Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 14, 2013

MN Appeals Court Holds Local Procedure Requiring Supermajority Vote for Zoning Amendment is Not Preempted by State Law

Motokazie! Inc. sought to construct a $2.6 million, 131-acre motorsports facility in Rice County, Minnesota. The planned park would hold races and events involving “snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), motorcycles, go karts and other smaller motorized vehicles.” Because some of the uses proposed for the facility—specifically snowmobile and go kart racing—were not permitted under County zoning laws, Motokazie and Portinga Brothers LLC requested a text amendment to the zoning code from the Rice County Board of Commissioners (Board) that would conditionally permit those uses. Despite the Board voting 3-to-2 in favor of the text amendment, local zoning law requires a four-vote supermajority for any zoning changes, thus, the requested zoning change was defeated.

Motokazie then filed suit against the Board seeking a writ of mandamus and declaratory judgment that (1) since state law requires only a simple majority for zoning amendments, the County’s supermarjoity vote requirement was preempted and the requested zoning change had been approved by the Board and that (2) since the Board had not approved or denied the text amendment within 60 days, state law deemed it automatically approved. The lower court denied both requested forms of relief. Motokazie here appeals.

Because the local law requiring a supermajority vote for zoning changes was in conflict with state law requiring only a simple majority, plaintiff argued that the local law was preempted and thus invalid. However, the court held that the County was empowered by state law not only to exercise zoning powers, but also to enact procedural rules to further its exercise of those powers. Since state law expressly empowered the County to enact such procedural rules, the state’s use of simple majority voting in its laws did not preempt the County’s decision to enact a different procedural rule. The court held that the County’s supermajority voting requirement was valid and enforceable, and that the County was correct in holding that Motokazie’s requested amendment failed to garner sufficient votes to be enacted.

Motokazie’s second argument—that the Board had not acted on the request within 60 days, causing the amendment to be automatically adopted—was based on the fact that its initial request was made on September 6, 2011 and the Board had failed to act on the request until November 22, 2011. However, the Board argued that Motokazie had consented to an extension of the 60-day window during the September 21, 2011 meeting and in a September 22, 2011 email exchange which explained that the decision would not be made until November 30, 2011. Minnesota law provides that a County can extend the 60-day timeline by providing written notice to the applicant stating reasons for the extended time and an estimate of when action would be taken. However, the Court held that the notice had been made verbally at the September 21, 2011, which did not meet the requirements of a written notice to the applicant.

Despite the lack of notice, the court still declined to hold that the text amendment had been automatically adopted because of the nature of Motokazie’s request. The Board and Motokazie disagreed over whether the 60-day window applied to this request; in other words, whether Motokazie’s text amendment request was a “written request relating to zoning” that should be subject to the 60-day window, or whether it was something more tangential and not subject to the statute imposing the 60-day rule. Under the statute, “a written request related to zoning is a request to conduct a specific use of land . . . in other words, a zoning application.” However, the court pointed out that, even with the text amendment allowing snowmobile and go-kart racing as a conditional use, Motokazie would still need to obtain a conditional use permit to engage in those and the other contemplated uses on the property. Thus, the court felt the text amendment was not a request to use land in a specific way, like a permit or license, and did not fall within the regulatory framework of requests related to zoning. A text amendment was a “pure exercise of the legislative power of the county” the court said, and would apply to all properties in the county. For those reasons, the court held that the request was not subject to the 60-day window, and the Board’s decision not to act on it before 60 days had expired—with or without Motokazie’s alleged consent—would not trigger the statute and result in automatic adoption of the change.

The court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling, dismissing Motokazie’s complaint.

Motokazie! Inc. v. Rice County, Minnesota, 2012 WL 6554536 (Minn. Ct. of Appeals 12/17/12)


The opinion can be accessed at:

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