This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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





Sherburne Land Investment Company, L.L.C.,





Sherburne County Board of Commissioners,



Filed June 13, 2006


Collins, Judge*


Sherburne County Board of Commissioners


Steven J. Lodge, Stacy L. Novak, Nash & Lodge, P.L.L.P., 2705 Bunker Lake Boulevard Northwest, Suite 107, Andover, MN 55304 (for relator)


Kathleen A. Heaney, Sherburne County Attorney, 13880 Highway 10, Elk River, Mn  55330; and


Jay T. Squires, Kimberley K. Sobieck, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A., 300 U.S. Trust Building, 730 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)


            Considered and decided by Minge, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Collins, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Relator challenges as arbitrary, capricious, and legally insufficient respondent’s denial of relator’s preliminary-plat application.  Because the denial of the plat application as proposed was reasonable and legally sound, we affirm.


On February 10, 2005, relator Sherburne Land Investment Company, L.L.C., applied to Sherburne County for approval of a preliminary plat of property to be known as Highway Plaza, a 14-lot industrial development within the county’s Industrial District.  Because the property abuts upon U.S. Highway 10 (U.S. 10), the preliminary plat was promptly forwarded to Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) for comments and recommendations as required by Minn. Stat. § 505.03, subd. 2, (2004), and the county subdivision ordinance.

            On March 1, a Mn/DOT senior planner responded that because the long-range plans for the relevant segment of U.S. 10 called for elimination of direct access between the subject property and the highway, future access would need to be by way of 192nd Avenue, a street included within the plat.  Relator revised the plat. 

            On April 12, Claudia Dumont, another Mn/DOT senior transportation planner, wrote the first of three letters concerning the plat to the county planner.  In it, Dumont incorporated the comments made in the Mn/DOT March 1 letter, observed that plans for improvement of U.S. 10 might affect the plat, and stated, with respect to the access between the property and U.S. 10, that “[t]he plat should be revised to show access control, and language dedicating access control should be added.”

            In the next letter, dated May 10, Dumont identified “several important safety issues relating to the highway access for the development:”  (1) that the proposed access provides substandard sight distances for drivers leaving the development and turning left onto U.S. 10, meaning that they would have to enter upon a traffic lane without being able to see for a sufficient distance whether there are vehicles approaching from the right traveling in the same lane; (2) that right-turning vehicles leaving the development would immediately be accelerating up a four percent grade in a traffic lane on U.S. 10; (3) that the right- and left-turn lanes on U.S. 10 for vehicles entering the property are of substandard length; and (4) that the proposed access deficiencies are the same as those of a nearby intersection that Mn/DOT had recently caused to be closed.  Dumont then stated Mn/DOT’s recommendations that should the plat be approved, the developer should either (1) install specified turn lanes and acceleration lanes, or (2) close the existing access and extend the existing service road to the next access point. 

            In her third letter, dated May 18, Dumont reiterated the previous safety concerns and remedial options, adding that if the developer chose to extend the service road it could not be constructed on Mn/DOT right-of-way. 

            After meeting on April 21 and May 19 and discussing the plat application without reaching a vote, the county zoning and planning commission met on June 16 and voted to recommend approval of the plat subject to conditions that the existing access was temporary and would be reconstructed to overcome the stated safety concerns. 

             Respondent Sherburne County Board of Commissioners (the Board) voted unanimously to deny the application at its July 12, 2005 meeting.  The commissioners’ discussion of the application focused on safety concerns relating to access.  The Board recorded four bases for the denial:  (1)  Mn/DOT’s access-safety concerns as detailed in the Dumont letters of May 10 and 18; (2) failure to meet provisions of the county’s comprehensive land-use plan relating to safe access to new business and industrial developments and operations; (3) “the proposed ingress/egress access location to [U.S.10] is inappropriate for the type of industrial related traffic and volume that would be generated by 14 industrial businesses,” based on the volume of traffic on U.S. 10 and the nature of the proposed development; and (4) “allowing an access point at the proposed location would be contrary to the foresight and planning of the City of Big Lake and [Mn/DOT],” based on the recent closure at Mn/DOT’s request of a similar access to U.S. 10 in Big Lake, about one-half mile from the proposed Highway Plaza development.  Relator challenges the denial by writ of certiorari.


When reviewing a county board’s decision on a writ of certiorari, our “inquiry is limited to questioning whether the board had jurisdiction, whether the proceedings were fair and regular, and whether the board’s decision was unreasonable, oppressive, arbitrary, fraudulent, without evidentiary support, or based on an incorrect theory of law.”  Radke v. St. Louis County Bd., 558 N.W.2d 282, 284 (Minn. App. 1997).  We give great deference to a county’s land-use decisions and will overturn such decisions only when there is no rational basis for them.  SuperAmerica Group, Inc. v. City of Little Canada, 539 N.W.2d 264, 266 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Jan. 5, 1996). 

