by Gary Taylor
Johnson v. City of Fremont
(Nebraska Supreme Court, April 18, 2014)
[Note: The court includes a map of the area in question! I wish the courts would include maps in their published opinions more often. They make land use cases much easier to understand. I urge you to follow the link to the case to see the map.]
Neb. Rev. Stat. 18-2001 provides
Any city or village may, without petition or creating a street improvement district…pave any portion of a street otherwise paved so as to make one continuous paved street, but the portion to be so improved shall not exceed two blocks, including intersections, or thirteen hundred and twenty-five feet, whichever is the lesser Such city or village may also pave any unpaved street or alley which intersects a paved street for a distance of not to exceed one block on either side of such paved street.
Known as the gap and extend law, the City of Fremont used the statute to pave one block of Donna Street and assess the costs to abutting landowners, including the plaintiffs in this case, Roland and Karen Johnson. The pavement extended the paved portion of Donna Street one block to the west, but stopped at the intersection of Howard Street, which is unpaved.
The City argued that the action “was the paving of an extension of Donna Street for one block from where it intersects Jean Drive, a paved street,” and was a proper application of the gap and extend law. The Johnsons argued a narrower interpretation of the statute; specifically that the phrase “so as to make one continuous paved street” in the first sentence limits the statute’s application in all instances to circumstances where the pavement closes an unpaved gap between two paved streets.
The Nebraska Supreme Court sided with the City. Concluding that the terms of the law are clear and unambiguous, the Court found that the statute’s second sentence clearly applied to the City’s extension of Donna Street. “The first sentence [which included the language ‘so as to make one continuous paved street’] provides the power to fill a gap….The section sentence, empowers a city to make a single-block extension of paving from an intersecting street. The Legislature used the word ‘also’ to make it clear that the second sentence provided an additional power beyond that granted by the first sentence….The [Johnson’s] interpretation would effectively eliminate the second sentence of section 18-2001.”