Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 16, 2017

WY Supreme Court Denies Declaratory Judgment Over Nonconforming Use for Failing to Exhaust Administrative Remedies and Failing to Join Indispensable Parties

When the Ramseys purchased the subject property, the only structure on the property was a large dilapidated garage that had been cited on multiple occasions for building code violations related to its dangerous condition. In a meeting with DeShann Gordon, a Rawlins building inspector, and Ms. Gordon’s supervisor, Adam Mendenhall, Mr. Mendenhall advised the Ramseys that if they replaced the existing building one wall at a time, followed by the roof, and kept the new building within the existing building’s footprint, the new building would have the same grandfathered status to the setback requirements as the existing building. Plaintiff Clare Sikora filed a declaratory judgment action against the City of Rawlins challenging the City’s issuance of a building permit to her next door neighbors, Jared and Kasandra Ramsey. The district court ruled in favor of the City, finding that Ms. Sikora failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, Ms. Sikora failed to join indispensible parties in the litigation, and that the Rawlins Municipal Code allowed for the type of construction undertaken by the Ramseys.

On appeal, Ms. Sikora contended that the district court erred in finding that she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies because she did not receive notice of the City’s decision to allow the Ramseys to build a new garage that retained the former garage’s grandfathered status. She further argued that it was impossible to file an administrative appeal because the City issued a number of permits on the project, making the City’s decision a “moving target.” Here, however, the Rawlins Municipal Code did not contain any requirement that neighboring property owners be notified of the issuance of a building permit. Moreover, the record indicated that both Gene Sikora and Clare Sikora knew the old garage had been removed from the property, and that the Ramsey garage was being constructed on the same footprint with the same setback. Because Ms. Sikora failed exhaust her administrative remedies, the court did not review the City’s issuance of the Ramsey building permit.

The court next found that the language of the applicable ordinance allowed for work other than restoration by using the terms “reconstructed, structurally altered, restored or repaired” to describe the work that could be performed on a nonconforming building. Based on this plain language of the governing ordinance, the court held that the Ramseys had the right to demolish the existing nonconforming garage on the subject property and rebuild a garage within the parameters of the same building footprint.

Sikora v City of Rawlins, 2017 WL 2062317 (WY 5/15/2017)

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