Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 30, 2020

MN Supreme Court Holds the Statutory Automatic Approval Provision Does Not Apply to Respondents’ Letter Contesting a Notice of Zoning Violation

This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.  

Respondents Guy Gerald Sanschagrin, Kristine Knudson Sanschagrin, Jeffery Lowell Cameron, and Linda Kay Cameron jointly owned an undeveloped parcel of real property in the City of Shorewood. In April 2017, the Owners installed a dock on the property. One month later, the City issued a notice of zoning violation to the Owners, stating that the dock violated the Shorewood Code of Ordinances because the property lacked a “principal dwelling” and because the Owners did not occupy the property. The notice directed them to either remove the dock or appeal the order to the City Council in writing. The Owners did so, asserting that the more-restrictive LMCD code controlled when the city code was silent, and that their dock did not violate the City’s zoning code. On July 12, 2017, the City notified the Owners that it had withdrawn its notice of violation and that all pending hearings related to the Owners’ appeal were cancelled.

 In June 2018, the Owners again installed the dock on the property. The City then issued a notice to the Owners, stating that the dock violated the amended city code. The Owners again submitted a written response to the City, claiming that the amended ordinances did not apply to their property, and requesting the City withdraw the violation notice. The City did not respond to this letter, but charged the Owners with a criminal complaint with two misdemeanor violations of the city code in September 2018. The district court granted the Owners’ pretrial motion to dismiss, and the court of appeals affirmed.

 The court began its analysis by considering the applicability of the automatic approval provision of Minn. Stat. § 15.99, subd. 2(a), to the Owners’ letter in response to the City’s notice of zoning violation. Here, the Owners’ letter did not identify a specific license or permit that they sought from the City, nor did the Owners contend that they requested a license or permit. The court further rejected the argument that the Owners’ letter contained an “implicit request” for governmental approval. The court found that this concept was inconsistent with the plain language of a “request,” which required a clear identification of the specific governmental approval being sought. As such, the automatic approval provision in section 15.99, subdivision 2(a) did not apply, and the district court erred by granting the Owners’ pretrial motion to dismiss the charges. The court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the district court to reinstate the City’s complaint and for further proceedings.

State of Minnesota v Sanschagrin, 2020 WL 7759466 (MN 12/30/2020)

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