This opinion will be unpublished and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
John Gergen, et al.,
Filed July 3, 2006
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
F A C T S
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.
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].”
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
D E C I S I O N
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
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.
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
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
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.