This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Dayspring Development, LLC,
City of Little Canada,
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C9-03-1906
Ernest F. Peake, Justin P. Weinberg, Leonard, O’Brien, Spencer, Gale & Sayre, Ltd., 100 South Fifth Street, Suite 2500, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Pierre N. Regnier, Susan Steffen Tice, Jardine, Logan & O’Brien, PLLP, 8519 Eagle Point Boulevard, Suite 100, Lake Elmo, MN 55042 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
GORDON W. SHUMAKER, Judge
Appellant City of Little Canada appeals from the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of respondent Dayspring Development. The district court reversed Little Canada’s denial of Dayspring’s final plat application. Little Canada argues that (1) Dayspring’s final plat application failed to comply with the city’s ordinance requiring that final plat approval be submitted within 100 days after preliminary plat approval; (2) it was acting within the scope of its authority in requiring (a) that Preserve Trail be centered; (b) that Dayspring comply with a 50-foot pipeline-setback policy; and (c) the granting of an unencumbered right of way. Because we conclude that there are genuine issues of material fact as to the condition of the unencumbered right of way, we reverse and remand as to that issue. We affirm the district court’s determination that the other conditions are invalid and that Dayspring need not comply with them.
In May 2002, Dayspring applied to the City of Little Canada to develop an area of land known as the Preserve into 16 residential lots. In August 2002, Dayspring submitted a preliminary plat application for the Preserve to Little Canada for approval. On October 23, 2002, Little Canada granted preliminary plat approval for the Preserve requiring compliance with several conditions, including: (1) the recommendations of the city planner, city engineer, and city administrator; (2) that Preserve Trail be centered in the middle of a lot within the development; and (3) that Dayspring grant Little Canada an unencumbered 50-foot road right of way.
Dayspring requested that the court issue a writ of mandamus ordering Little Canada to approve the preliminary plat application without any conditions. A hearing was held in April 2003, and the district court determined that the requirements that Preserve Trail be centered (as opposed to curved), that there be compliance with the pipeline setback policy, and that there be an unencumbered right of way were invalid. However, the district court upheld Little Canada’s conditional preliminary plat approval.
On June 12, 2003, Dayspring submitted an application for final plat approval. Little Canada responded and listed several conditions in the application that were considered noncompliant. Among the conditions considered noncompliant were those determined by the district court to be outside the authority of Little Canada to require. Dayspring concedes all valid conditions and is willing to amend the final plat application except as to the conditions deemed invalid by the district court.
On August 27, 2003, Little Canada denied Dayspring’s application for final plat approval, finding it untimely. In addition, Little Canada listed 15 findings supporting denial of Dayspring’s final plat approval and continued to include those items determined by the district court to be invalid and outside the city’s authority to require. These include (1) the centering of Preserve Trail; (2) compliance with the pipeline-setback policy; and (3) Dayspring’s failure to grant an unencumbered road right of way. Dayspring moved for summary judgment in November 2003, asking the court to rule that denial of the final plat was unlawful. The district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Dayspring on April 22, 2004. This appeal followed.
In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, this court must determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred as a matter of law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). The reviewing court is required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).
1. Little Canada’s 100-day Rule
In Semler Const. Inc. v. City of Hanover, 667 N.W.2d 457 (Minn. App. 2003), review denied (Oct. 29, 2003), this court outlined the importance of the preliminary plat application and approval process. Specifically, this court held that the primary emphasis is placed on preliminary plat approval and “once the conditions and requirements therein are satisfied, the plat mechanically receives final approval.” Id. at 463.
Little Canada first argues that its denial of Dayspring’s final plat application was valid because Dayspring failed to comply with the city’s subdivision ordinance requiring that final plat approval be submitted within 100 days after preliminary plat approval. Subdivision ordinance § 1004.020(e)(4) requires that “the subdivider must submit the final plat within one hundred (100) days after said approval or approval of the preliminary plat shall be considered void . . . .” In this case, Little Canada approved Dayspring’s preliminary plat of the Preserve on October 23, 2002, and Dayspring submitted the final plat for approval on June 12, 2003. Little Canada argues that, despite the pending litigation, there was nothing that prevented Dayspring from applying for final plat approval within the 100 days required under the city’s subdivision ordinance.
Dayspring asserts that the doctrine of equitable estoppel applies to bar Little Canada from asserting the 100-day rule. For equitable estoppel to apply, “the plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant, through his language or conduct, induced the plaintiff to rely, in good faith, on this language or conduct to his injury, detriment or prejudice.” Semler, 667 N.W.2d at 466 (quoting Ridgewood Dev. Co. v. State, 294 N.W.2d 288, 292 (Minn. 1980)). Equitable estoppel further requires that the government have engaged in wrongful conduct rather than mistake or inadvertence. Id.
