This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).






Cecil Martin, et al.,





County of McLeod, et al.,



Filed May 3, 2005


Halbrooks, Judge



McLeod County District Court

File No. C0-03-295



Eric J. Braaten, Gena A. Braaten, Nicklaus, Braaten & Hollenhorst, PLLC, 500 Pine Street North, Suite 200, Chaska, MN 55318 (for appellants)


Michael K. Junge, McLeod County Attorney, Amy E. Olson, Assistant County Attorney, 830 East 11th Street, Suite 112, Glencoe, MN 55336 (for respondents)



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

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant landowners challenge the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of respondents McLeod County (county) and the McLeod County Board of Commissioners (board), arguing that (1) the board’s denial of their rezoning request was unreasonable and arbitrary, and (2) they were denied equal protection of the law when compared to a similarly situated landowner.  Because we conclude that at least one of the board’s findings was reasonable and that appellants have not been denied equal protection, we affirm. 


            Appellants Cecil and Lindal Martin own an 80-acre parcel of land on the southeast corner of the intersection of Highway 7 and County Road 9 in McLeod County.  In August 2002, they filed a rezoning application with the county zoning administrator, requesting that 20 acres of the parcel be reclassified from an agricultural to a highway-business district.  Appellants sought to operate a boat-storage facility on the rezoned land.

            A few months earlier, Steve Pauly, who also owns property at this intersection, successfully applied for the rezoning of his land for the purposes of “boat storage warehousing and mini-storage units.”  Pauly’s application was approved, despite concerns expressed by neighbors and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). 

            Soon after appellants filed their rezoning application, the county environmentalist issued a report.  The report concluded that “[m]ore than 50 percent of [appellants’] 20 acres is not considered prime farmland, according to [a county] [s]oil [s]urvey.”  The county environmentalist subsequently revised his initial determination, estimating that only 20 percent of the 20 acres at issue is prime farmland.  Appellants contend that an even lesser amount of the land is prime farmland.  As in Pauly’s case, MnDOT also submitted comments on appellants’ rezoning application.  MnDOT did not make a specific recommendation on the application, but instead offered its comments and preferences for vehicle access and sight-corner regulations.

            The county planning commission held a public hearing and meeting on August 28, 2002, to discuss, among other things, appellants’ rezoning application.  In addition to support for the proposal, several concerns were raised at the meeting.  First, a county official explained that if the application was approved, “a wetland delineation [would] be needed and shown on a survey.”  Second, the City of Lester Prairie opined that “there are currently enough commercial storage buildings in the area.”  Third, several neighbors expressed concerns about the proposed development.  One neighbor felt that the rezoning would pose a problem for his feedlot operation and that it would “adversely affect his farming operation.”  Another explained that “we have 6 boat sheds in the area and don’t need anymore.”  Other neighbors expressed concern over an increase in boat traffic.  Finally, the planning commission discussed appellants’ application in light of the commission’s recent approval of Pauly’s rezoning application, explaining that “[a] variance was granted to Steve Pauly, but his parcel was small and adjacent to a commercial district.  Each request is viewed differently because each request has different circumstances.”  After hearing the concerns, a planning-commission member moved for denial of appellants’ rezoning permit based on six findings of fact.  A discussion ensued, and appellants’ application was subsequently denied.

            On review by the board, appellants’ rezoning request was again denied.  The board adopted the following seven findings on October 8, 2002:

1.         The useable portion of the land where [appellants] plan[] to construct the storage facilities is prime farm ground.


2.         Neighboring feedlot operators have valid concerns regarding [appellants’] rezoning request.  Specifically, if [appellants are] able to rezone the land to highway business and construct[] boat storage facilities, this would require existing feedlot operators to go through the public hearing process if they wish to expand their feedlot operation in the direction of the boat storage facilities.  In addition, existing and neighboring feedlot operators are concerned that there will be heightened complaints of odor because of the proposed nearby commercial use of land, and they therefore, will be more restricted in the area in which they can spread manure.


3.         That [appellants’] proposal would conflict with existing land uses in a predominately agricultural area, in that, on the side of Highway 7 in which [appellants] propose[] rezoning, there is only agriculturally zoned land.  (Across the highway there is highway business zoned land.)


4.         Even if [appellants] receive[] approval for rezoning the land from agricultural to highway business, a variance would also be required prior to construction of the proposed sheds because this land is too close to existing feedlots and a feedlot setback is required.  Therefore, even if [appellants] receive[] approval for rezoning this land, a commercial business on the land would not be a permitted use of the land without further legal action.


5.         On March 27, 2001, during a McLeod County Wetland Technical Advisory Committee meeting, [appellants] used as [their] defense regarding an alleged wetland violation, that the property [they] now wish[] to rezone to highway business is prime farmland.


