This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






Jacqueline Palmer,





Board of Adjustments,

Becker County, et al.,



Filed November 15, 2005


Klaphake, Judge


Becker County District Court

File No. C3-04-1306


Zenas Baer, Zenas Baer and Associates, 331 6th Street, Box 249, Hawley, MN  56549 (for respondent)


Michael J. Ford, John H. Wenker, Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., P.O. Box 1008, St. Cloud, MN  56302-1008 (for Board of Adjustments, Becker County, et al.)


            Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge, Klaphake, Judge, and Wright, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellants, the Board of Adjustments of Becker County (the board) and Patricia Johnson, a zoning administrator, challenge the district court’s reversal of the board’s decision to deny a variance to respondent Jacqueline PalmerPalmer applied for the variance in 2004 to allow her to continue to use a garage that had been built on her lakeshore property in 1974 as a guesthouse.  After the board denied her request for a variance, Palmer appealed to the district court pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 394.27, subd. 9 (2004).

            On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court determined that the facts were undisputed and that because the use of the garage for sleeping rooms was a “permitted accessory use” under the 1980 ordinance, a variance was not required.  The district court therefore granted respondent’s motion for summary judgment and reversed the board’s denial of her variance request.

            On appeal,the board argues (1) the district court misread the relevant ordinances; (2) the district court’s misreading of the ordinances caused it to erroneously conclude that a variance was not necessary; and (3) respondent did not prove hardship to otherwise require the board to grant her a variance.  We agree that the district court misread some of the ordinances, but because we nevertheless conclude that respondent’s garage was a permitted accessory use when it was built in 1974, we affirm the district court’s decision on different grounds.


            On appeal from the grant or denial of a summary judgment, we

review whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in its application of the law.  We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted.  We review de novo whether a genuine issue of material fact exists.  We also review de novo whether the district court erred in its application of the law.


STAR Ctrs., Inc. v. Faegre & Benson, L.L.P., 644 N.W.2d 72, 76-77 (Minn. 2002) (citations omitted).  A county board of adjustment has “broad discretion to grant or deny variances,” and our review is limited to determining whether the board’s exercise of that discretion was reasonable.  Kismet Invs., Inc. v. County of Benton, 617 N.W.2d 85, 90 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. Nov. 15, 2000).

            The interpretation of a zoning ordinance is reviewed as a question of law by this court.  Frank’s Nursery Sales, Inc. v. City of Roseville, 295 N.W.2d 604, 608 (Minn. 1980).  “Thus, where the question is whether an ordinance is applicable to certain facts, the determination of those facts is for the governmental authority, but the manner of applying the ordinance to the facts is for the court.”  Id.  Zoning ordinances are “construed strictly against the [county] and in favor of the property owner.”  Id. (quotation omitted); see Odell v. City of Eagan, 348 N.W.2d 792, 797 (Minn. App. 1984).

            In reversing the board, the district court here determined that a variance was not required because the 1982 conversion of the garage into a guesthouse was a permitted accessory use under the 1980 ordinances.  The district court’s reasoning was as follows:

The 1980 Zoning Ordinance permits single family dwellings and seasonal dwellings in an R-3 District.  Certain construction is allowed as a “permitted accessory use.”  “Permitted accessory uses” in an R-3 District include a private garage, the keeping of not more than four boarders or roomers by a resident family, and living quarters of persons on the premises.  Similarly, uses customarily incident to permitted uses in a district are accessory uses.  Applying the least restrictive interpretation, the guesthouse in this case falls within the permitted accessory use of “living quarters of persons on the premises.”  The guesthouse is therefore a “permitted accessory use” for which no permit was required at the time.


As the board correctly notes, however, the district court misstates the language of the ordinance.

            In particular, the 1980 ordinance states that permitted accessory uses include “[q]uarter for persons employed on the premises” and “[k]eeping of boarders or roomers, but not to exceed 2 persons.”  (Emphasis added.)  The record contains no evidence that respondent housed employees—her variance application states that she used the garage for family and guests.  Nor does the record contain any evidence that the garage was used to keep two or fewer roomers or boarders; again, respondent’s variance application states that the guesthouse contains “3 guest rooms.”  Thus, the district court erred in concluding that the guesthouse was a permitted accessory use under either of these definitions.

            Nevertheless, the record clearly establishes that respondent’s garage always had a broader intended use and in fact met the definition of a permitted accessory use when it was built in 1974.  In 1974, the permit to build the garage also included permission to install a septic system to service the garage.  Under the 1971 ordinances in effect at that time, a “private garage” was defined as a “garage which is erected as an accessory building”; the reference to housing of motor vehicles was not added until 1980, when “private garage” was defined as a “garage which is erected as an accessory building to house motor vehicles.”  By allowing respondent’s predecessor to build a garage that was serviced with plumbing and septic, the county acquiesced in the use of the garage to provide sleeping quarters.  Indeed, the records of the county assessor acknowledge that the garage has been “occ[upied]” since 1975.

            Thus, when respondent purchased the property in 1982, the garage, containing sleeping facilities and a bathroom, was a permitted accessory use.  Alterations to the garage since then have not changed this accessory use.  For example, a kitchen, which would alter this use, has not been added.  When respondent added additional interior walls to the garage in 1982, she was not required to obtain a permit under the 1980 ordinances because she did not change the exterior dimensions of the building.  Similarly, when respondent removed the garage door and added windows in 2002, she did not change the existing use of the garage.

            Because the garage built with sleeping facilities was a permitted accessory use in 1974, respondent was not required to obtain a variance to continue that use.  The district court’s decision reversing the board is therefore affirmed, albeit on different grounds.