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Citizens for a Balanced City v. Plymouth Congregational Church

December 02, 2003


Hennepin County District Court File No. CT01020005

Considered and decided by Klaphake , Presiding Judge; Schumacher , Judge; and Poritsky , Judge.*fn1


The federal Fair Housing Amendment Act requires a municipality to grant a waiver of a zoning ordinance where the waiver is capable of enhancing a disabled person's quality of life by ameliorating the effects of the disability while not imposing undue financial or administrative burdens on the municipality and is needed to allow disabled people the same opportunity to live in a neighborhood as people without disabilities.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert H. Schumacher, Judge



Citizens for a Balanced City and numerous individuals (collectively Citizens) appeal from the district court's summary judgment, which found that respondent City of Minneapolis had not acted arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably in granting respondent Plymouth Neighborhood Church Foundation a spacing ordinance waiver, a conditional use permit, and a maximum occupancy variance. We affirm.


In early 2001, the Foundation, a faith-based-non-profit organization, purchased an abandoned 140-bed nursing home located at 1920 LaSalle Avenue. The Foundation intended to convert the space into the"Lydia House," a supportive housing facility, consisting of 40 efficiency apartments designed as permanent homes for adult men and women who are currently homeless or living in temporary shelters and are disabled because of mental illness, chemical dependency, or HIV/AIDS. The Foundation considered 1920 LaSalle a prime location because Plymouth Congregational Church is located across the street and already operates related programs, the proposed residents currently reside in the area, and Simpson Housing Services—the supportive services provider—is in close proximity. The Foundation considered the location unique and did not believe an acceptable alternative location existed.

Because the proposed location was within an Office Residence 2 zoning district, the Foundation was required to obtain relief from certain zoning ordinances before proceeding. First, supportive housing is allowed in an Office Residence 2 zoning district as a conditional use, which requires a permit from the city. Second, a new supportive housing facility must be located at least a quarter-mile from certain types of existing facilities. There is no procedure for obtaining a variance from this spacing requirement. Third, the Foundation must obtain a variance from Minneapolis because Lydia House would be serving more than 32 residents.

At least seven facilities of the type covered by the spacing requirement currently exist within a quarter-mile of 1920 LaSalle Avenue. Those facilities include (1) 180 Degrees Inc., a community correctional facility; (2) People Incorporated Nancy Page Program, a community residential facility; (3) Oak Grove Residential Treatment, a community residential facility; (4) NU Way House, a community residential facility; (5) Home Away for Girls, a community residential facility; (6) Project Foundation, a community residential facility; and (7) Children's Residential Treatment, a community residential facility. None of these seven facilities appear to offer permanent housing to Lydia House's proposed residents.

In 2001, Foundation filed an application for a conditional use permit and a maximum occupancy variance and sought a spacing ordinance waiver, alleging the Fair Housing Amendment Act prevented the application of the spacing ordinance in this instance. Area neighborhood organizations sponsored the Lydia House Task Force to evaluate the potential impact Lydia House might have on the neighborhoods. The task force concluded Lydia House would have a detrimental impact and submitted a report to the city planning department stating the conditional use permit, variance, and waiver should not be granted. The planning department prepared a report detailing the facts and arguments the city planning commission should consider.

The commission reviewed the Foundation's application and the planning department's report and held public hearings. At the conclusion of the final hearing, the commission voted to grant a spacing ordinance waiver as a reasonable and necessary accommodation under the Fair Housing Amendment Act, to grant the conditional use permit, to grant the maximum occupancy variance, and to adopt the planning department's findings of fact.

Citizens appealed the planning commission's decision to the Minneapolis City Council. In November 2001, a public hearing was held before the city council's zoning and planning committee. The committee subsequently recommended that the city council deny the appeal and directed staff to prepare findings of fact. The city council unanimously adopted these findings and denied the appeal. Included in these finding was a conclusion that the Fair Housing Amendment Act mandated Minneapolis grant a spacing ordinance waiver because it was a necessary, reasonable accommodation for disabled persons.

Following the city council's decision, Citizens appealed to the Hennepin County District Court. The parties submitted cross-motions for summary judgment. In January 2003, the district court granted the Foundation's motion for summary judgment.


1. Do Citizens have standing to challenge Minneapolis's zoning decisions?

2. Was Minneapolis's grant of a spacing ordinance waiver to the Foundation a reasonable action required by the Fair Housing Amendment Act?

3. Was Minneapolis's grant to the Foundation of a conditional use permit and a maximum occupancy variance reasonable?


1. Minneapolis challenges Citizens' standing to challenge its zoning decisions arguing Citizens has not complied with general standing doctrine and that they are not"aggrieved persons" under Minn. Stat. § 462.361, subd. 1 (2002).á When a party does not have standing, a court does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter. Annandale Advocate v. City of Annandale, 435 N.W.2d 24, 27 (Minn. 1989) (stating standing is essential to court's exercise of jurisdiction). Because standing is essential to a justiciable controversy, standing can be raised at any time. See Lucio v. Sch. Bd. of Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 625, 574 N.W.2d 737, 739 n.2 (Minn. App. 1998), review denied (Minn. Apr. 30, 1998).

Standing is acquired when a party has suffered some"injury-in-fact" or when a party is the beneficiary of some legislative enactment granting standing. State by Humphrey v. Philip Morris Inc., 551 N.W.2d 490, 493 (Minn. 1996). Standing to address zoning decisions is statutorily granted. Minn. Stat. §á462.361, subd. 1. The statute provides:

Any person aggrieved by an ordinance, rule, regulation, decision or order of a governing body or board of adjustments and appeals acting pursuant to sections 462.351 to 462.364 may have such ordinance, rule, regulation, decision or order, reviewed by an appropriate ...

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