Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 21, 2015

MN Appeals Court Uphold Permits for Bible Camp Finding Final PUD Approval Process was Subject to Alteration but not Comprehensive Review

Respondent Living Word Bible Camp (LWBC) purchased 283 acres of property on Deer Lake in Itasca County with the intention of building a youth bible camp in a “cluster” development that encompassed fewer than six acres of the property. LWBC applied for a conditional-use permit (CUP) and a planned-unit-development permit (PUD) in 2006, but the applications were suspended for the duration of an environmental review conducted by Itasca County. The commission concluded that the CUP and PUD should issue because LWBC had complied with the relevant county ordinances. The LWBC submitted a final site plan, which began the review process to determine whether the commission should grant approval of the final planned-unit-development permit (FPUD). When the commission approved the FPUD, relator Pamela J. Brown and a group of 34 area residents (Brown), and relator Holly Newton sought review of the CUP/PUD decisions. The two appeals were consolidated, and Brown and Newton then filed separate appeals to challenge the commission’s FPUD decision.

The court found that the CUP and PUD comprehensively addressed each of the areas mandated by the relevant Itasca ordinance. Although the commissioners’ decisions were facially valid, relators raised numerous arguments to challenge them. Brown and Newton argued that the CUP/PUDs violated the project parameters either sought by LWBC or established in the environmental-review process. However, the CUP specifically required LWBC to enter into covenants to preserve at least 50% open space on the property, which it had done. Newton also argued that the CUP/PUD impermissibly authorizes “possible future commercial development of ‘open space,’ less than ‘in perpetuity’ protection of ‘open space,’ and does not prohibit commercial use of ‘open space.’ “ This argument failed because the LWBC had entered into a 2006 open-space covenant, which required “preservation of open spaces … of at least fifty percent (50%) of the total project area” and adherence to Ordinance § 9.48(A), which requires “preservation and maintenance in perpetuity of open spaces.” Finally, the planned uses were consistent with the conservation-easement mandates because although the conservation easement prohibited commercial development “of any kind” on easement property, it specifically allowed recreational uses of the property, including establishment of trails for “firebreaks, walking, horseback riding, [and] cross-country skiing.”

Pursuant to Article IX of the ordinance, following submission of the final plan to the commission, the commission must meet to review the final plan and verify that said plan has incorporated all changes of the preliminary plan required by the Commission; otherwise, it shall conform to the preliminary plan. The 19-page FPUD decision included numerous, comprehensive findings to satisfy each of the ordinance requirements. The decision also specifically addressed “concerns and objections” raised by relators and others, and responds to those issues in detail. The court found that the commission complied with this process, and therefore affirmed its decision.

In Re: Application of Living World Bible Camp for a Condition Use Permit and Planned Development Permit, 2015 WL 1513936 (MN 4/6/2015)

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