addition, the language contained in Franzen’s e-mail could just as reasonably be interpreted as an explanation of the Director’s decision to issue the permit, as opposed to a decision whether to revoke that permit. Thus, the BZA could reasonably have concluded that Franzen’s e-mail was not an appealable decision.

Warrenton (MO) city building code applies to Warren County building

by Gary Taylor

Arden Engelage and Commissioners of Warren County v. City of Warrenton
(Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, September 18, 2012)

The city of Warrenton is located within Warren County, Missouri.  Warren County decided to build a new county administration building on property located within the city limits of Warrenton. In 2009, when the county learned of the city’s plan, the city notified the county that, pursuant to the city code, the county must obtain and pay for various building permits from the city before commencing construction of the new administrative building. The county objected, informing the city that it would not be applying for or obtaining a building permit because it was not legally required to do so. The parties then exchanged a series of communications. Without applying for or obtaining any permits, the county commenced construction by having its contractor mobilize its equipment at the site and begin to grade the building site. The city building inspector went to the site on October 15, 2010, and issued a stop-work order because the county had begun construction and grading in violation of the city’s building and safety code. Construction did not stop.  Another stop work order was issued.  The county applied for a building permit, but also sought a declaratory judgment holding that the city did not have the authority from the legislature to require a county to comply with the city’s building code.

The Missouri Court of Appeals stated that the dispute must be resolved by looking to the intent of the legislature.  The court must construe the provisions delegating power together and harmonize them if reasonably possible to do so, looking at the plain and ordinary meaning of the language used and to give effect to that intent, if possible.  The county relied on two sections of Chapter 49 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.  Section 49.270 states, in part, that the county commission “shall have control and management of the property, real and personal, belonging to the county….”  Section 49.470 provides, in part, that the county commission has the power “to build any county buildings….”  The county argues that the city may not interfere with or regulate the duly-authorized activities of the State or any of its other subdivisions unless the state constitution or a state statute specifically and expressly grants such power or authority.

The city, in contrast, relies on the police powers granted to municipalities by Section 79.110, which reads in part “The mayor and board of aldermen of each city … shall have power to enact and ordain any and all ordinances … as they shall deem expedient for the good government of the city, the preservation of peace and good order….”  It also relies on Section 79.450.4 which gives fourth-class cities (like Warrenton) the authority to  “regulate and control the construction of buildings…and may provide for the inspection of the same.”  Under these provisions the city enacted its building code.

The Court determined that these statutes gave the city the authority to regulate the county administration building through its building code.  It found that through Section 79.450.4 “the legislature has granted cities broad authority to regulate construction of buildings generally, without qualification as to whether the building or owner is ‘private’ or ‘public.'”  The provisions cited by the county, in contrast, are “merely a mechanism to ensure that a county building is built according to the contract and the approved plans. The authority here does not speak to protecting the public’s safety.”  The court found it important that Chapter 64 of Missouri Revised Statutes gives first and second class counties control of construction by county commissions “[fo]r the purpose of promoting the public safety, health and general welfare, to protect life and property and to prevent the construction of fire hazardous buildings….”  Warren county is a third class county, which has no such general power to regulate to protect public health and safety.

The court dismissed as inapplicable five prior cases cited by the county for the proposition that cities do not have the authority to regulate counties in matters such as these.  “[In these cases the] courts were not applying some broad over-arching proposition that a city may not regulate a county absent an express grant of such authority over a county entity. Instead, the courts carefully considered the legislature’s competing delegations of authority in order to determine the scope of power one political subdivision had to regulate another.”

City granted new trial after being found liable for wrongful building demolition

by Kaitlin Heinen and Gary Taylor

Dave McNeill v. City of Kansas City, Missouri
(Missouri Court of Appeals, August 7, 2012)

In summer 2008, McNeill purchased property, containing a building that had been on the City of Kansas City’s dangerous buildings list since August 2001. McNeill notified the City of his plans to renovate the building into a multi-tenant residential building. He began various renovations, but the work on the building stagnated when McNeill’s bank backed out of a construction loan.

In June 2009, the City sent a letter to McNeill instructing him to remove some debris sitting on the property and some weeds  The city requested a meeting with him. McNeill complied with the cleanup request. On June 24, 2009, McNeill met with City Inspector Smith and Codes Enforcement Supervisor Parks, who was filling in for Crider, the Codes Enforcement Supervisor regularly assigned to that file. McNeill explained his plans for continued renovation and that he would obtain more funding soon. Smith and Parks agreed to allow McNeill more time. They also ordered McNeill to remove more debris from the side of the building, so McNeill hired a contractor to remove the debris and grade the yard in July 2009. McNeill notified Smith and Parks of the completed work on July 20. On July 31, McNeill received preliminary commitment for another construction loan.

