Minnesota city’s moratorium to study pawnshops deemed valid

by Gary Taylor

Pawn America Minnesota, LLC v. City of St. Louis Park
(Minnesota Supreme Court, August 26, 2010) 

In 2007 a prospective pawnbroker was required to submit a zoning application, and an application for a pawnbroker’s license in order to operate a pawnshop in St. Louis Park, Minnesota (city).  In June of that year Pawn America submitted just such a zoning application.  The assistant city zoning administrator issued a zoning verification letter confirming that the intended use of the property complied with the City’s zoning code. Because of public concerns about the proliferation of pawnshops, the city council brought forward for consideration a moratorium on new pawnshops and a proposal to initiate a study in order to decide whether any additional conditions or restrictions on pawnshops should be adopted. Upon learning of the city council’s intent to vote on the moratorium Pawn America immediately entered into a lease agreement and submitted to the city a signed certificate of occupancy and land use registration application, and requested immediate issuance of a pawnbroker license. The city refused, and soon thereafter adopted the moratorium that temporarily prohibited new pawn-shops, and stopped any further processing of pending pawn-shop licenses. The zoning study was completed two months after the moratorium went into effect, and as a result of the study the city amended the zoning code to make pawnshops conditional uses which included a distance separation requirement between pawnshops, gun shops, liquor stores, and certain other business from being located within 350 feet of residentially zoned property.  The separation requirement precluded Pawn America from opening its pawnshop at the proposed location.                                                                  �
Pawn America asked the district court to declare the interim ordinance invalid because it was adopted for the improper purpose of delaying or preventing Pawn America from opening a pawnshop. The city moved to dismiss the claims. The district court dismissed Pawn America’s claims because the moratorium was not arbitrary or capricious.  The court affirmed previous caselaw stating that moratoria to preserve the status quo pending further study of zoning  are permissible. The court went further saying the mere adoption of an interim ordinance after learning of a particular proposed use of property does not, in itself, mean that enactment of an ordinance is arbitrarily enacted to delay or prevent the project. The Minnesota court of Appeals affirmed the district court, and Pawn America appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.�
The court examined the case in light of Minn. Stat. § 462.355(4)(a) which gives authority to a municipality, under certain conditions, to adopt a moratorium “for the purpose of protecting the planning process and the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.”  It determined that the city enacted the moratorium to give it time to study the situation and make informed decisions for the long-term welfare of the city.  While the court was cognizant of the hostility surrounding the location of a pawnshop at Pawn America’s proposed site, nothing in the statute precluded the city from adopting the moratorium when the city knew that it would affect only one particular entity, or that it was adopted in response Pawn America’s pending application. The court concluded that the city was acting to protect the planning process and the health, safety and welfare of its citizens and that the moratorium was not unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious.

Kansas Supreme Court rules on county ban on wind energy

by Allison Arends

Zimmerman, et. al. v. Wabaunsee County Board of Commissioners
(Kansas Supreme Court, October 30, 2009)

Wabaunsee County had no zoning regulations on wind energy systems.  A month after the Wabaunsee county zoning administrator notified the Board of Commissioners that a company was interested in building a wind farm in the county, the Board passed a temporary moratorium on the acceptance of applications for wind farm projects until the planning commission held a public hearing to deliberate possible zoning changes.  As part of the deliberation the Board ordered the planning commission to review and recommend updates to the county’s comprehensive plan, which had not been updated since 1974.  In 2004, the planning commission recommended changes to the comprehensive plan which included goals such as increasing the organizational pattern of land use, maintaining rural character of the county, promoting business growth etc.  Although the planning commission recommended allowing commercial wind farms, the Board added a new paragraph to the comprehensive plan which recommended prohibiting the development of commercial wind farms, and followed it up with zoning changes that carried out the ban.  The Board found that, “They would be incompatible with the rural, agricultural, and scenic character of the County. They would not conform to the Wabaunsee County Comprehensive Plan including the goals and objectives that were identified by the citizens of the county and incorporated as part of the Plan.  Land owners in Wabaunsee county interested in developing commercial wind farms on their properties sued the Board arguing that the Board acted unlawfully and unreasonably in its prohibition of commercial energy conversion systems.

The Kansas Supreme Court supported the Board’s actions, finding that the Board acted within its legislative powers to adopt the ban despite the planning commission’s recommendations to the contrary.  The court also validated the Board’s use of aesthetics as a justification for its decision, citing K.S.A 12-757(a) which states, “the governing body may adopt zoning regulations which may include but not be limited to, provisions which… (4)control the aesthetics of redevelopment or new development.” The court also noted that the Board acted reasonably when they argued that the commercial wind farms would not be in conformance with the Comprehensive Plan amended in 2004, and that the restriction would, “maintain the rural character of the county with respect to its landscape, open spaces, peace, tranquility and solitude.” The court recognized the wishes of the county’s residents as another factor that validated the Board’s  decision to ban commercial wind farms.

Moreover, the court specifically addressed the ecological harm commercial wind farms would have upon the endangered Tall Grass Prairie ecosystem located within the county. The court observed that “Wind farms could have a detrimental effect on the ecology of the area, affecting prairie chicken habitat, breeding grounds, nesting areas, feeding areas and flight patterns. Wind farms would not be in the best interest of the general welfare of the county as a whole based on aesthetics, size and scope of the complexes needed for them and their placement on the ridge lines of the county,” which make them “objectionable and unsightly.”





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