This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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






Holly Newton, et al.,





County of Itasca,

State of Minnesota,

Respondent (A05-879),

Appellant (A05-893),


Living Word Bible Camp,

Appellant (A05-879),

Respondent (A05-893).


Filed March 28, 2006

Reversed and remanded
Crippen, Judge


Itasca County District Court

File No. C4-04-776


John H. Erickson, Erickson, Pearson & Aanes, 319 South Sixth Street, P.O. Box 525, Brainerd, MN  56401 (for respondents Holly Newton, et al.)


Michael J. Ford, James S. McAlpine, Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., 400 First Street South, Suite 600, St. Cloud, MN  56302-1008 (for Itasca County and State)


G. Craig Howse, Jeffrey C. Thompson, Howse & Thompson, P.A., 3189 Fernbrook Lane North, Plymouth, MN  55447 (for Living Word Bible Camp)


            Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Peterson, Judge, and Crippen, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellants Itasca County and Living Word Bible Camp challenge the district court’s summary judgment that the county board arbitrarily decided to rezone a tract to permit development of a camp.  Because the county board properly applied the zoning ordinance in effect at the time it first considered the Living Word petition, and its decision is supported by a rational basis, we reverse and remand for entry of a judgment approving the rezoning.


In September 2000, Living Word Bible Camp bought a 280-acre tract of land that included 3,000 feet of shoreline on Deer Lake in Itasca County, hoping to develop a children’s summer bible camp.  The camp directors also intended to use the property for occasional year-round weekend retreats.  At the time of purchase, this use was not permitted in the zoning districts affecting the parcel under the then-effective 1998 Itasca County Zoning Ordinance.  See Itasca County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 2.30 (1998) (permitting residential, farm residential, and open use). 

The camp directors first applied to the county board for rezoning the property as a recreational commercial district.  At a county planning commission meeting, a number of property owners opposed the request, citing potential changes in shoreline impact, water quality, roads and traffic, and county services.  Living Word then substituted a new application to rezone the lakeside portion of the property as seasonal residential—a designation under the 1998 zoning ordinance that would allow the proposed camp as a conditionally permitted use.  Id., § 2 (Official Land Use Classification List).  At a planning commission hearing on this application, property owners again objected, asserting that the rezoning was incompatible with the Itasca County Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  The planning commission recommended denial of the rezoning to the county board.  

            In June 2001, the county board voted to deny the rezoning request without incorporating the planning commission’s findings or otherwise making written findings or explaining its action on the record.  In a subsequent court challenge of the denial, the district court remanded for written findings based on criteria stated in the zoning ordinance.  See id., § 7.40–.41 (listing criteria).  This court affirmed the remand following Living Word’s appeal.  See Living Word Bible Camp v. County of Itasca, No. A03-385, 2003 WL 22890070, at *1 (Minn. App. Dec. 9, 2003).  We directed that on remand, the board confine its inquiry to issues raised in the earlier proceedings before the planning commission and board and allow adequate opportunity for a meaningful discussion of those issues.  Id.  

The seasonal residential designation was reclassified as rural residential in a modified version of the zoning ordinance that took effect in October 2003, two months before this court’s decision affirming a remand.  See Itasca County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 2.11 (2003).  The use of a camp is not allowed as a permitted or conditional use in a rural residential district.  See id., § 7.2–.3 (listing permitted and conditional uses for rural residential zoning).

At the March 2004 board hearing on remand, the county attorney recommended that the board base its decision on the application of the 1998 ordinance, rather than the 2003 ordinance.  The board heard supporting arguments for Living Word, and two members of the public spoke in opposition to the rezoning.  The board voted four to one to approve the rezoning request to seasonal residential under the 1998 ordinance, supporting its determination with findings on the guidelines criteria for zoning map amendments listed in the ordinance.  See Itasca County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 7.40–.41 (1998).

In April 2004, respondent property owners Newton and Baker sought a declaratory judgment defeating the board’s rezoning.  On cross motions for summary judgment, the district court concluded that the county’s use of the 1998 ordinance made its actions unreasonable and arbitrary.  In the alternative, the court concluded that the board’s findings and conclusions were unsupported by the record and legally insufficient to grant the rezoning.  The court ordered the property restored to the residential zoning classification (rural residential under the 2003 ordinance).


On appeal from summary judgment, the reviewing court determines whether any genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the district court erred in its application of the law.  AVR, Inc. v. City of St. Louis Park, 585 N.W.2d 411, 414 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Dec. 15, 1998).  We must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted.  STAR Centers, Inc. v. Faegre & Benson, L.L.P., 644 N.W.2d 72, 76–77 (Minn. 2002).  

