This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

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




Melroy J. Hokanson, Jr.,

et al.,



Town of Marshan,


Filed May 5, 1998


Shumaker, Judge

Dakota County District Court

File No. C2-96-9533

Thomas A. Egan, 15025 Garrett Avenue South, Suite 200, Apple Valley, MN 55124 (for appellants)

Harry P. Schoen, 215 Sibley Street, Hastings, MN 55033 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Mansur, Judge.*



Appellants Melroy J. and Michelle L. Hokanson appeal from the trial court's order denying their request for declaratory and injunctive relief concerning the Marshan Township's refusal of their subdivision request. The Hokansons claim that the trial court erred in its evidentiary rulings; misinterpreted a township zoning ordinance; and misapplied and exceeded its standard of review for zoning issues. We affirm.


Rural Marshan Township is almost entirely agricultural in character. Intending to preserve that character, the township adopted its Comprehensive Guide Plan and Zoning Ordinance in 1981. Among other things, the ordinance prohibited cluster developments and increased the amount of land required for the construction of a home.

In 1982, appellants bought 6.9 acres of land in the township. At one time, this land had consisted of two contiguous parcels. In 1977, the prior owner combined them into one parcel for real estate tax purposes. The land is officially designated as a single tax parcel but continues to be referred to as Parcels A and B or Tracts A and B.

There is a residential dwelling on parcel A. On May 21, 1996, appellants sought approval to subdivide the land, sell parcel A and build a new residential dwelling on parcel B. The board denied the request, stating: "This property has one tax statement. To build another house it would need to be divided. Township ordinance does not allow subdividing under this ordinance." The ordinance provides:

The maximum density in this district is one residential dwelling per quarter-quarter section, or one additional house per quarter-quarter section if the land owner owns the complete quarter-quarter section and the original dwelling was constructed before January 1, 1981, or if the parcel was a lot of record before January 1, 1981. The lot must also be at least 40,000 square feet in size.

Article IV, § 401(E), Marshan Township Zoning Ordinance.

Appellants sued the township, arguing that their land was a lot of record before January 1, 1981 and thus qualified under the ordinance for the construction of an additional residential dwelling. The district court ruled that appellants' property did not meet the density requirement of Article IV, § 401(E). The court construed the density provision to prohibit the construction of more than one residential dwelling unless the owner owns a complete quarter-quarter section and the original dwelling was built before January 1, 1981 or the lot was of record before that date. It is undisputed that appellants do not own the complete quarter-quarter section. It is also undisputed that the combination of appellants' parcels constitutes one lot which was of record prior to January 1, 1981 and that the original dwelling on their land was constructed prior to that date.


The dispositive issue is whether the interpretation by the town board and by the district court of the township's density regulation was correct. The interpretation of an existing ordinance 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).

Marshan Township chose to retain its rural, agricultural character. One of the methods it selected for doing so is density restrictions on nonagricultural development. The effect of such restrictions on residential development is that fewer homes may be built within a given area of land. We must read the density provision in the context of the township's land use intentions.

Article IV, § 401(E) establishes a rule of density "per quarter-quarter section." That is the land area that provides the reference point for density control. Under the density rule, there can be only one residential dwelling in a quarter-quarter section. Article IV, § 401(E), however, allows "one additional house per quarter-quarter section" if certain requirements are met. The first requirement is that the landowner must own the complete quarter-quarter section. If that requirement is met and if the original dwelling was built before January 1, 1981 or the lot was of record before that date, the conditions of the exception to the general rule, subject to an additional lot size requirement, are satisfied.

This reading of the density provision retains the quarter-quarter section reference point for both exceptions and is consistent with the goal of density regulation. Appellants' reading negates the rule of Article IV, § 401(E) that density of residential dwellings is to be regulated by quarter-quarter section. Under their interpretation, the quarter-quarter section reference point becomes irrelevant; and, as long as the parcel was a lot of record before January 1, 1981, a dwelling may be built irrespective of the total area of land owned. With such a reading, the exception swallows the rule, making the particulars of the density provision mutually inconsistent and contravenes the intent of the zoning ordinance. As a matter of law, Article IV, § 401(E) prohibits appellants from building an additional residential dwelling on their land. The town board and the district court correctly interpreted and applied the ordinance.

Since the interpretation of the density provision is entirely dispositive, we do not reach any of the other issues appellants have raised.