Chisago County Board of Commissioners Klaphake , Presiding Judge, Minge ,
Judge, and Wright , Judge.
1. A municipality lacks legal authority to deny an application for approval of a preliminary plat that proposes a permitted use and complies with the regulatory standards prescribed for that use.
2. Because comprehensive land-use plans are advisory documents that serve only to guide the coordinated and harmonious development of a municipality and its environs, they do no not provide an independent source of discretionary authority for denying approval of a preliminary plat.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wright, Judge
By writ of certiorari, relator PTL, LLC appeals from the Chisago County Board of Commissioners' denial of preliminary-plat approval. Relator argues that it is entitled to approval as a matter of right, because its preliminary plat satisfies the requirements of the zoning and subdivision ordinances in all respects. Alternatively, relator argues that (1) the record does not support the board's determination that the proposed development is inefficient, poorly designed, or incompatible with surrounding land uses, and (2) the board improperly relied on after-the-fact rationalizations not connected with the actual basis for denial of preliminary-plat approval. We reverse and remand.
Relator PTL, LLC (PTL) is a real-estate development company seeking to develop approximately 70 acres of land located in a district zoned "agricultural" in Chisago County. To that end, PTL submitted an application for preliminary approval of a plat consisting of 14 five-acre lots to be used for residential housing. The county's zoning ordinance permits single-family dwellings in agricultural districts at a maximum density of one dwelling per five-acre lot. Chisago County, Minn., Zoning Ordinance § 5.06(B)(10) (1997). Accordingly, the Fish Lake Township Board and Plat Review Commission recommended approval of PTL's preliminary plat.
In April 2002, PTL presented its preliminary plat before the Chisago County Planning Commission. At the commission's monthly meeting, Environmental Services Director Marion Heemsbergen stated that, although the proposed lots met the dimensional requirements of the Chisago County Zoning Ordinance, the planning commission preferred the "cluster or cove" design required for smaller lots to the "cookie cutter" design proposed by PTL. See id. § 7.18(B) (requiring cluster design for lots smaller than five acres). Heemsbergen expressed concern that because the proposed development was located in the middle of open farmland, it appeared to conflict with the goals and policies of the Chisago County Comprehensive Guide Plan, a "policy guide for managing growth in Chisago County." Chisago County, Minn., Comprehensive Guide Plan, at ii (1995).*fn1
In addition to Heemsbergen, neighbors expressed concern that approval of the preliminary plat would result in increased traffic, unsightly lawns, lower property values, the sale of neighboring farms, and the loss of traditionally farmed agricultural land. One neighbor worried that a proposed road would create a dead end at her field and cause problems with trespassers.
In response to these concerns, PTL indicated that the land was sand rather than prime farmland, and that it had saved large trees to build a buffer between the proposed development and neighboring properties. PTL also indicated that because the plat was close to highway 95 and the city of Cambridge, it was compatible with the comprehensive guide plan's goal of providing low-density housing near a major highway that is close to schools and other towns.
The planning commission concluded that, although the preliminary plat met the dimensional requirements of the zoning ordinance, it would result in conflicting land uses and the unnecessary conversion of farmland, in violation of the comprehensive guide plan. Accordingly, it recommended that approval be denied. PTL declined an opportunity to reconfigure its preliminary plat, opting instead to submit it to the Chisago County Board of Commissioners.
In May 2002, PTL presented its preliminary plat to the board. Once again, Heemsbergen stated that, although the preliminary plat "appeared to be perfectly legal, dimensionally speaking," it was poorly designed and incompatible with surrounding land uses. The board asked PTL to consider reconfiguring the proposed plat with a clustering of building sites and "a more aesthetically pleasing road with a curved design." PTL agreed to resubmit its application to the planning commission.
At the planning commission's next meeting, PTL presented a letter from an assistant county surveyor, stating that the preliminary plat met all the requirements of the ordinance. PTL told the commission that its own surveyor and other professional consultants had indicated that the property did not lend itself to a cluster design. PTL also stated that the Fish Lake Township engineer had recommended against the requested curved road. ...