This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).


Sampson Properties, L.P.,


City of Mendota Heights,
a Minnesota Municipal Corporation,

Filed January 25, 2000
Anderson, Judge

Dakota County District Court
File No. C9-98-8772

Timothy J. Kuntz, Stephen H. Fochler, LeVander, Gillen & Miller, P.A., 633 South Concord Street, Suite 400, South St. Paul, MN 55075 (for appellant)

Carla J. Heyl, League of Minnesota Cities, 145 University Avenue West, St. Paul, MN 55103-2044; and

James G. Golembeck, Jardine, Logan & O'Brien, PLLP, 2100 Piper Jaffray Plaza, 444 Cedar Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2160 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Mulally, Judge.[*]

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellant Sampson Properties, L.P., challenges adverse summary judgment, contending that respondent City of Mendota Heights's denial of its applications in connection with a proposed hotel was unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious and not supported by the record. We affirm.


On May 5, 1998, appellant Sampson submitted applications to the city for permits to allow construction of a Best Western hotel. Appellant sought a conditional use permit (CUP), a wetlands permit, and partial vacation and reconfiguration of a drainage easement. A city planner issued a May 20, 1998, memorandum to the city planning commission recommending that the CUP be approved with several conditions, including that all engineering requirements be met.

The city’s engineer issued a May 22, 1998, memorandum regarding the wetlands permit application and proposed drainage-easement reconfiguration. The memo described the proposed wetland in-fill of 388 square feet of a storm-water detention basin in the vicinity of the southeast corner wall of the proposed building. The engineer explained that at high-water elevation, the building wall would have three feet of water against it. He noted that there would be a problem recording the reconfigured drainage easement because the area of the wall and the area defining the easement were the same.

The planning commission considered appellant's applications at a May 26, 1998, meeting. The planning commission recommended that the city council approve the CUP, wetlands permit, and partial easement vacation subject to seven conditions. Among the listed conditions were that "the applicant add a second access point to the parking lot" and that "the Fire Marshall review and approve all plans."

The city fire chief issued a May 29, 1998, memorandum reviewing the proposed development, stating in part:

Based on my review I have several observations and concerns. The first and most important has to do with accessibility to the building and the closeness of the parking lot. It appears from my review of the building site plan that the building will be accessible from one side only, and in fact if I read the topographical information correctly the back side of the building could have water up to its foundation, making the rear of the building completely inaccessible.

While the building will be sprinkled and standpipes provided as per code, I am concerned about our ability to operate in front of the building. The parking lot as proposed only has one entrance. This would significantly hinder fire department operations and for this reason I would require two means of ingress/egress to the parking area.

On June 2, 1998, the city council considered appellant's applications. Appellant’s partner Henry Votel addressed the planning commission conditions, city council concerns, and the issues raised by the fire chief's memorandum. Votel described the lack of access to the rear of the building as a "normal occurrence" because the backs of commercial buildings are often up against property lines. As to an additional means of accessing the parking lot, Votel stated that it was not a "critical issue" and that appellant just sought the one access as mandated by city regulations.

After appellant's presentation, several residents spoke in opposition to the project. The council then denied the applications by a unanimous vote and directed the staff to prepare a proposed resolution. At a June 16, 1998 meeting, the city council adopted the resolution denying the applications. The resolution contained nine findings, including findings that it was not "in the public interest to wholly or partially vacate the drainage easement on the site" and that "[t]he lack of emergency vehicle access to the rear of the proposed building creates potential safety problems as expressed" in the fire chief's May 29, 1998 memo.

Appellant filed an action seeking a writ of mandamus to order the city to issue the CUP, a wetlands permit and a resolution partially vacating and reconfiguring the city-owned drainage easement. The complaint alleged that the city's denial of permits in connection with a proposed hotel was unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on a stipulated record. After a summary-judgment hearing, the district court concluded that the city's denial of appellant’s applications was not arbitrary or capricious because two of the city's stated reasons, emergency-vehicle access and drainage-easement modification, were supported by the record. This appeal follows.


