Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 30, 2015

MN Appeals Court Finds County Did Not Comply With Ordinance that Requires Planning Commission to Make Formal Findings of Fact on the Record

Bio Wood recycles wood products into animal bedding and mulch, and conducts its operations at one facility in Rice County, near the city of Faribault, in a location that the county has determined to be within the urban-reserve zoning district. Bio Wood applied for an amended conditional use permit (CUP), seeking to amend the existing CUP in various ways, including an expansion of its wood-grinding hours. The county board approved the amended CUP but restricted all of Bio Wood’s operations to the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Bio Wood applied for a second amended CUP. Bio Wood sought to amend the existing CUP by proposing a new set of conditions that did not include any restrictions on its hours of operation, but was denied. The board considered Bio Wood’s application at a public hearing, and by a voice vote, unanimously approved the motion to adopt the recommendation to deny the application. On the same date, the chair of the board signed a written resolution that reflected the board’s denial of the application and incorporated the seven findings of fact that had been submitted to the board. 

On appeal, Bio Wood argued that: the planning commission failed to make findings of fact on the record, the board failed to engage in reasoned decision-making, the board’s findings are not supported by the factual record, and the board treated similarly situated applicants differently. Bio Wood contended that the county did not comply with this ordinance because the planning commission failed to make “formal findings on the record.” The county pointed to the planning commission’s written report, which contains findings of fact, and that the ordinance did not require a planning commission member actually write the findings themselves or that the findings be read aloud on the record verbatim. Here, there was no mention of the findings of fact that later appeared in the planning commission’s written report, nor was there any mention of a document on which those findings are printed. The county did not satisfy the plain language of section 503.05(H)(8) of the county’s ordinances because county staff prepared written findings after a planning commission meeting and submitted the written findings to the county board, without the planning commission ever formally adopting the findings “on the record,” either at the prior meeting or a subsequent meeting. Accordingly, the court reversed the county board’s decision to deny Bio Wood’s application for a second amended CUP, and remanded the case to the county.

Bio Wood Processing v Rice County Board of Commissioners, 2015 WL 1608793 (MN App unpub. 4/13/2015) 

The opinion can be accessed at:

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