This opinion will be unpublished and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
Cecil Martin, et al.,
Filed May 3, 2005
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 (
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 (
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).
preliminary matter, we note that the county ordinance specifically contemplates
the rezoning of an agricultural district to a highway-business district.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
a response to an interrogatory, the county explained that “[i]t is the practice
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).