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Lam v. City of St. Paul

May 30, 2006

CHAN LAM, ET AL., RELATORS,
v.
CITY OF ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



City of St. Paul File No. 05-646.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Because a land use allowed under a conditional-use permit exists independently of how the land is actually used, a use does not cease to exist just because a permitted business activity is discontinued.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Collins, Judge

Reversed and remanded

Collins, Judge*fn1

Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Stoneburner, Judge; and Collins, Judge.

OPINION

In this certiorari appeal from a St. Paul City Council decision, relators contend that the city council's denial of relators' license applications should be reversed and that this court has jurisdiction to decide the dispute. Because the city council's decision was quasi-judicial, jurisdiction is proper in this court. Because the land use permitted by the conditional-use permit was not extinguished just because certain business activity ceased, we reverse.

FACTS

Relators Chan Lam and Ha Tran, d/b/a Ha Auto Repair, challenge respondent St. Paul City Council's denial of their applications for auto repair garage and second hand dealer-motor vehicle licenses.

The subject property has been used mainly for auto repair and sales since 1962. In 1994, having met the condition that he "obtains and maintains a dealership repair garage license...not a general repair garage license," the owner was granted a conditional-use permit (CUP) that allowed used-vehicle sales with auto repair as an accessory use.

In 1999, new owner R & B Automotive (R & B) obtained a general license to conduct an automobile-repair business on the property; R & B also sold cars there into 2001, but did not have the required license to do so. In late 2001, an inspector from Saint Paul's Office of License, Inspections and Environmental Protection (LIEP) discovered that R & B was not in compliance with the 1994 CUP because while the auto-repair activity continued, used-vehicle sales had been discontinued. LIEP notified R & B of the discovered noncompliance, but because of a zoning moratorium that would have precluded R & B from seeking rezoning or obtaining a different CUP, LIEP took no enforcement action.

The city council rezoned the property in 2003 and again in 2004 to classifications that do not permit automobile sales or repair. In November 2004, an LIEP inspector again notified R & B that general auto repair was not permitted on the property, but R & B did nothing in response, and LIEP took no enforcement action thereafter.

In January 2005, relators contacted LIEP about the possibility of purchasing the property and operating an auto-repair business there. LIEP informed relators that LIEP could approve licenses for used-vehicle sales and auto repair as accessory to the auto- sales business as allowed by the CUP, but that relators would have to apply to the city planning commission for a legal-nonconforming-use permit if they wanted to use the property for general auto repair only. Relators elected to apply to LIEP for auto repair garage and second hand dealer-motor vehicle licenses and simultaneously purchased the property. LIEP recommended approval ...


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