6.         There are health and safety issues with the increased traffic this business would generate to an already high traffic area.


7.         All of the land is presently being used as agricultural land to grow crops. 


Beyond these articulated findings, the minutes of the meeting do not reflect how the board arrived at its decision.[1]

Appellants filed a declaratory-judgment action in district court.  Both parties moved for summary judgment, and the court initially denied both motions.  On reconsideration, the court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment, finding that “at least three of the [board’s] [f]indings of [f]act” passed rational-basis scrutiny.  The court also denied appellants’ equal-protection argument because they “failed to show . . . that [their] situation [was] even similar to that of [Pauly’s].”  This appeal follows.  


            Appellants challenge the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the county.  On appeal from summary judgment, this court determines whether any genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the district court erred as a matter of law.  State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990).  This court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted.  Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).  Summary judgment is appropriate when a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to the party’s case, Bersch v. Rgnonti & Assocs., Inc., 584 N.W.2d 783, 786 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Dec. 15, 1998), or when “the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.”  DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 69 (Minn. 1997) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 1356 (1986)).    


            Appellants argue that the county’s decision to deny their rezoning request was arbitrary and unreasonable, maintaining that each of the board’s seven findings fail the rational-basis test.  When reviewing a zoning decision, we conduct an independent examination of the county’s decision.  Northwestern Coll. v. City of Arden Hills, 281 N.W.2d 865, 868 (Minn. 1979).  We focus on the reasonableness of the county’s decision and whether it “was unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious, with review focused on the legal sufficiency of and factual basis for the reasons given.”  Swanson v. City of Bloomington, 421 N.W.2d 307, 313 (Minn. 1988).  Legal sufficiency is established if the county’s decision not to rezone is “reasonably related to the promotion of the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the community.”  St. Croix Dev., Inc. v. City of Apple Valley, 446 N.W.2d 392, 398 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Dec. 1, 1989).  The record must also then demonstrate a factual basis for the findings set forth by the county.  C.R. Invs., Inc. v. Vill. of Shoreview,304 N.W.2d 320, 325 (Minn. 1981).  Appellants bear the burden of demonstrating that the county’s decision is legally or factually insufficient.  Larson v. County of Washington, 387 N.W.2d 902, 906 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. Aug. 20, 1986). 

Important to our review here, the denial of a rezoning request “is not arbitrary when at least one of the reasons given . . . satisfies the rational basis test.”  St. Croix Dev., Inc., 446 N.W.2d at 398 (emphasis added).  If this is true, “a reviewing court has the duty to exercise restraint and accord appropriate deference to the [county] in the performance of its duties.”  Scott County Lumber Co. v. City of Shakopee, 417 N.W.2d 721, 727 (Minn. App. 1988), review denied (Minn. Mar. 23, 1988). 

            As a preliminary matter, we note that the county ordinance specifically contemplates the rezoning of an agricultural district to a highway-business district.  See McLeod County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 10, subd. 2 (2002) (listing factors to consider).  Pursuant to the ordinance, the purpose of an agricultural district is to

preserve for farming those locations that have soils which, when properly managed, are capable of high crop yields, to minimize scattered non-farm growth, and to protect from deleterious influences those farm locations that have high investments in buildings, equipment or irrigation, and to stabilize increases in public expenditures for such public services as roads and road maintenance, police and fire protection, and schools.


Id., § 7, subd. 1 (2002).  In contrast, the purpose of the highway-business district is to “provide locations for agricultural service businesses and highway-oriented businesses, as well as a limited number of convenience commercial uses designed to serve local markets.”  Id., § 10, subd. 1 (2002).  But under the ordinance, the rezoning of land from an agricultural to a highway-business district must also “not adversely affect nearby residential or agricultural uses.”  Id., § 10, subd. 2(5) (2002). 

            Zoning and rezoning decisions are legislative in nature—“[f]or the purpose of promoting the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare . . . .”  Minn. Stat. § 462.357, subd. 1 (2004).  As the supreme court has explained, “in legislative zoning [or rezoning], the municipal body is formulating public policy, so the inquiry focuses on whether the proposed use promotes the public welfare.”  Honn v. City of Coon Rapids, 313 N.W.2d 409, 417 (Minn. 1981). 

The board’s third finding of fact states

[t]hat [appellants’] proposal would conflict with existing land uses in a predominately agricultural area, in that, on the side of Highway 7 in which [appellants] propose[] rezoning, there is only agriculturally zoned land.  (Across the highway there is highway business zoned land.)