Land use decisions are entitled to great deference and will be disturbed on appeal only in instances where the municipality's decision has no rational basis. Swanson v. City of Bloomington, 421 N.W.2d 307, 311 (Minn. 1988). The standard of review for governmental decisions is whether they were unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious. Carl Bolander & Sons Co. v. City of Minneapolis, 502 N.W.2d 203, 207 (Minn. 1993). In a zoning action, this court reviews directly the proceedings before the zoning authority, not the trial court's findings. Id. The permit applicant has the burden of persuading the appellate court that the reasons for the denial either are legally insufficient or are not supported by the record. Hubbard Broad., Inc. v. City of Afton, 323 N.W.2d 757, 763 (Minn. 1982).

A denial of a CUP is a quasi-judicial decision because it requires a factual determination about the nature and effects of the proposed use and an exercise in discretion in determining whether to allow the use. Shetka v. Aitkin County, 541 N.W.2d 349, 352 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Feb. 27, 1996). In reviewing quasi-judicial decisions, this court considers whether the decision was "arbitrary, oppressive, unreasonable, fraudulent, under an erroneous theory of law, or without any evidence to support it." Molnar v. County of Carver Bd. of Comm'rs, 568 N.W.2d 177, 181 (Minn. App. 1997) (quotation omitted); accord Hurrle v. Board of Comm’rs ex rel County of Sherburne, 594 N.W.2d 246, 249 (Minn. App. 1999) (a reviewing court applies a "substantial-evidence test" in reviewing quasi-judicial decisions).

An application for a CUP may be denied only for reasons relating to the public health, safety, or welfare or for incompatibility with a land use plan. Superamerica Group, Inc. v. City of Little Canada, 539 N.W.2d 264, 267 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Jan. 5, 1996). Not all reasons for the denial need be legally sufficient and supported by facts in the record because denial of a land use request is not arbitrary when at least one of the stated reasons satisfies the rational basis test. Trisko v. City of Waite Park, 566 N.W.2d 349, 352 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Sept. 25, 1997).

In this case, the fire chief's safety concerns regarding access to the parking lot and the rear of the proposed building are supported by the record and provide a rational basis for denying the CUP and wetlands permit applications. Evidence that the city denied a CUP without suggesting conditions that would bring the proposed use into compliance may support a conclusion that the denial was arbitrary. See id. at 357. But here the access issues were raised by the planning commission and amply detailed by the fire chief. Yet appellant's June presentation revealed an unwillingness to alter the design, instead responding that the lack of rear access was a "normal occurrence" and that a second entrance to the front parking lot was not a "critical issue." On these facts, denial of the permits was not arbitrary or capricious.

Appellant argues that they should not be held to the fire chief's safety standards because their designs comply with all applicable code. But a city may deny a CUP for safety concerns even if those concerns are not embodied in ordinance or statute. See Chanhassen Estates Residents Ass'n v. City of Chanhassen, 342 N.W.2d 335, 340 (Minn. 1984) (a permitted use follows as a matter of right upon compliance with an ordinance, but a CUP may be denied for reasons relating to public health, safety, and general welfare). Valid health, safety, and welfare concerns supported by the record may serve as a basis for denial of a CUP. See Zylka v. City of Crystal, 283 Minn. 192, 195-96, 167 N.W.2d 45, 48-49 (1969) (final authority to determine whether a permit shall be granted is retained by the council).

As to the requested vacation of the city-owned easement, the city has wide discretion. Vacation of a publicly owned easement is a legislative act. See Rolf v. Town of Hancock, 167 Minn. 187, 188, 208 N.W. 757, 758 (Minn. 1926) ("[t]he question whether a public highway should be vacated is legislative"); Steenerson v. Fontaine, 106 Minn. 225, 227, 119 N.W 400, 401 (Minn. 1908) (resolution of vacating street is a legislative act with which courts will not interfere except in case of manifest abuse). The city is not merely reviewing the applicant's use of the applicant's own land. Rather the city is reviewing the applicant's claim to a city-owned easement. Appellant has not demonstrated the extreme circumstances necessary for a finding of manifest abuse by the city, and we refuse to disturb the considered legislative judgment of the city council.

After careful review of the record, we conclude that the city's denial of appellant's applications was neither arbitrary nor capricious.


[*] Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.