This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).


Superior-FCR Landfill, Inc.,


Wright County, et al.,

Filed September 7, 1999
Affirmed; motion denied
Harten, Judge

Wright County District Court
File No. C9-98-2816

Robert E. Cattanach, Jr., Alexandra B. Klass, Michael R. Drysdale, Dorsey & Whitney, LLP, 1300 Pillsbury Center, 220 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)

Timothy R. Thornton, Jack Young Perry, Briggs & Morgan, P.A., 2400 IDS Center, Minneapolis, MN 55402; and

Thomas C. Zins, Assistant Wright County Attorney, Wright County Courthouse, 102nd Street Northwest, Room 150, Buffalo, MN 55313-1189 (for appellants)

Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Harten, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellant county challenges the summary judgment granted to respondent, a landfill operator, arguing that a proposed expansion of the landfill will violate the county's interpretation of a zoning ordinance amendment. Because the expansion will not violate the amendment as it is written, we affirm.


Appellant Wright County amended its zoning ordinance to restrict waste disposal to four waste handling districts. One district encompassed the landfill facility operated by respondent, Superior-FCR Landfill, Inc.

Appellant also adopted an amendment providing that "a Sanitary Landfill or Demolition Landfill shall not be located * * * (g) [w]ithin 200 feet of a property line." Wright County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 770.4(1) (1998). "Property line" is defined as "[t]he legal boundaries of a parcel of property which may also coincide with a right-of-way line of a road, cartway, and the like." Id. § 302(103). Respondent wanted to expand its landfill to the southern boundary of the waste-handling district, which was also the southern boundary of respondent's property. Respondent therefore purchased the land adjoining its property on the south, so that the proposed expansion would be more than 200 feet (actually about 1,000 feet) from respondent's new property line.

Because appellant interpreted the 200-foot requirement to be 200 feet from the boundary of the waste-handling district, not from the landfill owner's property line, appellant informed respondent that the proposed expansion would violate the ordinance as amended. Respondent filed an appeal from appellant's interpretation with the Board of Adjustment, which denied the appeal. Respondent then appealed to the district court, and both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Respondent's motion was granted and is the subject of this appeal.


The general rule appears to be that while issues of fact and legislative policy-making decisions should be left to the city's determination, subject only to the broad limits of the "'arbitrary and capricious'" standard, 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) (citation omitted). The parties agree that the only issue here is the meaning of an ordinance; therefore, de novo review is appropriate. A zoning ordinance should be construed (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).

Appellant raises four arguments in support of its contention that respondent's proposed expansion to the southern boundary of its original property and the waste-handling district will violate the 200-foot requirement.

First, appellant argues that "property line" is synonymous with "lot line," defined as "[t]he property line bounding a lot * * *," Wright County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 722(75) (1998), and that therefore the lot line between respondent's original land and its newly purchased land is a property line. But the ordinance defines "lot' as

[a] parcel or portion of land in a subdivision or plat of land, separated from other parcels or portions by description as on a subdivision or record of survey map, for the purpose of sale or lease or separate use thereof.

Id. § 302(70). Lots are defined without reference to ownership; a single owner's property may consist of part of a lot or, particularly in the case of developers, of several lots. The argument that the line between two adjoining lots belonging to a single owner is that owner's property line is not persuasive.

Second, appellant argues that because a property line by definition "may also coincide with a right-of-way line of a road, cartway, and the like," id. § 702(103), respondent's property line must coincide with the southern boundary of the waste-handling district. But this argument misreads "may" in the definition for "must"; a property line need not coincide with any other line, including the waste-handling district boundary.

Third, appellant claims that respondent's expansion will eliminate the 200-foot buffer mandated by the ordinance. But the ordinance prohibits landfill "[w]ithin 200 feet of a property line," id. § 770.4(1)(g), not within 200 feet of a waste-handling district line. Appellant could have drafted an ordinance prohibiting landfill within 200 feet of a district line, but it did not do so, and it cannot construe the ordinance it drafted to mean something other than what it says. See Medical Servs., Inc. v. City of Savage, 487 N.W.2d 263, 266 (Minn. App. 1992) (affirming the right to construct an infectious waste processing facility in a light industrial area after noting that, "[h]ad the city council intended to exclude infectious waste processing plants from the permitted uses in light industrial areas, it could have done so."). Moreover, combining lots is an accepted method of bringing nonconforming lots into conformity with zoning ordinances. See Dedering v. Johnson, 307 Minn. 313, 320, 239 N.W.2d. 913, 918 (1976) ("[w]here the owner of a nonconforming undeveloped lot also owns adjacent undeveloped property * * * the owner must combine the two undeveloped lots."). By acquiring additional property south of the waste-handling district, respondent brought its proposed expansion into conformity.

Fourth, appellant argues that the purpose of the 200-foot buffer is to protect land and that respondent's newly acquired agricultural land will be unprotected if it abuts a landfill. But the ordinance restricts landfills to the waste handling districts and to 200 feet away from a property line; it says nothing about protecting land owned by a waste-handling facility outside the waste-handling district.

Construing the ordinance according to its plain meaning and in favor of the property owner, we reject the ordinance constructions proposed by appellant and agree with the district court that respondent's proposed expansion complies with the plain meaning of the ordinance.

Finally, subsequent to the July 7, 1999, oral argument, County moved this court to supplement the record by adding its August 10, 1999, amendment to the ordinance changing the definition of property line.[1] But Superior, having acquired additional property so its proposed expansion would comply with the then-existing ordinance, is entitled to rely on the ordinance in effect at the time of the acquisition. See Olsen v. City of Minneapolis, 263 Minn. 1, 12, 115 N.W.2d 734, 741 (1962) (one who has acquired property under a zoning ordinance should be entitled to rely on the ordinance "as against the arbitrary enactment of amendments thereto which result in the diminution in value or the restriction of his rights and interests in such property"). Accordingly, we deny Superior's motion to supplement the record by adding the enactment.

Affirmed; motion denied.

[1] Prior to oral argument, Superior had asked this court to supplement the record by adding a resolution recommending the enactment of the amendment. Because the resolution was without effect prior to its enactment, we did not consider it.