1.  Use of 1998 Ordinance

            When the district court remanded the proceedings to the county board, it called  for further findings under Earthburners, Inc. v. County of Carlton, 513 N.W.2d 460 (Minn. 1994).  An Earthburners remand requires legally sufficient findings to articulate the board’s rationale for its rezoning action.  See Earthburners, 513 N.W.2d at 463.  We must now determine whether the county board’s application of its 1998 zoning ordinance was “so inequitable that it is arbitrary and capricious.”  Interstate Power Co., Inc. v. Nobles County Bd. of Comm’rs, 617 N.W.2d 566, 575 (Minn. 2000) (citing Honn v. City of Coon Rapids, 313 N.W.2d 409, 417 (Minn. 1981)).  

            A zoning body, like a reviewing court, generally is to apply the law existing at the time it rules on a case, unless rights affected by that law vested under prior law.  Id.(citing Holen v. Mpls.-St. Paul Metro. Airports Comm’n, 250 Minn. 130, 137, 84 N.W.2d 282, 287 (1957)).  But alternative rules include recognition that a zoning authority may be precluded from applying a later-enacted law when “doing so would result in manifest injustice.”  Id. (emphasis omitted) (quoting Bradley v. Sch. Bd. of Richmond, 416 U.S. 696, 711, 94 S. Ct. 2006, 2016 (1974)).   

The district court, when granting summary judgment for respondents, determined that the county board “should have” applied the 2003 ordinance, stating that the board took “the conservative approach” by applying the earlier ordinance.  The court determined that the record lacked evidence that Living Word sufficiently relied on the zoning amendment so as to create a vested right or zoning estoppel.  See, e.g., Hawkinson v. County of Itasca, 304 Minn. 367, 377, 231 N.W.2d 279, 284 (1975) (holding that a landowner’s work on building construction had not progressed sufficiently to give rise to a vested right to complete the project when rezoning occurred).

On the record in this case, application of the 2003 ordinance would have created a manifest injustice, depriving Living Word of a reasonable opportunity to preserve its rights in the rezoning process.  As in Interstate, this zoning matter was subject to an Earthburners remand for specific findings to articulate the board’s rationale for granting or denying the zoning amendment.  The board was directed on remand to confine its inquiry to issues raised in earlier proceedings and to allow adequate opportunity for discussion. 

The record shows that at the 2004 board hearing, the county’s retained counsel told the board that “what the law is going to look at is the position of the applicant.  They have taken steps to preserve their rights.  They are asserting their right to the use; and, basically, are claiming that the [b]oard inappropriately denied them that rezone at that point in time.”  The board then granted the rezoning under the 1998 ordinance.  The Itasca County Attorney explained that this would “let the conditional use permit process play out” if the board wished to “leave th[e] battle [of which ordinance to apply] to another day.”  The record reflects the board’s proper concern that applying the later-enacted ordinance would have wrongfully precluded Living Word from receiving a hearing based on the standards that were the subject of remand orders from two courts.  Use of the 1998 ordinance was not arbitrary.

2.  Board Rationale


Minnesota courts employ a standard of reasonableness in reviewing all zoning decisions, both legislative decisions, such as rezoning, and quasi-judicial actions, such as variances and special use permits.  Honn v. City of Coon Rapids, 313 N.W.2d 409, 416–17 (Minn. 1981).  But a reviewing court “should keep in mind that the zoning authority is less circumscribed by judicial oversight when it considers zoning or rezoning than when it considers a special use permit or a variance.”  Id. at 417. 

The county board’s rezoning 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.”  State by Rochester Ass’n of Neighborhoods v. City of Rochester, 268 N.W.2d 885, 888 (Minn. 1978); see also Minn. Stat. § 394.21, subd. 1 (2004).  Even if the reasonableness of a zoning action is debatable, we are not to interfere with legislative discretion.  Rochester Ass’n of Neighborhoods, 268 N.W.2d at 888.  It is not required that all of the stated reasons be legally sufficient and factually supported.  Hubbard Broad., Inc. v. City of Afton, 323 N.W.2d 757, 765 n.4 (Minn. 1982).  

We are to independently examine the record without deference to the district court analysis.  Nw. Coll. v. City of Arden Hills, 281 N.W.2d 865, 868 (Minn. 1979).  We may consider minutes of relevant meetings and documents considered at those meetings to determine whether the zoning authority had a rational basis for its decision.  Mendota Golf, LLP v. City of Mendota Heights, 708 N.W.2d 162, 180 (Minn. 2006).   

