This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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







John Gergen, et al.,





City of Mantorville,




Filed July 3, 2006


Lansing, Judge


Dodge County District Court

File No. 20-C4-03-000404


Robert G. Benner, Dunlap & Seeger, P.A. 206 South Broadway, Suite 505, P.O. Box 549, Rochester, MN 55903-0549 (for respondents)


Paul D. Reuvers, Jason J. Kuboushek, Iverson Reuvers, L.L.C., 9321 Ensign Avenue South, Bloomington, MN 55438 (for appellant)


            Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Randall, Judge; and Willis, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            The City of Mantorville appeals from a district court order directing the city to issue John and Tara Gergen a building permit for construction of a storage building.  Because the district court properly determined that the proposed structure was a permitted use, which did not require a variance from the applicable zoning ordinance, we affirm.


            In May 2000 John and Tara Gergen purchased undeveloped property within the city limits of Mantorville.  The eleven-acre parcel was zoned agricultural under the zoning ordinance in effect at that time.  On the south and west, the property borders a river.  On the north and east, the property borders residentially zoned blocks.  The Gergens built a home on the property and continue to reside there.

            In March 2003 the Gergens applied for a building permit to construct a forty-by-eighty-foot storage building with a height of sixteen feet.  Permitted uses within Mantorville agricultural districts include “[f]arms and farmsteads, including usual farm buildings and structures”; and “accessory buildings and uses customarily incidental to [farmsteads and agricultural uses].”  Mantorville, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 4.4(2) (1985).  When John Gergen went to apply for the building permit, the city clerk told him that he would also need to apply for a variance to construct a building of the size described in his application.  Although John Gergen did not believe a variance was necessary because the property was zoned agricultural, he submitted a variance application.  The application erroneously identified the property’s zoning classification as residential. 

            The city issued notice of a public hearing in April 2003 to consider the Gergens’ application for a “[v]ariance from Section 2.2(1)(a) of the Zoning Ordinance . . . to build a 40’X80’X16’ detached accessory building on his property.”  Section 2.2(1)(a) of the applicable Mantorville zoning ordinance defines an “accessory structure or building” as “[a] subordinate structure or building on the same lot which is incidental and subordinate to the principal use of the primary or main building and shall . . . not exceed 625 square feet in total.”  Minutes of the hearing state that the purpose of the meeting was to consider the:  “[v]ariance request by John Gergen to build a 40’ by 80’ foot by 16’ foot accessory building in a residential district.”  (Emphasis added.)

            John Gergen and several of his neighbors attended the hearing.  One of the neighbors opposed the variance because he believed that the intended size of the building would devalue his property and that it was disproportionately large for its location.  The city council decided that the issue required further clarification and tabled the variance request.  The council renewed discussion of the application at a meeting two weeks later and voted unanimously to deny the variance.  The council based its denial on the application’s failure to meet the zoning-ordinance criteria for obtaining a variance.  The Gergens appealed the decision and submitted copies of minutes from previous council meetings, demonstrating that similar buildings had been allowed in both agricultural and residential districts of Mantorville.  The council, sitting as the zoning board of appeals, again denied the variance request.

The Gergens filed a complaint in district court that sought reversal of the denial of their application and issuance of a building permit.  The complaint alleges that the city failed to follow its zoning procedures when it required the Gergens to seek a variance to obtain a building permit for a permitted use.  The district court denied the city’s motion for summary judgment and conducted a bench trial.  Preceding the testimonial part of the trial, the city and the Gergens agreed that the sole issue was whether the building proposed by the Gergens was a “usual farm building or structure” under the zoning ordinance and that resolution of this issue controlled the case.  The district court found that the proposed structure was a “usual farm building” that could be “found throughout Dodge County and the surrounding areas on farms.”  Based on this finding, the district court directed the city to issue the Gergens a building permit for the construction of their storage building.  The city appeals from the district court’s order and judgment.


Judicial review of a municipality’s zoning determination focuses on the reasons given for the municipality’s decision and the legal sufficiency of those reasons.  Mendota Golf, LLP v. City of Mendota Heights, 708 N.W.2d 162, 180 (Minn. 2006).  When the municipality receives and weighs evidence, our standard of review is whether a rational basis supports the decision.  Id. But the application of an ordinance to established facts is a question of law for the court.  Frank’s Nursery Sales, Inc. v. City of Roseville, 295 N.W.2d 604, 608 (Minn. 1980); Buss v. Johnson, 624 N.W.2d 781, 785 (Minn. App. 2001). 

Three rules of construction govern the interpretation of a zoning ordinance.  First, ordinances are given their plain and ordinary meaning.  Frank’s Nursery Sales, Inc., 295 N.W.2d at 608.  Second, ordinances should be construed strictly against a municipality and in favor of a landowner.  Id. at 608-09.  Third, ordinances must be considered in light of their underlying policy goals.  Id. at 609.  Additionally, “rules that govern the construction of statutes are applicable to the construction of ordinances.”  Smith v. Barry, 219 Minn. 182, 187, 17 N.W.2d 324, 327 (1944).  This includes the rule that a statute should be construed as a whole to harmonize and give effect to all of its parts.  Id. at 187, 17 N.W.2d at 327.

The city and the Gergens agree that the Gergens’ property was located in an agricultural district when they submitted their permit application and that the Gergens’ application is governed by the ordinance in effect at that time rather than a later-enacted ordinance that changed the zoning classification.  The applicable zoning ordinance states that the intent behind creating an agricultural district was to “establish areas within the City of Mantorville for the production of food and fiber, and necessary accessory agricultural activities.”  Mantorville, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 4.4(1) (1985).  The ordinance creates three categories of permitted uses within the agricultural district:  (1) “Farms and farmsteads, including usual farm buildings and structures, and [one] residence occupied by the farm owner or worker thereon”; (2) “Truck gardening, nurseries, orchards, and similar agricultural uses”; and (3) “Accessory buildings and uses customarily incidental to any of the above.”  Id. § 4.4(2) (1985).  If a building qualifies as a permitted use only because it is accessory to another permitted use, it is subject to size and usage restrictions.  Id. § 2.2(1) (1985).

The city does not dispute that the proposed storage building would qualify as a permitted use under the category of “usual farm building” if the Gergens intended to construct it on a working farm.  But the city maintains that, because the Gergens are not farmers, the structure cannot be a “usual farm building” and therefore the building must be considered an “accessory building” subject to size restrictions.

The district court applied the ordinance, as written, to the character of the proposed structure and focused on whether it was a “usual farm building” or structure.  The court did not condition the meaning of the ordinance on the occupation of the property residents.  We agree with the district court’s plain-meaning analysis.  The storage building described in the Gergens’ application is a “usual farm building” commonly found on the agricultural landscape of Dodge County and throughout southern Minnesota.  Although the Gergens did not express an intent to put their property to an agricultural use, the construction of the storage building on their property is consistent with the purpose behind maintaining an agricultural district within Mantorville: to establish areas for agricultural activity.  Id. § 4.4(1); see also Frank’s Nursery Sales, 295 N.W.2d at 608-09 (stating that language in zoning ordinances must be given its plain and ordinary meaning and ordinances must be considered in light of their underlying policy goals).

Under the ordinance in effect at the time of the Gergens’ application, “usual farm buildings” are a permitted use on agricultural land.  Because the storage building is a permitted use, the district court properly directed the issuance of the permit.