Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 12, 2018

IA Appeals Court Dismisses Challenge to Nonconforming Use Approval

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled in September that a permit allowing the replacement of a nonconforming cabin was properly granted, and it dismissed an appeal brought by neighboring property owners, finding that their arguments relied on an incorrect interpretation of the zoning ordinance.

At issue in the case was property owned by Mark Snyder, which was located in an R-2 zoning district in Buena Vista County. Synder sought to replace a pre-existing nonconforming cabin with a newer residence, and after several months of discussions with the zoning administrator regarding various dimensional regulations, and the permit was granted.

The Gustafsons, who owned of an adjacent lot, challenged the approval of Snyder’s permit, claiming that the permit was illegal because the ordinance didn’t permit construction on substandard lots. In particular, they pointed to the “intent” subsection of the nonconforming lot ordinance, which they interpreted as prohibiting construction on nonconforming lots except where the lots were either vacant or under construction when the ordinance was enacted. The court agreed with Snyder, however, that the intent provision wasn’t controlling and pointed instead to another provision that stated that “a single-family dwelling and customary accessory buildings may be erected on any single lot of record at the effective date of adoption or amendment of this Ordinance.” The Gustafson’s interpretation was barred under another part of that provision, the court found, as it included the phrase “notwithstanding limitations imposed by other provisions of this Ordinance.” As the court noted, this language was “a clear and concise indication from the legislating body that the specific rule controls over the general and permits a new dwelling to be erected despite the lot’s nonconformance.” The court additionally noted that this result was consistent with the zoning board’s decision and the advice of the county attorney, and it found that district court had not improperly deferred to the zoning board in its reaching its decision.

The Gustafsons also argued that it was an abuse of discretion for the zoning board not to issue a written decision. As the court noted, however, the zoning board issued official minutes and an audio recording of the meeting where it approved the permit, and these materials provided a sufficient record for the district court to review on appeal. The minutes and audio recording established that the Gustafsons had attended and had the opportunity to present their objections, and that the board had also heard facts and arguments put forward by the zoning administrator and the county attorney.

Gustafson v. Board of Adjustment of Buena Vista County, 2018 WL 4360987 (IA App. 9/12/2018)

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