In 2000, the board adopted a comprehensive plan, which incorporated by resolution the 1998 Itasca County Zoning Ordinance and was in effect at the time the board considered the rezoning request.  See Minn. Stat. §§ 394.23 (zoning authority includes the county’s power to prepare a comprehensive plan which, when adopted by ordinance, acts as a basis for imposing official controls),.22, subd. 6 (2004) (defining official controls to include zoning ordinances).  The board’s zoning map amendments must be in accord with the county’s comprehensive land use plan.  Itasca County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 7.10 (1998). 

The 1998 ordinance states six guidelines criteria for assessing a proposed zoning amendment.  Id.,§ 7.40–.41.  The board made written findings based on the six rezoning factors in the ordinance and supported its findings with references to the record of the planning commission hearing on the application.[1]   

On the first and second rezoning factors stated in the ordinance, that the rezoning conflict neither with the comprehensive plan nor constitute illegal “spot zoning,” the board saw these as dealing with inconsistent and more intensive uses, and the board reasoned that rezoning for seasonal residential was a “subset” of residential uses and resulted in limited, not expanded use of the property.  See Rochester Ass’n of Neighborhoods, 268 N.W.2d at 891 (defining “spot zoning” as zoning changes of small plots that establish a use classification inconsistent with surrounding use and create “an island of nonconforming use within a larger zoned district, and which dramatically reduce the value for uses specified in the zoning ordinance of either the rezoned plot or abutting property”).

Respondents argue, consistent with the district court’s summary judgment, that the board incorrectly interpreted its zoning ordinance to consider the seasonal residential district as a more limiting subset of the residential district.  But it was reasonable for the board to determine that, although Living Word sought a rezoning that could ultimately increase seasonal use of the property by conditional permit, the camp was accepting restrictions on the year-round use of its property that the county would not be allowed to impose on a nonseasonal residential user.

We examine the claim of spot zoning against the board’s 2001 approval of a rezoning application by another camp on Deer Lake, a decision based on findings that the rezoning would not be considered spot zoning and would benefit the county.  It is also significant that the finding of consistency with the comprehensive plan is supported by evidence of board favor for the goal of the plan to encourage new development related to recreational opportunities.  See Itasca County Comprehensive Land Use Plan (stating recreational opportunities goal). 

The board found inapplicable the third rezoning factor under the 1998 ordinance, regarding mistakes in the original zoning or in the comprehensive plan.  The findings of the planning commission, incorporated in the board’s findings, indicate that no mistake existed in the original zoning and are sufficient to support the board’s determination on this factor.

On the fourth rezoning factor, the existence of clear public need beyond a benefit to the landowner, the board found that the property as rezoned would require fewer public services than the current classification.  A rational basis exists for the board’s determination that property zoned seasonal residential may not require the same level of services, such as snowplowing, that year-round residential use would demand.  It is also true, as the board observed, that its power to impose conditions for use would tend to favor public interests.  And although the board failed to consider the fifth rezoning factor, whether the proposed use would be better served if on other property in the community, this omission is not fatal when other reasons adequately support the decision.  See Hubbard Broad.,323 N.W.2d at 765 n.4 (to sustain a zoning decision, it is not required that all reasons be legally sufficient and factually supported).    

Finally, a sixth rezoning factor under the ordinance demands that any down zoning (change from a more intensive to a lower or less intensive use) still allow the landowner a reasonable use of his property.  This factor is largely aimed at rezoning opposed by a landowner, and there is support in the record for the board’s finding that it need not consider the issue of down zoning because the property owner was requesting the more restrictive zoning classification.  Moreover, as to other landowners, the sixth factor has no bearing because of the board’s other findings, approved above, that Living Word’s use would be more limited than permitted in the area; we must affirm a county commissioner’s observation, directed at the sixth factor, that the board was “not loosening the standards.”

In sum, the board’s findings on the rezoning factors of the ordinance reflected its reasonable decision to rezone the property from residential to seasonal residential, allowing the further step of application for a conditionally permitted camp use.

When granting summary judgment for respondents, the district court expressed concern over verbatim adoption of appellants’ combined proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.  Factfinders are discouraged from adopting verbatim proposed findings and conclusions “because it does not allow the parties or a reviewing court to determine the extent to which the . . . decision was independently made.”  Lundell v. Coop. Power Ass’n, 707 N.W.2d 376, 380 n.1 (Minn. 2006).  But two board members at the hearing reiterated their familiarity with the complete record, which extensively outlined the positions of all parties on the rezoning.  The record adequately reflects that the board independently considered the issue, and it did not err in adopting the proposed findings and conclusions.

Because the findings of the board adequately demonstrate a rational basis for the rezoning, the district court erred in ordering that the property be returned to the residential zoning classification.  We reverse and remand for entry of judgment affirming the county board’s decision to rezone.

Reversed and remanded.  

* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] The board also made a seventh finding, reiterating a finding on lower service use.