On August 8, 2009, the City demolished the building without contacting McNeill, disregarding the policy of the Dangerous Buildings Division to send the property owner a pre-demolition notice. Crider had recommended the demolition based on records on file, which included neither Smith and Parks’ notes from June 24 indicating their promise to McNeill for more time, nor a record of McNeill’s July 20 phone call.  The City subsequently sent McNeill a bill for the demolition.

On August 7, 2010, McNeill filed a petition, claiming the city wrongfully demolished his building. The trial’s jury returned a verdict in favor of McNeill’s claim for $150,000. The City then claimed that the trial court had erroneously submitted to the jury an instruction containing a roving commission. (A ‘roving commission’ is “an abstract instruction…in such broad language as to permit the jury to find a verdict without being limited to any issues of fact or law developed in the case.”) The trial court agreed and granted the City a new trial.  McNeill appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals.

The Missouri Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that its jury instruction created a roving commission.  The Court of Appeals agreed that the instruction given to the jury as to finding whether the building was “wrongfully demolished” was too general because it did not identify the acts or omissions of the City that might be considered “wrongful.”  The Court of Appeals noted that there are no Missouri Approved [Jury] Instructions -nor is there any case law interpreting – the state statute (Section 67.450) regarding wrongful demolition. Without precedent, the protocol then is to apply the word’s “plain and ordinary meaning,” which can be appropriately found in the dictionary. The Court of Appeals found that the term “wrongful” does not need to be defined; rather the instruction should simply request the jury to find that (a) plaintiff owned a building, (b) the City demolished it, (c) that the City‟s demolition of the structure was wrongful in one or more specified ways, and (d) plaintiff was damaged as a direct result thereof. In its simplest context, the word “wrongful” or “wrongfully” “only requires the result to be incorrect, regardless of whether the City’s conduct was mistaken, careless, negligent, reckless or intentional.” The submission of the way or ways in which the demolition was wrongful will differ from case to case.

The trial court’s grant of a new trial was affirmed.  The Court of Appeals recommended that on retrial the trial court refer to Section 67.450 to establish the criteria on which the jury should be specifically instructed, and that the jury be instructed that any demonstrations of wrongful demolition must be supported by evidence.

Competing bid submitted by council member, but withdrawn before vote, does not give rise to conflict of interest

by Victoria Heldt

Eldon Bugg v. City of Boonville
(Missouri Court of Appeals, April 24, 2012)

In July 2010, the City of Boonville city council held a regular meeting at which the agenda included voting on Bill 2010-015.  This bill was to approve the Kemper Village Homes Project plan site and its developer agreements.  The council held a discussion about the project where fourteen members of the community (including Bugg) spoke in opposition to it and four members spoke in favor of it.  Councilman Hombs addressed the rumors of his conflict of interest, stating that he had previously submitted a bid for the development of the project, but that he had since withdrawn the bid and no longer had any financial interest in it.  After discussion, the council voted on the matter and was evenly split with four members voting to approve and four members voting to deny.  The mayor was called to break the tie and voted in favor of the project.  The bill was signed and Boonville City Ordinance 4216 was enacted.  Bugg filed suit in trial court arguing that the mayor was not allowed to break the tie and that Councilman Hombs did have a conflict of interest.  The trial court disagreed and ruled in favor of the City.  Bugg appealed.

Bugg first argued the ordinance’s invalidity on the grounds that the bill did not receive a majority vote from the city council.  Missouri statute §77.080 provides that no ordinance shall be passed except by a bill that receives a majority vote from the council.  Missouri statute §77.250 provides that, in the event of a tie vote, the mayor is required to cast the deciding vote so long as he/she does not have a conflict of interest.  Both parties acknowledged the existence of these two statutes, but each had a different interpretation.  Bugg argued that a tie-breaking vote is only necessary when the voting process fails to result in a decision.  He reasoned that a tie equated to a failure to pass, which is, in itself, a decision.  He therefore asserted that no additional vote was necessary.  He based his argument on the ruling in Merriam v. Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway Co., in which a similar tie-breaking situation took place.  In Merriam, the Court ultimately decided that the president of the council (who cast the deciding vote) was not allowed to vote since he was not technically a member of the council.

The Court rejected this argument, noting that Merriam was decided over 100 years ago and has not been cited since.  In addition, it is inconsistent with rulings that have since been decided that pertain to the statute.  The Court also noted that the rules governing such voting processes were different during the time Merriam was decided.  The Court concluded that statute § 77.250 makes the mayor a temporary member of the council for the purpose of breaking ties.  In this case, the Mayor was acting within her duty to break the tie.  Therefore, the bill was validly passed by the council.

