In MPI v. Stone County, dated December 30, 2008, Associate Circuit Judge Carr Woods ruled that the system of planning and zoning for Stone County (Missouri) was not in compliance with the Missouri statutes that enable counties to adopt planning and zoning regulations after a vote of the citizens. I filed the case, and Springfield attorney Bryan Wade and his associates at Husch Blackwell Sanders carried most of the discovery and trial preparation burden. I assisted Bryan with the trial.
The decision is not final until 30 days after its date. Meanwhile, the Stone County Commission has closed the planning and zoning office while it considers its options, which of course include appealing the decision.
The decision could be especially important to the Missouri’s rapidly growing rural counties. Stone County, like its neighbors Taney to the east and Christian to the north, which all lie between Springfield and the Arkansas border, crafted unusual planning and zoning regulations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, to impose much-needed development controls. Rather than create traditional zoning districts, each of these three counties essentially have treated each application for a development permit as a special use permit. Permits for use changes are determined by appointed P & Z board members, not elected officials, under these novel regulations.
Judge Woods’s decision recognizes the procedural differences between consideration of subdivision plats (an administrative act) and consideration of rezoning (a legislative act to be performed only by the county’s elected governing body). The existing procedure combines the plat approval and rezoning procedures into one procedure, even though Missouri law imposes different standards upon courts in reviewing decisions on subdivision plat cases and rezoning cases. Stone County’s regulations, like those of Taney and Christian counties, allow appointed commissioners to decide rezoning cases, which are often controversial.
The county commissioners in Stone, Taney and Christian counties have sidestepped their statutory duty to make rezoning decisions, even though the citizens of the counties voted to adopt planning and zoning. Judge Woods has decided that the citizens of Stone County are entitled to regulations that force the elected county commissioners to make rezoning decisions.