Here, Dayspring agreed to comply with all valid conditions set forth by Little Canada. The district court ruled that Little Canada continued to demand compliance with conditions previously determined by the court to be invalid. In March 2003, the parties agreed to “suspend the approval process and engage in further settlement discussions” concerning the required conditions. Dayspring agreed to withdraw its application for final plat approval and allow its submission only within the context of a possible settlement of the litigation. Further, the parties agreed to meet in April 2003 to continue discussions aimed at resolving the numerous contested issues. At no time during this period did Little Canada raise the issue of the 100-day deadline. The 100-day deadline was first raised in the findings of fact supporting Little Canada’s denial of Dayspring’s final plat application. Dayspring relied on the fact that the parties were continuing to negotiate regarding the conditions for final plat approval. Therefore, the district court did not err in determining that Little Canada is estopped from asserting the 100-day deadline.
2. Invalid Conditions
a. Centering Preserve Trail
Little Canada argues that the district court erred in its determination that centering Preserve Trail is not a valid requirement under the subdivision ordinance. Specifically, the positioning of Preserve Trail as proposed by Dayspring is not 40 feet from the existing driveway to the east and therefore not in compliance with the minimum distance allowed under city ordinance § 903.050(D)(8)(e). But Dayspring has conceded this issue and has agreed to move the driveway so as to eliminate any potential nonconformity. Therefore, this no longer appears to be a contested issue and is moot.
b. Williams Pipeline setback
The district court determined that Little Canada could not require compliance with a 50-foot setback under the city’s pipeline-setback policy. The district court correctly determined that the pipeline policy does not have the effect of an ordinance and is therefore not a valid condition for final plat approval.
c. Unencumbered 50-foot right of way
The district court determined that Little Canada could not require a 50-foot unencumbered right of way under the city code or subdivision ordinance. Dayspring had proposed to grant Little Canada the right of way encumbered by an existing pipeline easement.
Little Canada’s existing subdivision ordinance requires a 50-foot right-of-way width for single-family residential local streets platted and/or dedicated after October 1, 1981. Subdivision Ordinance § 1006.030(p)ii. But there is no language within the ordinance requiring that the right of way be unencumbered. Little Canada asserts that city code ch. 2302 requires the right of way be unencumbered. City code ch. 2302 specifically states:
In order to provide for the health, safety, and well-being of its citizens, as well as to insure the structural integrity of its streets and the use of the rights-of-way, the City strives to keep its rights-of-way in a state of good repair and free from unnecessary encumbrances.
There is no language in ch. 2302 requiring that city right of ways be unencumbered. It simply requires that the city avoid “unnecessary encumbrances.” But neither the code nor the ordinance provides any meaningful insight into what is meant by “unnecessary” encumbrances. The record reveals that the Williams Pipeline Company had advised Little Canada that the city would have to bear all costs of repair should the road or its right of way be damaged during normal or required maintenance. Little Canada strongly asserts that the requirement that the right of way be unencumbered minimizes the economic risk to the city and citizens due to the location of the pipeline easement within the same area. Dayspring argues that there is no language in the ordinance requiring that the right of way be unencumbered but does not address the issue of financial risk to the citizens of Little Canada due to the existing pipeline easement. Whether the possibility of economic repercussions due to the pipeline easement makes the encumbrance “unnecessary” is a question of fact ill-suited for summary judgment. Therefore, on this record and without supporting facts, the district court erred in concluding that the condition of an unencumbered right of way was invalid, and this determination is reversed.
3. Requirement that the final plat application be approved subject to valid conditions
The district court held that it had the authority to reverse or modify the city’s decision regarding plat approval if the city acted in an arbitrary, unreasonable, or capricious manner. Little Canada argues that its denial of Dayspring’s final plat application was not arbitrary, unreasonable, or capricious because at least one of the conditions required for approval was valid. According to Little Canada, if any of their required conditions were authorized, then the city’s denial cannot be considered unlawful.
In St. Croix Dev., Inc. v. City of Apple Valley, this court determined that the denial of a rezoning request was not arbitrary or capricious if one of the reasons given for the denial was legally sufficient. 446 N.W.2d 392, 398 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied Dec. 1, 1989). But in St. Croix, the denial of the rezoning request was based on safety concerns beyond the power of the developer to remedy. Id. at 395. Here, the district court’s ruling merely allows Dayspring to apply for final plat approval in compliance with all valid conditions. Further, Little Canada does not argue that Dayspring refused to comply with all valid conditions. Therefore, the district court did not err in its determination that Little Canada’s denial of final plat approval was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.
Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.