We conclude that this finding is legally sufficient because it reasonably relates to the promotion of the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the community.[2]  St. Croix Dev., Inc., 446 N.W.2d at 398.  It is well within the board’s authority to make the legislative determination that appellants’ proposal “would conflict with existing land uses in a predominately agricultural area.”  The county is in the best position to determine the future development of the land—something that clearly invokes the public welfare of the community.  It is apparent from the record before us that the board made a legislative decision not to rezone appellants’ land from an agricultural to a highway-business district, and we decline appellants’ invitation to disturb that decision.

The finding is also supported factually.  While it is true that the northeast plot of land at the intersection of Highway 7 and County Road 9 (where Pauly’s land is located) includes land already designated as highway-business, the northwest, southwest, and southeast quadrants are each zoned agricultural.  Thus, the board is factually correct in finding that appellants’ proposal “would conflict with existing land uses in a predominately agricultural area, in that, on the side of Highway 7 in which [appellants] propose[] rezoning, there is only agriculturally zoned land.”  This conclusion is supported by the geography of the area and has grounding beyond any kind of “vague reservations” expressed by the county.  Cf. C.R. Invs., Inc.,304 N.W.2d at 325 (concluding that a city council’s stated concerns about potential traffic problems did not have factual support in vague reservations expressed by private citizens and council members). 

            Our standard of review is determinative here.  We may not set aside the board’s judgment merely because we may have reached a different decision had we been the decisionmaker.  R.A. Putnam & Assocs. v. City of Mendota Heights, 510 N.W.2d 264, 268 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Mar. 15, 1994).  Because the board’s determination—that appellants’ proposal “would conflict with existing land uses in a predominately agricultural area”—is supported by the record and is based on a policy determination promoting the general welfare of the county, the board’s denial of the rezoning application was not unreasonable.  We therefore affirm the denial of appellants’ rezoning application.   


            Appellants also argue that they were denied equal protection of the law because the county granted a similar request for rezoning to Pauly, a neighbor with circumstances ostensibly similar to their own.  The equal-protection clauses of both the federal and state constitutions mandate that “one applicant [may] not be preferred over another for reasons unexpressed or unrelated to the health, welfare, or safety of the community or any other particular and permissible standards or conditions imposed by the relevant zoning ordinances.”  Northwestern Coll., 281 N.W.2d at 869 (quoting Hay v. Township of Grow, 296 Minn. 1, 8, 206 N.W.2d 19, 24 (1973)).  Furthermore, it is well established that “[a] zoning ordinance must operate uniformly on those similarly situated.”  Billy Graham Evangelistic Assoc. v. City of Minneapolis, 667 N.W.2d 117, 126 (Minn. 2003) (alteration in original) (quotation omitted).  And “[d]isparate treatment of two similarly-situated property owners may be an indication that the local government is acting unreasonably or arbitrarily.”  Id.  Thus, the determinative inquiry here is whether appellants and Pauly were “similarly situated” for purposes of an equal-protection analysis. 

            It is true that the rezoning applications of appellants and Pauly contain many similarities.  For example, both applicants live in the same geographic region at issue and applied to change zoning classifications from an agricultural to a highway-business district.  In addition, both applicants proposed to open boat-storage facilities on their property.  But on closer examination, these individuals cannot be said to be “similarly situated.”  As the planning commission acknowledged, unlike appellants’ parcel, Pauly’s “parcel was small and adjacent to a commercial district.”  Specifically, Pauly’s property “was a 7-acre tract of isolated land which already abutted existing highway business zoned land.”  As the county has explained, Pauly’s seven rezoned acres are “surrounded by either a road, commercial business, or property he does not own.”

            Appellants’ tract, on the other hand, is not so situated.  First, the parcel appellants propose to rezone is 13 acres larger than Pauly’s rezoned land.  Second, appellants’ land is surrounded by agricultural districts on three sides.  To the north of appellants’ property and across Highway 7 is an area of land already classified as a highway-business district, including Pauly’s land, which is virtually surrounded by two other businesses, one an auto-salvage yard.  Third, appellants’ tract is not “irregular in shape,” like Pauly’s, making it appropriate for continued use as an agricultural district under the county ordinance.  See McLeod County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 7, subd. 6 (2002) (“A tract of land may be considered difficult to farm if it has one or more of the following characteristics: [s]mall size or irregular shape . . . .”).  Based on these geographic differences alone, it cannot be said that appellants are similarly situated to Pauly or have been denied equal protection of the law.   


[1] In a response to an interrogatory, the county explained that “[i]t is the practice of McLeod County to record only County action, not discussion at McLeod County Board Meetings.  The public hearing was held at the Planning Commission level where detailed notes of the discussion occurred.”

[2]Because only one of the findings needs to satisfy the rational-basis test, we do not review each of the board’s seven findings.  See St. Croix Dev., Inc., 446 N.W.2d at 398 (explaining that the denial of a rezoning request “is not arbitrary when at least one of the reasons given . . . satisfies the rational basis test”) (emphasis added).