This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ' 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).




Edward Molnar, petitioner,



Carver County Board of Commissioners,


Filed May 28, 1996


Davies, Judge

Carver County District Court

File No. C795379

Dennis Patrick Moriarty, Jaspers, Moriarty and Walburg, P.A., 206 Scott St., Shakopee, MN 55379 (for Respondent)

Michael A. Fahey, Carver County Attorney, Kari L.S. Myrold, Assistant Carver County Attorney, 600 E. Fourth St., Chaska, MN 55318 (for Appellant)

Considered and decided by Davies, Presiding Judge, Parker, Judge, and Schumacher, Judge.



Appellant county board denied respondent landowner's request for rezoning. The district court concluded that the board's decision was unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious, and issued a writ of mandamus ordering the board to grant the rezoning request. We affirm.


Respondent Edward Molnar owns 22.21 acres of land in three adjacent, irregularly shaped parcels. Two-thirds of the combined parcel is referred to hereafter as the "northern" parcel and the remainder is split into "southeastern" and "southwestern" parcels. Roads run only along the northern and eastern sides of the property, leaving the southwest parcel without road access. The northern parcel is 15.28 acres of cropland. The southeastern parcel currently is a residential site. The southwestern parcel is pasture land and, because of the lack of road access, has been considered an unbuildable lot.

Molnar seeks to reconfigure his lots and to turn the southwestern parcel into a residential lot. He would create road access to the north by combining the parcel with the west .86 acres of the northern parcel. He would then combine the southeastern parcel and residence with the remaining eastern 14-plus acres of the northern parcel. Toward this end, Molnar applied to have his parcels rezoned from "General Agriculture" to "Residential Cluster District."

The Carver County Planning and Zoning Department, the San Francisco Town Board, and the Carver County Planning Commission all recommended approval of Molnar's proposal, with minor conditions. Nonetheless, appellant Carver County Board of Commissioners (Board) denied the application on two grounds. The Board first asserted that, because a density determination was made when a prior owner obtained a conditional use permit for the residence on the southeastern lot, no further "piggybacking" or "overlaying" of density was permitted by the Carver County Comprehensive Plan (County Plan). Second, the Board asserted that the rezoning would violate the Carver County Zoning Ordinance by including the same land in more than one density calculation (i.e., once when the conditional use permit was granted and again as part of the rezoning now requested).

Molnar petitioned the district court for a writ of mandamus, alleging that the Board's denial was unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious. The Board defended the denial on the above grounds and also argued that an amendment to the San Francisco Township Comprehensive Plan (Township Plan), made while the district court's decision was pending, required disallowance of Molnar's request.

The district court, finding the Board's denial unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious, ordered the Board to grant Molnar's rezoning request. The Board appeals.


The parties agree that this case involves only issues of law. Therefore, we conduct de novo review. Henning v. Village of Prior Lake, 435 N.W.2d 627, 630 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Apr. 24, 1989).

When reviewing a zoning issue, the appellate court is to conduct an independent examination of the local authority's decision. Northwestern College v. City of Arden Hills, 281 N.W.2d 865, 868 (Minn. 1979). The standard of review in zoning matters is whether the local authority's

decision was unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious, with review focused on the legal sufficiency of and factual basis for the reasons given.

Swanson v. City of Bloomington, 421 N.W.2d 307, 313 (Minn. 1988) (emphasis added); accord St. Croix Dev. v. City of Apple Valley, 446 N.W.2d 392, 398 (Minn. App. 1989), review denied (Minn. Dec. 1, 1989). The denial of a rezoning request "is not arbitrary when at least one of the reasons given * * * satisfies the rational basis test." St. Croix Dev., 446 N.W.2d at 398 (emphasis added).

Legal sufficiency is established if the local authority's stated reason for denial "is reasonably related to the promotion of the public health, safety, morals and general welfare of the community." Id. The party challenging a zoning decision bears the burden of demonstrating that the decision is factually or legally insufficient. Larson v. County of Washington, 387 N.W.2d 902, 906 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. Aug. 20, 1986).

Molnar has met that burden.

1. Additional Density

The proposed rezoning would not result in density in violation of the general scheme of Carver County zoning, which limits rural property to a maximum density of four residences per 40 acres. The Board pulls together various provisions from the County Plan, suggesting that they prohibit an additional residence on Molnar's property beyond the one allowed with the conditional use permit for one wooded lot. Although Molnar's proposal will result in a second residence on his property, we fail to see any practical logic in the county's argument. Molnar's 22.21 acres would, with his rezoning, be allowed two of the four residences allowed in that 40 acres, but the four-residence limit would not be violated. The county failed to show any basis on which denial of the requested rezoning promotes the welfare of the community, considering that the denial would simply preserve the fourth allowable residence for some other landowner.

2. Use of Land More Than Once in a Density Calculation

The Board also denied Molnar's request based on a provision in the "Residential Cluster District" portion of the zoning ordinance, which states that

[i]n no case shall any land at any time be included in more than one Residential Cluster District nor shall any land be used more than once in any density calculations.

Carver County, Minn., Ordinance 325, ' 8.0106 (March 15, 1994). The Board's position is that, because portions of Molnar's land were used in a density calculation when the wooded lot conditional use permit was granted, that land may not be rezoned again because another density calculation would result.

We disagree. The Board's interpretation essentially prevents further rezoning after any one density calculation. The cited provision is much more logically interpreted as requiring that no land be a part of two concurrent density calculations. That would not be the case with Molnar's proposed rezoning, as it would result in a single new density calculation for the relevant 40-acre tract. We note further that, even if there is ambiguity on this point, we "generally construe strictly against the [local authority] and in favor of the property owner." Amcon Corp. v. City of Eagan, 348 N.W.2d 66, 72 (Minn. 1984).

3. Amendments to the Township Plan and the Zoning Ordinance

a. Township Plan

The Board also suggests that, while the matter was pending in the district court, the Township Plan was amended to prohibit Molnar's request. [1] Molnar contends that the amendment occurred after the trial court issued its order and is thus irrelevant. [2]

If an amendment to the zoning ordinance had occurred prior to trial on the mandamus action, it might have precluded the proposed rezoning. See Property Research & Dev. Co. v. City of Eagan, 289 N.W.2d 157, 158 (Minn. 1980) (plaintiff lost rights to plat approval when city council amended zoning ordinance prior to trial). Here, though, the Board failed to establish when the amendment to the Township Plan occurred. It is the Board's burden, as appellant, to support its claim that the amendment was before the district court with references to the evidence in the record. It has failed to do so here, so we decline to consider the amendment to the Township Plan.

b. Zoning Ordinance

After the district court's decision, the Board amended the zoning ordinance to prohibit rezoning under these circumstances. The Board concedes that the amendment is in no way binding on this case because it occurred after the district court's action, and we therefore decline to consider it.

4. Neighborhood Concerns

The Board states that it rejected the rezoning after considering the concerns of neighbors. Although such concerns may be a factor, they may not be the sole basis for a decision. Swanson, 421 N.W.2d at 313. Because we hold that the legal bases advanced for the decision are insufficient, the alleged neighborhood concerns cannot change our decision. Further, we note that, although the record indicates that the Board took comments, its resolution does not cite them as a factor in its decision.



[1] The zoning ordinance provides that any rezoning from General Agriculture to Residential Cluster District must be "specifically provided for in the Township Comprehensive Plan." Carver County, Minn., Ordinance 325, ' 8.0101(A) (March 15, 1994). The Township Plan, thus, is essentially incorporated into the zoning ordinance.

[2] The trial court's memorandum does not address the amendment.