This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).







In re Conditional Use Permit Application

of Richard Gurtek, et al.



Filed January 7, 2003


Halbrooks, Judge

Concurring specially, Willis, Judge


Chisago County Board of Commissioners



Dale G. Swanson, 407 West Broadway Avenue, Forest Lake, MN 55025 (for relators Richard and Donna Gurtek)


Brian B. O’Neill, Elizabeth H. Schmiesing, Julie Potts Close, Faegre & Benson, L.L.P., 2200 Wells Fargo Center, 90 South 7th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Sunrise Lake Association)


Kenneth H. Bayliss, Quinlivan & Highes, P.A., 600 Wells Fargo Center, 400 South 1st Street, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1008 (for respondent Chisago County Board of Commissioners)


            Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Halbrooks, Judge, and Hudson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Relators appeal the denial of their application for a conditional-use permit, arguing that (a) the record does not support the denial of the application and (b) respondent’s prior grant of a related conditional-use permit estopped respondent from denying the current application.  We affirm.


            Relators Richard and Donna Gurtek applied for a conditional-use permit (CUP) to construct and operate a recreational camping park consisting of 99 sites on the shore of Sunrise Lake in Chisago County.  In October 2000, respondent Chisago County Board of Commissioners approved relators’ initial application.  Sunrise Lake Association, Inc., appealed.  This court reversed the board’s decision, concluding that the proposed park units were manufactured homes that were prohibited in agricultural districts by a Chisago County zoning ordinance.  Sunrise Lake Ass’n v. Chisago County Bd. of Comm’rs, 633 N.W.2d 59 (Minn. App. 2001) (Sunrise I).

            Following this court’s decision, relators submitted another application, Cedar Park II, to construct and operate a recreational-camping park on Sunrise Lake.  Relators withdrew that application before the Chisago County Planning Commission made a recommendation on it to the board.  In November 2001, relators submitted a third application, Cedar Park III, to develop a recreational-camping area/seasonal-recreation park with no more than 99 sites for recreational vehicles.

            Chisago County’s shoreland-management ordinance assigns various levels of environmental protection to lakes within the county.  “Natural environment” lakes are granted the most protection because they generally have “limited capacities for assimilating the impacts of development and recreational use.”  Minn. R. 6120.3000, subp. 1a(A) (2001).  Sunrise Lake has been classified since 1986 as a natural-environment lake.  Chisago County, Minn., Shoreland Management Ordinance § 4.1 (1992).

            The planning commission recommended denying the CUP, and the board adopted the planning commission’s recommendation.  One of the board’s reasons for denying the CUP application to develop Cedar Park III was that

Natural Environment Lakes are afforded special protections and have stricter standards imposed by ordinance.  Due to the unique, undeveloped character of Sunrise Lake, and the low density, non-commercial development in the surrounding neighborhood, the project would provide a land use conflict within the immediate community.



            On review of a municipal body’s land-use decision, this court determines whether it was unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious.  Trisko v. City of Waite Park, 566 N.W.2d 349, 352 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Sept. 25, 1997). 

When a [municipal body] states its reasons for denying the permit, we limit our review to the legal sufficiency and the factual bases for those reasons.  Not all reasons for the denial of a conditional use permit need be legally sufficient and supported by facts in the record.  Thus, a [municipality’s] denial of a land use request is not arbitrary when at least one of the reasons given for the denial satisfies the rational basis test.


Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted).  When the county states its reasons for denial, relators bear the burden of persuasion that the reasons stated by the county for denying a CUP are either without factual support in the record or are legally insufficient.  Barton Contracting Co. v. City of Afton, 268 N.W.2d 712, 717 (Minn. 1978).  A zoning authority has discretion to deny an application for a CUP only for reasons relating to the public’s health, safety, or general welfare or because the proposed development is incompatible with a county’s 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).

Relators argue that Sunrise Lake is not properly classified as a natural-environmental lake because, under the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) classification criteria, a natural-environmental lake usually has fewer than 60 acres of water per mile and fewer than 150 acres total area.  Sunrise Lake is larger—158.8 acres of water per mile and more than 810 total acres.  Based on size alone, Sunrise Lake would fall within the DNR’s classification as a recreational-development lake.  But the DNR classification system is a minimum standard:

These minimum standards and criteria apply to those shorelands of public waters of the state which are subject to local government land use controls.  They are intended to be incorporated into local government shoreland management controls.  Each local government is responsible for administration and enforcement of its shoreland management controls adopted in compliance with these standards and criteria.  Nothing in these standards and criteria shall be construed as prohibiting or discouraging a local government from adopting and enforcing controls that are more restrictive.


