Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 26, 2011

Idaho Supreme Court Holds That County May Approve Two Rezonings in a Single Application and Did Not Constitute Illegal Contract Zoning

Various landowners (hereinafter “appellants”) appeal from an order granting summary judgment for respondents Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners, Coeur D’Alene Paving, Inc., and Beacon West, LLC (hereinafter “the BOCC,” “CDA,” and “BW,” respectively, collectively “Respondents”), which held that the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners (hereinafter “the BOCC”) had authority to rezone two parcels of property based on a single rezone application. 

 CDA leased several parcels of real property, located in Kootenai County (hereinafter “the County”), from BW, thirty acres of which were used for rock crushing and open pit mining (hereinafter “Open Pit Lots”) at the time of their rezone application.  CDA maintained an interest in two undeveloped parcels located south of the Open Pit Lots, which were initially zoned for agricultural activity (hereinafter “Agricultural Lots”).  The Agricultural Lots and the Open Pit Lots are contiguous parcels.  They also had an interest in two other parcels, which are located southwest of the Agricultural Lots and were initially zoned for mining activity (hereinafter “Mining Lots”).  All four additional parcels were identified as Rural Residential land in the County Comprehensive Plan.  In early 2008, CDA submitted one rezone application to the County, requesting that the Agricultural Lots be rezoned for mining and that the Mining Lots be rezoned for agriculture.  Because rezoning in this way would create one contiguous parcel, mining activity on the Agricultural Lots would have direct access to the highway through the Open Pit lots.  Therefore, CDA argued, the change would decrease traffic and disturbances as well as affect fewer residential neighbors.  The application was approved, and the BOCC approved Ordinance No. 417, which amended the zoning map to reflect the changes and repealed conflicting provisions.

 Appellants, who own property in the vicinity of the zoning changes, sought a declaratory judgment that the zone change was invalid.  On appeal, the parties disagreed over (1) whether appellants had standing, (2) whether the BOCC had the authority to rezone the parcels based on a single zoning application, (3) whether the consideration and subsequent approval of two changes under one notice and hearing procedure violated appellants’ due process rights, and (4) whether the approval constituted an illegal zoning contract, impermissibly limiting the BOCC’s legislative discretion. 

 The Court held that Ciznek had sufficiently alleged interference with the use and enjoyment of her property and economic harm to establish standing.  She, as an owner of property adjacent to the new mining rezone, claimed that the changes would increase dust, noise, and traffic and diminish the value of her property.  Respondents argued that a favorable judgment would not remedy these harms.  Because Ciznek alleged heath risks and economic harm as a result of the rezone, not as a result of the existing activities on the Open Pit Lots, the Court found that a ruling that the rezone was invalid would likely prevent these disturbances.  The Court found that the BOCC’s grant of two rezones in a single application to be lawful.  Specifically, it was lawful because the BOCC had the authority to do so without violating appellants’ due process rights, and because the decision did not constitute an illegal zoning contract or deprive the BOCC itself of its legislative authority. 

Appellants argued that the plain language of the Idaho Code (§§ 67-6502, 67-6511, 67-6522) prohibited the BOCC from granting two rezones in one application, consequently invalidating the changes.  The Court found that the provisions authorized the governing board to “combine related permits” where “practical and convenient for the applicants.”  This language, in conjunction with the concepts of “practicality, common sense, and fundamental fairness,” which were expressly delineated in the statutes, led the Court to find that the BOCC maintained the authority to grant two rezones in a single application.  As to appellants’ due process claims, the Court emphasized that a zoning authority must only “substantial[ly] compl[y]” with the applicable zoning ordiance and show no prejudice to demonstrate that due process rights were not violated.  Because appellants did not allege improper notice, failure to maintain records, or failure to make written findings of fact, they provided no basis for a finding that they were denied due process. 

Appellants then argued that in combining the rezone requests, the BOCC “pre-agreed to change the zoning” of the land, creating an illegal contract to zone.  The Court found no evidence of an oral or written agreement suggesting that the BOCC promised to rezone the parcels before conducting the proper procedure.  As a result of this contract to zone, appellants contend, the BOCC was deprived of legislative powers.  That is, the BOCC impermissibly limited its range of options under the law because the application was submitted on the assumption that it had to be approved or denied in full.  The Court stated that this argument loses any merit because it had already determined no illegal zoning contract existed.  The Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of respondents. 

Ciznek et al. v. Kootenai County Board of Commissioners et al., 2011 WL 2040837, (Idaho 5/26/2011)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.isc.idaho.gov/opinions/Ciszek%2037562.pdf


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