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Dead Lake Association, Inc. v. Otter Tail County

April 28, 2005

DEAD LAKE ASSOCIATION, INC., APPELLANT,
v.
OTTER TAIL COUNTY, MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT, R. MURRAY PARTNERSHIP, LLP, RESPONDENT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

An attack on the validity of a county zoning ordinance is an attack on a legislative decision, not reviewable by writ of certiorari.

Vacated in part.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Meyer, Justice.

Concurring, Page, J.

Dissenting, Hanson, and Anderson, Paul H., JJ.

Took no part, Anderson, Russell A., J.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

This is an appeal from a decision by respondent Otter Tail County (the County) to grant a conditional use permit (CUP) for a planned unit development (PUD) on Dead Lake in Otter Tail County. Dead Lake Association (the Association), a group of landowners opposed to the development, challenged the County's grant of the CUP, arguing that the County lacked authority to grant the permit because the shoreland at issue was not properly zoned for a PUD. In addition, it argued that the CUP was arbitrarily granted by the County. The court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. Dead Lake Ass'n, Inc. v. Otter Tail County, No. A03-750, 2004 WL 422570, at *4 (Minn. App. Mar. 9, 2004). It concluded that the County had authority to approve the CUP but that the County acted arbitrarily for lack of findings. Id. It remanded the matter to the county board to make findings in support of its decision. Id.

The Association petitioned this court for review, asserting that the County lacked authority to approve the CUP because it failed to follow a planning process outlined in state regulations, which requires the County to "legislatively create a planned unit development zoning district in which PUD is 'an allowable conditional use.'" We granted review on that single issue.*fn1

Respondents Otter Tail County and R. Murray Partnership (the Developer) claim that the appellate courts lack jurisdiction over this issue because the Association's argument is an attack on the validity of the County's zoning ordinance and such an attack is not reviewable by writ of certiorari.*fn2 We agree and vacate the court of appeals' determination that the County had authority to approve the CUP.

On November 20, 2002, the Developer submitted an application for a CUP for construction of a cluster development or PUD on Dead Lake in Otter Tail County.*fn3 Dead Lake is a 7,900-acre lake classified by the Department of Natural Resources as a "natural environment lake."*fn4 The proposed development consisted of 151 residential housing units, a general store, a restaurant, two swimming pools, a marina, and mooring facilities.

The Otter Tail County Planning Commission (the Planning Commission) stayed the permit application so that an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW)*fn5 could be completed, as required by Minn. R. 4410.1400 (2003). The Developer submitted its EAW to the Planning Commission, which approved the EAW on January 21, 2003. The Planning Commission submitted notice of the forthcoming EAW to the Environmental Quality Board and public comment was solicited. At the close of the public comment period, concerned parties were allowed to present additional information and comment at two public meetings conducted by the Planning Commission.

After the public hearings, the Planning Commission concluded that a detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)*fn6 was unnecessary based on its findings that the Developer had amended the project proposal to mitigate environmental impacts, that the revised proposal fell below the maximum density limitations prescribed by the County's Shoreland Management Ordinance (the Ordinance), and that the County could mitigate environmental effects through its regulatory authority. The Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners (the County Board) then issued a negative declaration concerning the need for an EIS.*fn7

In mid-April 2003, the Planning Commission considered and approved the Developer's CUP application, subject to numerous conditions.*fn8 The County Board met the following week and approved the CUP with the conditions, for a maximum of 139 units and boat slips. The Association appealed the County Board's decision by writ of certiorari to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The court of appeals found that the County Board had the authority to approve the CUP, because "[u]nder both the rules and the [ordinance], cluster developments are conditional uses on natural environment lakes. Therefore, at least with regard to this proposed development, the ordinance is not inconsistent with, and complies with, the standards set forth in the rules." Dead Lake Ass'n, 2004 WL 422570, at *3. However, the court of appeals concluded ...


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