Minn. R. 6120.2800, subp. 1 (2001).

In challenging the classification of Sunrise Lake as a natural-environment lake, relators are challenging a legislative judgment.  See In re Application of Merritt, 537 N.W.2d 289, 290 (Minn. App. 1995) (request to rezone lake area to permit development prohibited under existing zoning ordinance was a challenge to a legislative determination); see also St. Croix Dev., Inc. v. City of Apple Valley, 446 N.W.2d 392, 399 (Minn. App. 1989) (distinguishing between legislative zoning classifications and quasi-judicial decisions on special-use permits and variances), review denied (Minn. Dec. 1, 1989).  Certiorari is not a proper remedy for review of a municipality’s legislative determination.  Honn v. City of Coon Rapids, 313 N.W.2d 409, 414 (Minn. 1981).  In any event,

a zoning * * * classification must be upheld unless opponents prove that the classification is unsupported by any rational basis related to promoting the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.


Id. at 414-15 (quotation omitted).  Relators have not satisfied that standard.

Relators do not dispute that, if Sunrise Lake is properly classified as a natural-environmental lake, the use proposed in Cedar Park III is incompatible with it.  The evidence supports the board’s finding that the proposed Cedar Park III would be inconsistent with the unique, undeveloped character of Sunrise Lake.  The record also contains evidence that Cedar Park III would be harmful to Sunrise Lake.  The Chisago County Soil and Water Conservation District found:

WHEREAS, Cedar Park III is a proposal for an additional ninety-nine residences on Sunrise Lake and the increased boat traffic associated with this will have a detrimental impact to the water quality of the lake; and

WHEREAS, the pedestrian and vehicle traffic density of the proposed Cedar Park III will encourage erosion problems and increase new sediment in a very shallow lake; and

WHEREAS, the Chisago Soil and Water Conservation District does not have enough resources to address existing erosion and pollution problems resulting from unsuitable land use.


Sunrise Lake’s status as a natural-environment lake is a legally sufficient reason for denying relators’ CUP application and is supported by an adequate factual basis in the record.  See Barton, 268 N.W.2d at 718 (threat of harm to the environment is a legally sufficient reason for denying a CUP).  The denial, therefore, was not arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.

            Relators argue that the board should be estopped from denying the CUP based on this court’s decision in Sunrise I.  A property owner seeking to estop a local government from exercising its zoning powers has a heavy burden of proof.  Ridgewood Dev. Co. v. State, 294 N.W.2d 288, 292 (Minn. 1980).  The property owner must initially show that the government acted wrongfully.  Id. at 293.  If this showing is made, then the court must determine whether the property owner (1) reasonably relied on the government act, and (2) demonstrated expenditures that are unique to the proposed project and would not be otherwise usable.  Id. at 292.

            In Sunrise I, after holding that Cedar Park II was a prohibited manufactured-home park, this court briefly addressed issues that might arise in a future application by relators.  Sunrise I, however, did not direct the county to issue a CUP if relators eliminated manufactured homes from their proposal.  Therefore, estoppel does not apply.



WILLIS, Judge (concurring specially)

            Because I find the designation of Sunrise Lake as a natural-environment lake to be a legally sufficient ground for the county’s denial of relators’ CUP application, I must concur in the result reached by the majority.

            I write separately only to point out that relators have been presented with a moving target, which I deem to be, at best, unfair.  Sunrise Lake also was designated as a natural-environment lake, and, therefore, afforded special protections, when the county approved relators’ CUP application for the same property in October 2000.  That approval was reversed by this court on the ground that the proposed park units were manufactured homes prohibited by the applicable zoning ordinance.  Relators then presented an amended application that eliminated manufactured homes, only to have the county deny the CUP on the ground that Sunrise Lake is classified as a natural-environment lake.

            But while I empathize with what must be relators’ great frustration with the process, I find no legal basis to reverse the county’s denial of relators’ most recent CUP application.