Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 28, 2017

AL Appeals Court Finds Trial Court Should Not Have Disturbed the City Council’s Decision on Condition Use Permit for Gasoline Station

Covenant Bank entered into a contract to sell the property to High Tide Oil Company on the condition that Covenant obtain conditional-use approval from Hoover for a gasoline station with a convenience store on the property. The property was zoned as being within a “C–2 Community Business District” pursuant to Article VI, Section 11, of the Zoning Ordinance of Hoover. Covenant filed an application to obtain a conditional-use permit to construct a gasoline station on the property at issue. The commission recommended that the Hoover City Council grant Covenant’s application for the conditional-use permit subject to certain specified restrictions, which were acceptable to Covenant. Despite this, city-council members voted against granting Covenant’s request for a conditional-use permit. Covenant brought suit, and soon thereafter filed its second amended complaint, asserting that Hoover had failed to follow the criteria set out in the zoning ordinance and that Hoover’s actions were unconstitutional. In this case, the City of Hoover appealed from a judgment of the Jefferson Circuit Court in favor of Covenant, enjoining Hoover from enforcing its zoning ordinance in a manner that prevented a proposed use of certain property.
On appeal, Hoover first contended that the trial court misapplied the standard used to determine whether Hoover’s classification of the property at issue was substantially related to its police powers. Here, the evidence demonstrated that the location of a gasoline station involved a number of concerns, including environmental issues, concerns about traffic congestion, storm-water drainage issues, concerns about crime, and the appropriateness of locating a gasoline station so near to homes, which could affect the character of a neighborhood. The court determined that these concerns clearly bore a substantial relationship to the promotion of the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the community.
The record also indicated that the distance between the proposed gasoline station and the residential area was 110 feet. As a result, there were no “buffer businesses” that would allow for a gradual increase in the intensity of the use of the property between the residential neighborhood and the gasoline station. The neighbors expressed concern that the dispensing of gasoline, with its flammable nature, its odor, and its potential to negatively impact the environment, posed a health risk, if not an outright danger, to their neighborhood that was not present at a business that operated only as a convenience store, which could have been constructed on the property without the need for a conditional-use permit. Concerns were also raised regarding traffic congestion, lighting issues, and outdoor noise that accompany the operation of a gasoline station. The court held that under the standard of review the trial court was supposed to apply, the city council would be presumed to have a superior opportunity to know and consider the varied and conflicting interests involved in this matter, to balance the burdens and benefits, and to consider the general welfare of the area involved. Accordingly, the judgment reversing the city council’s decision was reversed, and the case was remanded to the trial court.
City of Hoover v Covenant Bank, 2017 WL 1533364 (AL App. 3/28/2017)

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