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.