Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 28, 2012

LA Appeals Court Upholds Denial of Subdivision Application by RV Park due to Flood Concerns

Lighthouse sought to construct an RV park for short term residents in Frenier, Louisiana.  The subject parcel is within a FEMA Coastal High Hazard Area V-Zone, meaning it has a one percent annual chance of flooding.  Lighthouse met or exceeded all the requirements set forth by the Planning and Zoning Board (hereinafter “Board”), which were “numerous, expensive, and time-consuming and some unnecessary,” and was granted a permit.  One of the Board members, Mr. Henderson, disagreed with the approval and placed the matter before the Council.

Lighthouse asserted it was treated differently than similarly situated entities on this basis that the RV park was forced to meet requirements that had never been required of similar uses in the past.  In addition, Lighthouse contended that Council approval was unnecessary because Lighthouse had received the Board’s approval and Lighthouse satisfied all the technicalities required for development.  The Council claimed Board approval constituted authorization to submit the plan to the Council, and that the Council was not bound to the Boards determination.  The trial court found that although Lighthouse was treated differently, this treatment was not arbitrary and capricious, as the denial was based on legitimate reasons, including a focus on code adherence and flood zone development.

On appeal, Lighthouse claimed the local ordinance providing for the review of decisions was unconstitutional because it provides no standards for review.  The Court of Appeal dismissed this issue as Lighthouse failed to plead the issue and serve the Attorney General with the petition.

The Court of Appeal also found Lighthouse’s petition for a Writ of Mandamus to compel approval improper.  The court explained this writ may be used to compel an official to perform a ministerial task, but cannot be used to compel the performance of a discretionary matter.

In reviewing the pertinent local codes, the court stated that the land is located in the Rural District, which permits land uses including recreational camps and campsites.  However, the court stated that the Parish also needs to consider federal flood requirements.  The federal regulations applicable to the subject parcel provide that RV’s may be located therein if they meet “certain standards,” but it is recommended that they be prohibited.  Mr. Henderson, a Board member and the Flood Plain Administer, provided that he was in opposition to the application because the construction of an RV park in the area would be against the flood regulations and have a negative impact on the Parish’s flood insurance cost.

Mr. Henderson admitted that there was an RV park in the V-Zone, adjacent to the proposed site, but also provided that this existing park was granted approval prior to his becoming the Flood Plain Administer.  Mr. Henderson stated he believes in adhering to the federal flood regulations, and since he has come into power, the Parish’s flood insurance rating has improved, saving the Parish millions of dollars.  He also stated that since he has assumed the position, one building in the V-Zone has obtained approval, but that was a renovated restaurant in compliance with the federal flood regulations.  Mr. Henderson also admitted the restaurant was not forced to seek approval from the Council.

Through the mechanisms of local procedure, Mr. Henderson’s federal regulatory concerns were before the Council when it made its decision.  Mr. Henderson also submitted copies of objections he had received in his official role.  In addition, community members came to the Council’s public hearing, voicing concerns including property devaluation and transportation issues.  At this hearing, Lighthouse and its representatives were the only parties to endorse the project.  Based on the above, the Court of Appeal found the Council’s denial of Lighthouse’s application was not arbitrary or capricious, but based on legitimate concerns.  The court also found the Council’s review of the application was a procedural step permitted by the code.

Lighthouse RV Park v. St. John the Baptist Parish Council, 2012 WL 3971931 (Ct. Ap. La., 5th Cir., Sept. 11, 2012).

This case can be accessed here.

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