Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 7, 2011

Mississippi Supreme Court Upholds City’s Denial to Rezone Property Finding Decision Was Not Arbitrary or Capricious

The developer Roundstone acquired title to an area of land with the intent to subdivide the land and build homes on the property.  Roundstone planned on using a subsidy from the federal government to rent to lower income tenants.  Before purchasing the property, Roundstone received three letters informing him that the land was all zoned single family residential and assuring him that his plans would conform with the existing zoning laws.  The letters, however, wrongly characterized the zoning of some of the land which was actually zoned as open land.  

Roundstone presented its plan to the planning commission for approval.  The commission decided that the property must be re-zoned before they could approve the plan and, then, refused to allow a rezoning.  Roundstone appealed to the zoning board.  The board affirmed the commission’s decision.  On appeal to the circuit court, the circuit court affirmed the decision of the board as well.  

With respect to Roundstone’s argument that the re-zoning should not have been a prerequisite to the development, the court examined the city ordinance and determined that the ordinance can be read to require reclassification before or after the land is subdivided.  Since the city decided the ordinance requires reclassification before the subdivision, the court deferred to the city’s interpretation, finding it was not arbitrary or capricious.  

Next, the court dealt addressed Roundstone’s argument that the board’s denial to rezone the property was arbitrary and capricious.  The court began by looking at the city’s amendment procedure which allows rezoning of open land into development sites where it is necessary and desirable.  The court noted that whether the rezoning is necessary and desirable is largely in the discretion of the Board and the challenging party has the burden of proving the decision was arbitrary and capricious.  Here, the city noted some significant problems such as a prior chemical spill, traffic congestion, and the negative impact on citizen’s use and enjoyment of land.  Roundstone, however, offered expert reports asserting no traffic problems, limited environmental concerns, and argued the concerns regarding the impact was motivated by class and racial animus.  Although the court considered these arguments, they found that the board had heard both arguments and was not bound by Roundstone’s studies.  Again, the court held that Roundstone did not meet its burden to prove that the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.  

As to Roundstone’s arguement that the city’s denial to rezone was a violation of the Fair Housing Act, the court explained that a claim under the Fair Housing Act is explored by a trial court and an appellate court will hear only the appeal.  Since this case came directly from the board’s decision, the court noted that they are not the correct forum for this challenge.  The court however, examined the complaint filed by Roundstone and found that they did not assert a proper claims since they simply made conclusory statements alleging a Fair Housing violation.  Since Roundstone has not presented a “meaningful argument,” the court held that Roundstone  waived the issue.  

Roundstone Dev., LLC v. City of Natches, Miss., 2011 WL 5529931 (Miss 11/15/2011) 

The opinion can be accessed at:  http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=9972504339877292152&q=roundstone+development+v.+city+of+natchez&hl=en&as_sdt=2,33

 


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