Understanding Rezoning Requests in Minnesota

Man "Rezoning" a City

Minnesota Rezoning Requests

Zoning is a device of land use planning used by local governments throughout the United States. The concept involves designating permitted uses of land based on mapped zones which separate one area of land uses from another. The purpose of these zones is to divide different uses of land that might be incompatible. For example, a residential home would likely not want a landfill right next door.

State governments have delegated to local governments the right to adopt ordinances to designate these zones. In Minnesota, general authority for planning and zoning by local units of government can be found in the Municipal Planning Act, Minn. Stat. §§ 462.351-462.365. Townships also have express authority to conduct limited zoning pursuant to Minn. Stat. §§ 366.10-181, although the current trend is to use the broader authority found in Chapter 462. Townships located in the seven county metropolitan area must also be concerned about Minn. Stat. §§ 473.851- 473.867 – a statute primarily concerned with the interconnectedness of the seven county metropolitan area.

While the particulars of a zoning application vary based on locality, there are certain overarching issues that are common throughout. In Minnesota, a zoning authority has 60 days to respond to a written rezoning request. If they do not respond within this time period, the automatic approval provision in Minn.Stat. § 15.99, subd. 2 applies and the rezoning request is automatically approved. In addition, Minnesota Law also requires that the zoning authority provide a written response articulating the reason for the denial of the request – though this does not trigger the automatic approval penalty.

More importantly, when a zoning authority fails to record legally sufficient reasons for the denial of a zoning request that are factually supported in the record, a prima facie case of arbitrariness is established. See Honn v. City of Coon Rapids, 313 N.W.2d 409, 416 (Minn.1981) (concluding that when legally sufficient reasons are not recorded or reduced to writing, the zoning authority “runs the risk of not having its decision sustained”). If the zoning authority’s decision is arbitrary and capricious, “the standard remedy is that the court orders the permit to be issued.” In re Stadsvold, 754 N.W.2d 323, 332 (Minn.2008).

Whether a local zoning body’s decision is reasonable – and therefore not arbitrary and capricious – is determined by looking at the standards set forth in the applicable ordinance. VanLandschoot v. City of Mendota Heights, 336 N.W.2d 503, 508 (Minn.1983). For example, in In re Stadsvold, in addition to requiring the Board to consider whether there are “practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship,” the ordinance also required the Board to consider whether:

  1. “the variance will secure for the applicant a right or rights that are enjoyed by other owners in the same area”;
  2. sewage treatment systems need upgrading; and
  3. “the variance will be contrary to the public interest or damaging to the rights of other persons or property values in the neighborhood.” There was no indication in the record that the Board considered any of these factors. The court determined that the zoning authority must “articulate the reasons for its ultimate decision, with specific reference to relevant provisions of its zoning ordinance.”

When the zoning authority fails to comply with this requirement, it is difficult if not impossible for a court to determine whether the zoning authority’s decision was proper, was predicated on insufficient evidence, or was the result of the zoning authority’s failure to apply the relevant provisions of the zoning ordinance. A decision predicated on insufficient evidence or arising from a failure to apply relevant provisions of the ordinance would be arbitrary and capricious. Therefore, in such a situation where the record fails to fully explain the zoning authorities decision, the court will remand to the zoning authority to allow renewed consideration of the zoning application because it was “unclear as to whether the authority had applied the relevant provisions of the statute. In re Livingood, 594 N.W.2d 889, 895 (Minn. 1999). To prevent unfairness, the court will further require that the zoning authority on remand “confine its inquiry to those issues raised in earlier proceedings before the planning commission and county board while allowing adequate opportunity for a meaningful discussion of those issues.” Id.

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