This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).




5005 Properties, Inc. d/b/a

Hillcrest Bingo,



St. Paul City Council,


Filed March 2, 1999

Reversed and remanded

Willis, Judge

St. Paul City Council

File No. 98-698

Joseph W. Anthony, Gena A. Braaten, Fruth & Anthony, P.A., 3750 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for relator)

Clayton M. Robinson, Jr., Saint Paul City Attorney, Virginia D. Palmer, Assistant City Attorney, 400 City Hall, Saint Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Willis, Judge, and Holtan, Judge.[*]



Relator 5005 Properties, Inc., d/b/a Hillcrest Bingo, appeals from respondent St. Paul City Council's denial of relator's application for a bingo hall license. We reverse and remand.


On November 6, 1997, relator filed an application for a license to operate a bingo hall in Hillcrest Center, a strip shopping center in Saint Paul. The Saint Paul zoning code requires Hillcrest Center to provide a minimum number of off-street parking spaces; it has 410 such parking spaces, which are allocated to tenants based on the nature of each tenant's business and the size of its premises. A city zoning specialist determined that the proposed bingo hall needs 112 off-street parking spaces under the zoning code and that it would have a deficiency of 52 spaces.

The zoning code also includes an ordinance that allows sharing of off-street parking spaces by businesses that do not have overlapping peak parking hours. It is interpretation of this ordinance that is at issue in this appeal.

A Saint Paul planning administrator approved "dual use of the existing off-street parking facilities to meet the parking requirements for the proposed bingo hall." A Saint Paul zoning specialist notified relator that he was "granting zoning approval" of the license application with five conditions, one of which was continued compliance with the shared-parking ordinance.

On February 25, 1998, the city council considered relator's application for a bingo hall license. A nonprofit neighborhood corporation objected to the license application, arguing that it would be unlawful for the proposed bingo hall to share parking spaces with other businesses. Because of the objection, the city council referred the matter to an administrative law judge (ALJ) to determine whether the proposed bingo hall could use shared parking to satisfy the zoning code's parking requirements. After a hearing, the ALJ concluded that relator "is eligible for a shared parking permit" under the zoning code and recommended that the city council grant relator's license application.

At its meeting on July 22, 1998, the city council had before it the ALJ's findings of fact, conclusions, and recommendation. The city attorney urged the council to accept the ALJ's findings and issue the license, but the council instead found that the peak parking hours of one or more of the other businesses in Hillcrest Center would overlap the peak parking hours of the proposed bingo hall and that

Hillcrest cannot meet its parking deficiency resulting from the increased parking needs of a bingo hall license through shared parking * * * because * * * the code does not permit shared parking when there is any overlap of peak parking hours of any of the businesses.

The city council, therefore, denied the license application, and this appeal followed.


Interpretation of Shared-Parking Ordinance

Relator argues that the city council's interpretation of the shared-parking ordinance is erroneous. The interpretation of an ordinance is a question of law, subject to de novo review. Gadey v. City of Minneapolis, 517 N.W.2d 344, 347 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Aug. 24, 1994). The ordinance provides:

When at least one (1) of two (2) or more uses has a parking deficiency and their peak parking hours do not overlap, the zoning administrator may permit the dual function of their off-street parking spaces as long as peak parking hours for the uses do not overlap and the uses within the buildings do not change and thereby require additional off-street parking.

St. Paul, Minn., Legislative Code § 62.103(f)(4) (1998).[1]

The city council reads the ordinance to prohibit shared parking if there is any overlap of peak parking hours between the business with a parking deficiency and any other business that uses the off-street parking spaces. Relator argues that the ordinance must be construed according to its plain and ordinary meaning, citing Frank's Nursery Sales, Inc. v. City of Roseville, 295 N.W.2d 604, 608 (Minn. 1980) (explaining that in zoning cases "courts generally strive to construe a term according to its plain and ordinary meaning") (citations omitted). And relator claims that the plain and ordinary meaning of the ordinance is that shared parking is permissible where a business with a parking deficiency has peak parking hours that do not overlap with the peak parking hours of at least one other business that uses the same off-street parking spaces. But the fact that the city planning administrator and the city council disagree on the meaning of the ordinance suggests that it is ambiguous. To resolve ambiguity, we apply rules of construction to interpret an ordinance. See State v. Nelson, 499 N.W.2d 512, 514 (Minn. App. 1993) (relying on rules of construction to interpret meaning of ambiguous term in ordinance), review denied (Minn. June 22, 1993).

