This opinion will be unpublished and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
Living Word Bible Camp,
Filed March 28, 2006
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.
In September 2000,
Living Word Bible Camp bought a 280-acre tract of land that included 3,000 feet
of shoreline on
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.
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.
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.
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.
In April 2004,
respondent property owners
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
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 (
1. Use of 1998 Ordinance
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 (
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
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
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
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 (
We are to
independently examine the record without deference to the district court
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.
ordinance states six guidelines criteria for assessing a proposed zoning
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
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.
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.
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 (
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.