When reviewing a municipality’s zoning decision, we must determine if there is a rational basis for the decision; we may not substitute our judgment if there is a legally sufficient reason for the decision, even if we would have reached a different conclusion.  St. Croix Dev., Inc. v. City of Apple Valley, 446 N.W.2d 392, 398 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Dec. 1, 1989).  A legally sufficient reason is one “reasonably related to the promotion of the public health, safety, morals and general welfare of the community.” Id.  A municipality may not base its denial on “unreasonably vague or unreasonably subjective” standards.  Trisko v. City of Waite Park, 566 N.W.2d 349, 353 (Minn. App. 1997) (quotation omitted), review denied (Minn. Sept. 25, 1997). “If an entity’s zoning ordinances specify standards to which a proposed plat must conform, it is arbitrary as a matter of law to deny approval of a plat which complies in all respects with the ordinances.”  Hurrle v. County of Sherburne ex rel. Bd. of Comm’rs, 594 N.W.2d 246, 250 (Minn. App. 1999) (quotation omitted); see also PTL, L.L.C. v. Chisago County Bd. of Comm’rs, 656 N.W.2d 567, 571 (Minn. App. 2003) (stating that “[u]nder Minnesota law, when an ordinance specifies minimum standards to which subdivisions must conform, local officials lack discretionary authority to deny approval of a preliminary plat that meets those standards”). 

When a preliminary plat meets the municipality’s zoning and subdivision-ordinance provisions, it is arbitrary for the city to deny the plat application based on the county’s comprehensive plan. See id. at 575 (observing that the provisions of the comprehensive plan are intended to be general in nature and are thus legally insufficient as a basis for denying preliminary-plat approval). 

Here, the county ordinance provides:

Whenever the proposed subdivision contains or is adjacent to a State or Federal Highway, provision shall be made for a service road adjacent to the highway right-of-way, or because of topography or at the request of the road authority for a service road at a distance suitable for the appropriate use of land between such road and the highway right-of-way.


Sherburne County, Minn., Subdivision Ordinance § 11, subd. 1:2.F (2005).  It is undisputed that the proposed development is adjacent to U.S. 10.  By its terms, the ordinance specifically requires that a proposed development adjacent to a federal highway provide for a service road to facilitate access to and egress from the highway.  It is also undisputed that the plat presented for approval and considered by the Board did not include such a service road.  The Board’s denial of the application for its failure to comply with the terms of the county subdivision ordinance was therefore reasonable.  Relator asserts, without legal or record support, that the plat “met all requirements of the Sherburne County Standard Subdivision Ordinance.”  But the assertion is imprecise because the proposed plat does not include the service road required by the ordinance.

            Relator argues that the Board, in reaching its decision, unreasonably relied on Mn/DOT’s expressed traffic-safety concerns without considering Mn/DOT’s recommendations intended to address those concerns.  While acknowledging that the Board may properly rely on Mn/DOT’s safety concerns in making land-use decisions, relator nevertheless contends that Mn/DOT “did not assert a safety-based objection to the development, but merely expressed safety-related concerns that would be adequately resolved with its recommended improvements.”  We disagree with relator’s characterization of the Mn/DOT position.  Dumont, writing for Mn/DOT on May 10 and 18, clearly identified four traffic hazards related to entering and exiting the development as proposed.  Traffic concerns may be legally sufficient to justify denial in a zoning matter, provided that the record demonstrates a factual basis for the concerns.  C.R. Invs., Inc. v. Village of Shoreview, 304 N.W.2d 320, 325 (Minn. 1981).  Here, the factual basis for the Board’s concerns was provided by the Dumont letters.  The Board also made a specific finding concerning a nearby intersection that had recently been ordered closed, on Mn/DOT’s recommendation, because it had the “same deficiencies” as those presented by the proposed Highway Plaza development.  And although Dumont’s letters did recommend improvements that might resolve the safety concerns, the plat, as proposed and considered by the Board, did not incorporate Mn/DOT’s recommendations or otherwise indicate how, or if, they would be adopted in the final project. 

            We conclude that the Board reasonably denied relator’s plat application because of its failure to comport with the county subdivision ordinance and for traffic-safety concerns. 

            The Board also viewed the proposed plat to be inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive land-use plan, which provides:

New development and operations within the Business and Industry category shall be required to ensure safe access to their business site through the placement of site access(es) in accordance with the Township and/or County Transportation Plan and through the construction of turn lanes, bypass lanes, and street lighting when necessary as determined by the respective road authority.


Relator argues that Mn/DOT’s recommendations concerning safe access resolve any discrepancy between the comprehensive plan and the proposal, but relator does not show that the recommendations were incorporated into the proposal as submitted.  The Board did not act unreasonably by rejecting the plat as being inconsistent with the comprehensive land-use plan’s goals and policies for safe access to existing infrastructure. 

            The Board’s final basis for declining approval of the application related to the recent closing of a similar intersection in Big Lake, less than one-half mile from the proposed plat, as recommended by Mn/DOT.  In light of that access closure, the Board noted that the proposed Highway Plaza development is immediately adjacent to the city boundary and found that to allow the proposed project “would be contrary to the foresight and planning of the City of Big Lake and [Mn/DOT].”  Relator argues that the action taken by the City of Big Lake is irrelevant because the proposed Highway Plaza development is not in the city and that the “foresight and planning” of the City of Big Lake is an impermissibly vague standard on which to rely.  Perhaps standing alone the action taken by the City of Big Lake would not serve as a sufficient reason to deny the application.  But other reasons for the denial were reasonable, and the Board’s denial of relator’s plat application was therefore legally sufficient.  See St. Croix Dev., Inc., 446 N.W.2d at 398 (observing that a municipal body’s denial of a land-use request is not arbitrary when at least one of the reasons given for the denial satisfies the rational-basis test). 


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