Courts should construe zoning ordinances "strictly against the city and in favor of the property owner." Frank's Nursery, 295 N.W.2d at 608 (citations omitted). Here, interpreting the ordinance as relator urges, and as the city planning administrator did, is least restrictive on the property owner's rights. See id. at 608-09 (stating courts must give weight to interpretation that "is least restrictive upon the rights of the property owner to use his land as he wishes").

Relator argues further that the city council's interpretation frustrates the policy that underlies the ordinance. See id. at 609 (stating zoning ordinance must be construed consistently with its underlying policies). At the hearing before the ALJ, the city planning administrator testified that the policy underlying the shared-parking ordinance is to avoid devoting

a great deal of land to parking space that is not needed because more than one business could use it, because they do not require * * * all their parking at the same time.

Interpreting the ordinance as urged by relator furthers the policy described by the city planning administrator.

The city claims its decision not to allow shared parking for the proposed bingo hall is similar to a variance decision and therefore argues that our review is not de novo but rather that we must affirm the city's decision if it was "reasonable," citing VanLandschoot v. City of Mendota Heights, 336 N.W.2d 503, 508-09 (Minn. 1983) (asserting that court should not invalidate city officials' judgment in variance matters "if they acted in good faith and within the broad discretion accorded them") (citation omitted). We disagree. A variance "permits particular property to be used in a manner forbidden" by a zoning ordinance. TPW, Inc. v. City of New Hope, 388 N.W.2d 390, 392 (Minn. App. 1986) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Aug. 13, 1986). But the Saint Paul zoning code permits shared parking, and the proposed bingo hall would be in compliance with the zoning code's off-street parking requirements if shared parking were permitted.

For the foregoing reasons, the ordinance must be interpreted to allow the sharing of off-street parking spaces where a business with a parking deficiency has peak parking hours that do not overlap with the peak parking hours of at least one other business that uses the same parking spaces. We conclude, therefore, that the city council's interpretation of the ordinance was erroneous.

Decision to Deny License Application

The city council denied relator's license application solely on the ground that the proposed bingo hall would not be in compliance with the zoning code's off-street parking requirements. Relator argues that the city council's decision to deny the application was arbitrary and capricious because it was not supported by substantial evidence.

When reviewing a decision of a governmental body, this court examines whether the decision was unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious. Carl Bolander & Sons Co. v. City of Minneapolis, 502 N.W.2d 203, 207 (Minn. 1993). If a city provides reasons for denying a land-use request, the decision is not arbitrary if at least one of the reasons provided has a rational basis. Trisko v. City of Waite Park, 566 N.W.2d 349, 352 (Minn. App. 1997), review denied (Minn. Sept. 25, 1997); see Scott County Lumber Co. v. City of Shakopee, 417 N.W.2d 721, 727 (Minn. App. 1988) (determining whether city council's reasons for denying permit were legally sufficient and, if so, whether they had factual basis), review denied (Minn. Mar. 23, 1988).

At the hearing before the ALJ, a Saint Paul zoning specialist testified that he examined the peak parking hours of the businesses in Hillcrest Center and determined the proposed bingo hall could satisfy the off-street parking requirements by using shared parking. Additionally, the program manager of Saint Paul's Office of License, Inspections and Environmental Protection testified that relator satisfied the ordinance requirements and that the license should be granted, and a planning administrator testified that "shared parking is a satisfactory solution for the parking deficit in this case."

The city council pointed to nothing in the record showing the proposed bingo hall's peak parking hours would overlap with the peak parking hours of all other businesses that use the off-street parking spaces at Hillcrest Center. The city council rejected the testimony of the people charged with administration of this ordinance without any adequate supporting reasons. See id. at 728 (reversing denial of permit as arbitrary because city council rejected expert testimony "without any adequate supporting reasons"). Because the city council's decision was not supported by facts in the record, we conclude the decision had no rational basis and was, therefore, arbitrary. We reverse the denial of the license application and remand to the city council for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.

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

[1] By an amendment effective May 25, 1998, the term "zoning administrator" replaced the previous term "planning administrator." No other changes were made to this provision, and the amendment has no effect on our analysis.