Bugg’s second argument was that Councilman Hombs still had a conflict of interest in the matter regardless of the fact that he withdrew his bid for development of the project before the vote.  The language of the council code reads that “every member who shall be present when a question is stated by the chair shall vote thereupon, unless excused by the council, or unless he is prohibited by section 2-108 of this Code, in which case he shall not vote.”  Section 2-108 of the code contains language restricting a council member with a conflict of interest from voting.  Bugg argued that Homb’s submission of a bid created an irreversible conflict of interest and that he should be precluded from voting on the matter.  The Court disagreed, noting the code requires all council members to be free from a conflict of interest “when the question is stated by the chair.”  In this case, Hombs did not have a conflict of interest when the matter was subjected to a vote.  Bugg next argued that Hombs failed to comply with the Code when he did not “file a written report of the nature of the interest.”  The Court concluded that, since no conflict of interest existed at the time of the vote, Hombs was not required to file any such report detailing a then non-existent conflict of interest.  The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision in favor of the City of Boonville.  Ordinance 4216 was upheld.

Missouri Court of Appeals addresses neighbor’s standing in zoning board litigation

by Gary Taylor

Underwood v. St. Joseph (MO) Board of Zoning Adjustment; Sharon Kennedy (Appellant)
(Missouri Court of Appeals, January 17, 2012)

Underwood submitted construction plans to the city of St. Joseph to obtain a building permit for a detached garage measuring 1,328 square feet. The city approved the plan and issued a building permit. Approximately three months later, however, when the structure was 80% complete, the city received an anonymous complaint about the garage and issued a stop work order because the garage actually measured 1,427 square feet. In fact, the city zoning ordinance limits the size of a detached garage to “an area no greater than 30% of the rear yard area behind the principal structure” which, based on the size of Underwood’s yard, meant that the garage could be no larger than 1,035 square feet. The city advised Underwood to either obtain a demolition permit or seek an area variance from the city board of zoning adjustment (BZA). Underwood chose the variance route.

In response to Underwood’s variance request, the city mailed certified letters to adjacent landowners (including Kennedy) notifying them of the BZA hearing on the variance request. Prior to the hearing the city acknowledged that it erroneously issued the building permit for the 1,328-square-foot design and offered to pay 76% of Underwood’s cost to downsize the garage (the portion of excessive square footage attributable to the city’s error). Also prior to the hearing the BZA received written comments from three adjacent landowners regarding Underwood’s requested variance. One of the comments was from Kennedy, expressing her opposition to the variance based upon her concern that “the garage does not fit the character of the neighborhood due to its size and construction material.” and that it “may adversely affect property values in the neighborhood.” At the BZA hearing, however, no one appeared to testify in opposition to the variance request. Nonetheless, the BZA denied the variance. Underwood filed an appeal of the denial with the circuit court. Underwood was identified as “petitioner,” and the BZA and City were identified as “respondents.” On April 4, 2011, the circuit court entered a judgment reversing the BZA’s denial of the variance and remanding the case with orders that the variance request be granted. At a second BZA hearing held May 3, 2011, the city recommended that the BZA adopt the circuit court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law. Kennedy appeared at this second hearing and argued against granting the variance request based upon her previously stated reasons. At the second hearing, the BZA adopted the circuit court’s findings and granted the variance. One week later, Kennedy filed a notice of appeal in the Missouri Court of Appeals challenging the circuit court’s judgment.

The Court of Appeals determined that Kennedy lacked standing to bring the appeal before the Court of Appeals because Missouri statute limits the right to appeal to “any party” aggrieved by a decision of a circuit court, and Kennedy was not a party to the proceedings before the circuit court.  Kennedy cited two reasons why the statute should not be followed; first, that the Missouri Administrative Procedures Act allows any person “aggrieved by a decision in a contested case” to appeal and that, as a result, she was not required to be a party to the circuit court litigation.  The court rejected this argument because the zoning enabling statutes contemplate a different process that makes this provision of the Administrative Procedures Act inapplicable. Second, Kennedy argued that when the city chose not to appeal the circuit court’s decision, standing transferred to those for whom the city was acting in a representative capacity; i.e., those like Kennedy who would be aggrieved by the decision. The court rejected this argument as well, stating that state law allows aggrieved persons to formally intervene in litigation when their interests are at stake.   Kennedy countered by pointing to Missouri caselaw that suggests that neighboring landowners do not have a right to intervene in circuit court proceedings stemming from BZA matters (because, in her interpretation, the BZA is adequately representing the interests of the neighbors).  The court rejected her interpretation of those cases, and pointed to other Missouri cases, including the dissent of a case where intervention was denied, that imply that a landowner may indeed be able to intervene in a BZA case at the circuit court level if the motion to intervene is timely.

The Court of Appeals dismissed Kennedy’s appeal for lack of standing.

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