This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




Jerome Schomaker, et al.,



Rice County Board of Adjustments,


Filed April 22, 1997


Mansur, Judge


Concurring specially, Davies, Judge

Rice County District Court

File No. C295939

Timothy L. Morisette, Lampe, Swanson & Morisette, 105 East Fifth Street, P.O. Box 240, Northfield, MN 55057 (for Respondents)

Jeffrey D. Thompson, Rice County Attorney, Meredith A. Erickson, Senior Assistant County Attorney, 218 Third Street N.W., Faribault, MN 55021 (for Appellant)

Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Mansur, Judge.



On appeal from summary judgment, appellant challenges the district court's interpretation of zoning ordinances, specifically the conclusion that respondents' structure was a travel trailer rather than a mobile home. We affirm.


Respondents Jerome and Janice Schomaker own a parcel of land on French Lake in Rice County. Gary Trail bisects their parcel, putting one piece between the road and the lake, and the rest on the other side of the roadway. In 1994, the Schomakers placed a 12 x 60 foot structure on their property between the roadway and the lake.

In March 1995, Rice County officials gave the Schomakers the option of obtaining variances for the structure or removing it from its present location. Rice County's flood plain setback restrictions require structures without sewers to be located at least 40 feet from Gary Trail's right-of-way and at least 75 feet from French Lake's ordinary high water mark. Rice County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 514.009 (1992). The Schomakers' structure was located six feet from Gary Trail's right-of-way and 40 feet from French Lake's ordinary high water mark.

After the Schomakers filed a variance application, appellant Rice County Board of Adjustments (the Board) held a public hearing and passed a motion to deny the Schomakers' requested variances. The Schomakers appealed to Rice County District Court and sought a declaratory judgment that they may keep their structure on the property without obtaining a permit or variance. The parties brought cross-motions for summary judgment and the district court granted the Schomakers' motion and denied the Board's motion. The Board appeals.


On appeal from summary judgment, this court must determine whether any genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the district court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). We must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was granted. Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993). Interpretation of zoning ordinances is a question of law. Frank's Nursery Sales, Inc. v. City of Roseville, 295 N.W.2d 604, 608 (Minn. 1980). This court reviews questions of law de novo. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).

The court should construe a zoning ordinance (1) according to the plain and ordinary meaning of its terms, (2) in favor of the property owner, and (3) in light of the ordinance's underlying policy goals. SLS Partnership v. City of Apple Valley, 511 N.W.2d 738, 741 (Minn. 1994) (citing Frank's Nursery, 295 N.W.2d at 608-09). General rules of statutory construction may also aid interpretation. See Batalden v. County of Goodhue, 308 N.W.2d 500, 501 (Minn. 1981) (interpreting a zoning ordinance using canons of statutory construction). The district court applied the three-part test in Frank's Nursery and concluded that, as a matter of law, the structure was a travel trailer rather than a mobile home and thus required no permit or variance to remain at its present location. We agree.

The Rice County zoning ordinances define a mobile home as

[a] residential unit constructed in a factory or assembly point, designed for year round occupancy, and moved to a site in one (1) or more sections. Trailers, campers or bus(es) are not included.

Rice County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 504.104 (1992). A travel trailer is defined as

[a] vehicle without motor power used or adaptable for living, sleeping, business, or storage purposes, having no foundation other than wheels, blocks, skids, jacks, horses, or skirting, which does not meet building code requirements and has been or reasonably may be equipped with wheels or other devices for transporting the structure from place to place and includes camp car, camp bus, camper and house car. A permanent foundation shall not change its character unless the entire structure is erected in accordance with the approved State of Minnesota Building Code.

Id. § 504.185 (1992). While the flood plain setback restrictions apply to mobile homes, travel trailers are exempt. Id. § 516.010(a) (1992).

In his affidavit, Jerome Schomaker stated that the structure is not permanently attached to the ground, but rests on cement blocks with a skirting that can be removed in one hour. The structure has permanently attached wheels and can be moved by a tractor or truck. No additions were made to the structure. Jerome Schomaker understood that the structure did not meet building code requirements in part because it is not equipped with running water or a sewage disposal system.

The Board argues that the district court should have defined mobile home and travel trailer according to relevant provisions in the state building code and state traffic regulations. The zoning ordinances, however, contain specific definitions of these relevant terms. The Board argues that, even assuming that the structure does fit the zoning ordinance definition of a travel trailer, the district court failed to consider properly the ordinance's underlying policy goals, which is the third prong of the Frank's Nursery analysis.

The underlying policy of the flood plain setback restrictions is the following:

The uncontrolled use of shorelands of Rice County, Minnesota affects the public health, safety and general welfare of the county by contributing to pollution of public waters and also by impairing the local tax base. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the public health, safety and welfare to provide for the wise development of shorelands of public waters, regulating the subdivision use and development of the shorelands and thus preserving and enhancing the quality of surface waters, conserving the economic and natural environmental value of shorelands, and providing for the wise use of water related land resources.

Rice County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 514.001(b) (1995). The Board argues that the district court failed to consider several public policies underlying the setback requirements: (1) environmental protection, specifically water quality maintenance and protection against over-development of the shoreline; (2) a buffer zone from vehicles that accidentally drive off the road; and (3) a buffer zone from snow pushed off the road by snow plows.

We conclude initially that protection from snow plowing would not require a 40-foot setback from the road right-of-way. Regarding the other two policies, there does not appear to be a logical reason why the setback restrictions would exempt travel trailers. A travel trailer parked close to the road right-of-way runs the same risk of being hit by an errant vehicle as a mobile home; similarly, a travel trailer parked close to the shoreline runs the same risk as a mobile home of polluting the water. We agree with the district court that requirements as to size and permanence, rather than portability, would more efficiently meet the underlying policy of protecting the shoreline.

The Board argues that the district court's decision is an absurd result, potentially leading to mobile homes placed anywhere in the shoreline district. See Batalden, 308 N.W.2d at 501 (court's interpretation of zoning ordinance led to absurd and unreasonable result). But the district court did not grant more power to mobile home owners; rather it enforced the exemption for travel trailers from the flood plain setback restrictions. The district court properly applied the Frank's Nursery three-part test in concluding that the Schomakers' structure was a travel trailer.


DAVIES, Judge (concurring specially).

Since the district court decision, Rice County has amended its zoning ordinance definition of "travel trailer," adding a limitation on size. This amendment seems to make this appeal moot in a practical sense. I fail to understand why Rice County would pursue this action when it could more economically accomplish its purpose by bringing a new proceeding under the amended ordinance.

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