IN COURT OF APPEALS
Chan Lam, et al.,
Filed May 30, 2006
Reversed and remanded
City of St. Paul
File No. 05-646
Christopher K. Wachtler, Collins, Buckley, Sauntry & Haugh, P.L.L.P., W-1100 First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for relators)
Manuel Cervantes, St. Paul City Attorney, Rachel Gunderson, Assistant City Attorney, 400 City Hall, 15 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Collins, Judge.
Because a land use allowed under a conditional-use permit exists independently of how the land is actually used, a use does not cease to exist just because a permitted business activity is discontinued.
O P I N I O N
In this certiorari appeal from a St. Paul City Council decision, relators contend that the city council’s denial of relators’ license applications should be reversed and that this court has jurisdiction to decide the dispute. Because the city council’s decision was quasi-judicial, jurisdiction is proper in this court. Because the land use permitted by the conditional-use permit was not extinguished just because certain business activity ceased, we reverse.
Relators Chan Lam and Ha Tran, d/b/a Ha Auto Repair, challenge respondent St. Paul City Council’s denial of their applications for auto repair garage and second hand dealer-motor vehicle licenses.
The subject property has been used mainly for auto repair and sales since 1962. In 1994, having met the condition that he “obtains and maintains a dealership repair garage license…not a general repair garage license,” the owner was granted a conditional-use permit (CUP) that allowed used-vehicle sales with auto repair as an accessory use.
1999, new owner R & B Automotive (R & B) obtained a general license to conduct
an automobile-repair business on the property; R & B also sold cars there into
2001, but did not have the required license to do so. In late 2001, an inspector from
The city council rezoned the property in 2003 and again in 2004 to classifications that do not permit automobile sales or repair. In November 2004, an LIEP inspector again notified R & B that general auto repair was not permitted on the property, but R & B did nothing in response, and LIEP took no enforcement action thereafter.
In January 2005, relators contacted LIEP about the possibility of purchasing the property and operating an auto-repair business there. LIEP informed relators that LIEP could approve licenses for used-vehicle sales and auto repair as accessory to the auto- sales business as allowed by the CUP, but that relators would have to apply to the city planning commission for a legal-nonconforming-use permit if they wanted to use the property for general auto repair only. Relators elected to apply to LIEP for auto repair garage and second hand dealer-motor vehicle licenses and simultaneously purchased the property. LIEP recommended approval of the licenses based upon an inspector’s opinion that the uses permitted by the extant CUP became legal nonconforming uses at the time the property was rezoned.
Following a hearing on the licensing application, a legislative hearing officer sent the matter to the city council with a recommendation that the licenses be issued with 16 conditions recommended by LIEP and acceptable to relators. The city council referred the matter to an administrative-law judge (ALJ) to determine whether the CUP had expired. Supported by detailed findings and conclusions, the ALJ also recommended issuance of the licenses subject to the enumerated conditions.
the matter came before the city council in July 2005, the council rejected the
ALJ’s findings and recommendations, made its own findings, and denied the
application for the licenses. In support
of its decision, the council found that the property had not been used for auto
sales either as of the date of the 2003 rezoning or at any time during the following
365 days. Noting that property must
generally be used in conformance with current zoning classifications when a
nonconforming use is discontinued for 365 days, St. Paul,
I. Does this court have subject-matter jurisdiction to review this matter?
II. Did the St. Paul City Council err by interpreting the zoning code as prohibiting approval of relators’ license application?
argue that jurisdiction to decide this matter properly lies in the district
court because the city council denied the license application pursuant to Minn.
Stat. §§ 462.357 and .3595 (2004).
Minnesota law provides that “[a]ny person aggrieved by an ordinance,
rule, regulation, decision or order of a governing body or board of adjustments
and appeals acting pursuant to sections 462.351 to 462.364 may have such
ordinance, rule, regulation, decision or order, reviewed by an appropriate
remedy in the district court.”
licensing decisions made according to the process employed here may generally
be considered quasi-judicial acts reviewable by this court through a writ of
certiorari. See Pierce v. Otter Tail
County, 524 N.W.2d 308, 309 (Minn. App. 1994) (holding that a city
council's act is considered quasi-judicial if it is “the product or result of
discretionary investigation, consideration, and evaluation of evidentiary
facts”), review denied (Minn. Feb. 3,
And it is clear
that, unless otherwise provided by statute, a petition for a writ of certiorari
is the exclusive procedure for reviewing an administrative agency's
quasi-judicial decision. Willis v.
Because the city council’s licensing decision constitutes a quasi-judicial act, certiorari jurisdiction in this court is proper.
challenge the city council’s denial of their applications for auto repair
garage and second hand dealer-motor vehicle licenses. A city council is vested with broad
discretion in determining whether or not to issue a license, and a court's
scope of review of such a determination is narrow. See Wajda
v. City of
crux of this dispute is the city council’s interpretation of the zoning code as
prohibiting the granting of relators’ requested licenses. As noted, the council found that the subject property
had not been used for auto sales either as of the date of the 2003 rezoning or
for 365 days immediately thereafter.
Reasoning that the prior use of the property solely for auto repairs was
not lawful because the CUP allowed auto repair only as an accessory to auto
sales, the council concluded that relators’ intended uses are not in compliance
with the zoning code because no lawful use of the property had been established
within 365 days after the 2003 rezoning.
The council concluded that the only permitted uses of the property are
those that conform to the new zoning classification. The license application was therefore denied
It is clear that by engaging in auto repair generally and not as an accessory to used-auto sales, R & B was not actually using the property consistently with the CUP within 365 days following the 2003 rezoning. Relators argue, and the ALJ determined, that R & B’s business activities became legal nonconforming uses upon rezoning. But the city council determined that there was no lawful use of the property at the time of rezoning.
there is scant caselaw addressing the issue presented, we are guided by Hooper v. City of St. Paul, 353 N.W.2d
138, 141 (Minn. 1984), which stands for the proposition that the failure to
comply with licensing ordinances does not make the property’s use
unlawful. In Hooper, the City of
Likewise, it is inappropriate to conclude here that no lawful use of the land existed as of the date of rezoning because of the failure to maintain licenses for or actually engage in certain permitted activities. Such a conclusion fails to recognize that a permitted use exists independently of how the land is actually used and that a use does not cease to be permitted just because certain business activity is discontinued.
nonconforming use is defined by code as “[a] lawful use existing on the
effective date of adoption…or amendment of this code but that is not now
permitted in the district in which it is located.”
“[i]t is a fundamental principle of the law of real property that uses lawfully
existing at the time of an adverse zoning change may continue to exist until
they are removed or otherwise discontinued.”
Hooper, 353 N.W.2d at
140. The St. Paul Legislative Code
provides that when a permit’s conditions are not being complied with, the
property owner is entitled to notice and a public hearing before the revocation
or amendment of a permit.
D E C I S I O N
jurisdiction in this court is proper because the city council’s licensing
decision constitutes a quasi-judicial act.
Although nonconforming-use activity was not actually conducted within
365 days following the 2003 rezoning, because the CUP was never revoked or
otherwise extinguished, the use of the subject property for auto repair as an
accessory to auto sales existed as a lawful use before the 2003 rezoning and
thus became a nonconforming use upon that rezoning and continuing thereafter.
Reversed and remanded.
* Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.