This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Donald W. Steinkraus,
Cook County Board of Adjustment,
Cook County District Court
File No. 16CV06106
Richard W. Swanson, Swanson Law Office, P.C., 1708 West Highway 61, Box 819, Grand Marais, MN 55604 (for respondent)
Michael J. Ford, John H. Wenker, Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., Box 1008, St. Cloud, MN 56302-1008 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Wright, Judge.
Appellant, a county board of adjustment, challenges the district court’s order reversing appellant’s denial of respondent’s request for a variance and granting the variance. We reverse.
The material facts of this case are
not disputed. Respondent Donald W.
Steinkraus owns approximately 1.5 acres of lakeshore property on Lake Superior in
Steinkraus applied to appellant Cook County Board of Adjustment (the board) for a variance for the addition. The board held a hearing on Steinkraus’s variance application. In a three-to-one vote, the board, noting that it had turned down similar applications, denied Steinkraus’s application for a variance based on its finding that Steinkraus failed to demonstrate a hardship that would prevent him from reasonably using his property without a variance. Steinkraus appealed the board’s denial to the district court. As a part of settlement negotiations, the board agreed to hold another hearing on the variance request. Only four members of the five-member board were able to attend the second hearing, and the board tabled the matter when the vote on a motion to deny the variance resulted in a tie.
At a subsequent hearing, the board again denied the application based on findings that: (1) Steinkraus could make the cabin handicap accessible without a variance; (2) Steinkraus failed to demonstrate that he would be deprived of continuing historical uses; (3) Steinkraus failed to demonstrate an undue hardship of a physical or practical nature; and (4) Steinkraus failed to demonstrate that the denial would result in the deprivation of his reasonable use of the property because a variance granted in 1989 permits construction of an adjacent building in compliance with setback requirements to accommodate guests. The board served a written notice of denial that listed the reasons for the denial.
Steinkraus again appealed to the district court, which reversed the board’s decision and ordered that the variance be granted with conditions. The district court found that the board’s decision was “unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious, or without a legally sufficient basis.” The district court found that the first and second reasons articulated by the board were based on incorrect statements of the law and that the board should not have denied Steinkraus’s application merely because he could build a conforming structure elsewhere on his property. The district court concluded that Steinkraus had demonstrated a hardship and that the variance with conditions drafted by the district court met the overall policy goals of the county’s land-use provisions. This appeal followed.
County boards of adjustment have the
exclusive power to grant variances from their zoning ordinances.
“In reviewing a zoning action, we
give no deference to the trial court’s findings and conclusions.” Rowell
v. Bd. of Adjustment of the City of Moorhead, 446 N.W.2d 917, 919 (Minn.
App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Dec.
15, 1989). “Reasonableness [of a board’s
variance decision] can be stated in terms of what is not arbitrary and
capricious.” Sagstetter v. City of
The Cook County Zoning Ordinance
provides that the board may authorize a variance from the terms of the county’s
zoning ordinances, “where owing to special conditions a practical difficulty or
particular hardship would be created by carrying out the strict letter of the
“Hardship” as used in connection with the granting of a variance means that the property in question cannot be put to a reasonable use under the conditions allowed by this Ordinance; the plight of the landowner is due to circumstances unique to [the landowner’s] property not created by the landowner; and the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the locality. Economic considerations alone shall not constitute a hardship when a reasonable use of the property exists under the terms of this Ordinance.
The definition of “hardship” in the Cook County Ordinance is very similar to the definition in Minn. Stat. § 394.27, subd. 7. The applicant bears the burden to “demonstrate sufficient practical difficulty or particular hardship to sustain the need for a variance,” and “[a]bsent a showing as provided in Minnesota Statutes and this Ordinance, the [board] shall not approve any variance.” Cook County Zoning Ordinance § 14.02(D)(1)(d) (2007).
A. Reasonable use
The first requirement for hardship
is that the applicant must demonstrate that the property cannot be put to a
reasonable use without the variance.
In Rowell, Sagstetter, and Nolan, we rejected the contention of appellants that a hardship could never exist so long as property could be put to any reasonable use. Rowell, 446 N.W.2d at 922; Sagstetter, 529 N.W.2d at 492; Nolan, 610 N.W.2d at 701. But we do not read those cases as compelling a board to accept a landowner’s proposal to implement a reasonable use in a manner that would require a variance when the use can be accomplished in a different manner within the terms of an ordinance.
In this case, Steinkraus correctly asserts that the board failed to make any finding on the reasonableness of the proposed use. But the reasonableness of Steinkraus’s proposed use was not an issue in this case. The issue was whether the proposed use could be accomplished without a variance. The board’s findings reflect Steinkraus’s stated desire to accommodate guests and preserve the existing structure while making it handicap accessible. The board found that Steinkraus had failed “to demonstrate that the existing cabin cannot be made handicap accessible without the acquisition of a variance,” and Steinkraus could build a conforming structure to the east, consistent with a variance that Steinkraus previously obtained, to accommodate guests. Because evidence in the record supports the board’s finding, this finding is not arbitrary and capricious.
B. Unique circumstances
The second requirement to establish a hardship is that the plight of the landowner is due to circumstances unique to the property not created by the landowner. Cook County Zoning Ordinance § 14.02(D)(1)(b); see also Rowell, 446 N.W.2d at 922. The “plight” referred to is that the owner cannot put the property to a reasonable use without a variance. While the location of the existing cabin may be a unique circumstance not created by Steinkraus, the board found that Steinkraus could preserve the cabin and make reasonable use of the property without a variance, supporting its further finding that Steinkraus failed to demonstrate an undue hardship of a physical or practical nature that would justify the granting of a variance.
C. Essential character of the locality
The third requirement is that the
variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the
locality. Cook County Zoning Ordinance
§ 14.02(D)(1)(b); see also Rowell, 446 N.W.2d at 922. Steinkraus wants to add 929 square feet to
his 682-square-foot cabin, thereby substantially increasing the size of a
nonconforming structure. One board
member noted at each of the hearings that granting the variance would have the
effect of enlarging a nonconforming use, contrary to the over-arching goal of
the zoning ordinance to preserve
Steinkraus presented evidence that his proposal for an addition to the cabin would better maintain the character of the locality than the board’s proposal that he build a separate building that meets setback requirements. Even if that is true, it does not alter the fact that the proposed addition will alter the character of the locality in ways prohibited by the ordinance. On appeal, Steinkraus’s arguments were very persuasive that his proposed addition is ultimately the best option for meeting his proposed use while preserving the view from neighboring properties and the lake. Steinkraus obviously convinced the district court that this is the case, but the fact that a reviewing court may have arrived at a different conclusion does not invalidate the judgment of the board if it acted in good faith and within its discretion accorded by statutes and the relevant ordinances. VanLandschoot,336 N.W.2d at 509. The board may not have made the best decision by denying Steinkraus’s application, but there is no evidence that the board did not act in good faith within its discretion according to the law. Because the board’s decision was not arbitrary and capricious, and because the reasons stated by the board for the denial are valid, bear on the general welfare of the area, are legally sufficient, and are supported in the record, we conclude that the district court erred in substituting its judgment for that of the board.