Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 8, 2021

MS Supreme Court Concluded the Board’s Decision to Reject the Site Plan Application to Operate a Marina Was Arbitrary and Capricious, and Affirmed

This post was authored by Olena Botshteyn, Esq.

In November 2018, Razz Halili Trust (“Trust”) applied to the Hancock County Planning and Zoning Commission (“Commission”) for site-plan approval to operate a marina. The application stated that the Trust did not intend to process seafood in any way, only to unload oysters for further shipping. The Trust’s property is located in Zone C-4, where the use as a marina is allowed as a matter of right. The County zoning ordinance defines a marina as a “boat basin, harbor or dock, with facilities for berthing and servicing boats, including bait and fishing tackle shop and eating establishments.”

In January 2019, the Commission held a hearing on the Trust’s application and unanimously voted to recommend approval to the Board of Supervisors of Hancock County (“Board”). Further, at the meeting with the Board, the Trust clarified the intended use of the property, stating that they would merely be unloading oysters at the site, and the only equipment there would be a conveyor to get them to the trucks. The Board members were not certain whether unloading oysters does not mean processing them, as seafood processing is a prohibited use in Zone C-4. The Board referred to a state licensing statute, defining a seafood processor as a person “engaged in the canning, processing, freezing, drying, or shipping of oysters, fish, saltwater crabs, or saltwater shrimp.” The Board then concluded that the site plan was for seafood processing and not a marina, because the Trust intended to ship oysters, and rejected the application. The Trust appealed to the circuit court, which concluded that there was no evidence in the record, indicating that seafood processing would occur at the site and reversed the Board’s decision. The Board then appealed.

On appeal, the court concluded that the Board’s decision was arbitrary, capricious and not supported by substantial evidence, and affirmed. First, the court stated that the Board’s decision to rely on state licensing statute’s definition rather than the definitions in its own ordinance to determine the Trust intended to have a marina at the site or process seafood was unreasonable and showed that the Board disregarded the facts in this case. The court further clarified that the Trust’s status as a seafood processor is irrelevant here; what was relevant was whether the Trust actually intended to process seafood at the site. Nothing in the record indicated that the Trust intended to do anything beyond unloading oysters for further shipping. In other words, even if the Trust was a seafood processor by classification, this did not mean that it would be engaged in processing oysters at the site. The court ultimately concluded that the Board misunderstood the facts and failed to apply them to the law, held that that the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, and affirmed the decision of the circuit court.

Board of Supervisors of Hancock County v Razz Halili Trust, 2021 WL 2587103 (MS 6/24/2021)

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