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Category Archives: zoning

Cassville Aldermen take on Cassville Board of Adjustment to challenge carport variance


It might seem odd to you that the Cassville board of aldermen would appeal a decision of the Cassville board of adjustment, since the board of aldermen appoints the members of the board of adjustment, and both boards are a part of the same city government. It seems odd to me that the point was not raised by the respondent on appeal.

Under Missouri statutes, boards of adjustments have some independence, and the appeal of the board of adjustment’s decision to grant a variance is the novel method that the Cassville board of aldermen chose to maintain the uniform application of their zoning regulations.

In Board of Aldermen of Cassville v. Board of Adjustment and Gerald Shaffer, nobody raised the question of whether the Board of Aldermen had the right to attempt to control the board of adjustment by appeal to circuit court. The Southern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the board of adjustment, with the effect of requiring Shaffer to remove the portion of his carport that extend over the setback line.

What are these boards?

A board of aldermen, under Missouri’s statutes for fourth-class cities, is the governing body of the city. It is the city’s legislative body, by adopting ordinances, and also the city’s executive branch, by giving orders to the mayor and city administrator. The mayor doesn’t even vote, except to break a tie.

The board of adjustment is authorized by Missouri’s planning and zoning statutes for cities, (Missouri counties have separate planning and zoning statutes) specifically sections 89. 080 through 89.110. Section 89.090 gives boards of adjustments three kinds of power:

  1. to hear and decide appeals of errors made by the planning and zoning staff,
  2. to hear and decide other appeals, as required by city ordinances, and
  3. to hear and decide applications for variances from the city’s codes relating to construction and alteration of buildings and the use of land.

The board of adjustment has the power to reverse, affirm or modify decisions of the planning and zoning board and its staff.

Under section 89,110, persons aggrieved by the decision of the board of adjustment may appeal the board’s decision to the circuit court of the county. Rather than hear evidence, the circuit court reviews the record of the proceedings of the board of adjustment, as though the circuit court were an appellate court.

Why did the Cassville board of aldermen take this matter so seriously?

Was the Cassville board of aldermen aggrieved by the decision of the board of adjustment to allow  Mr. Shaffer to have a carport that extended closer to his property line than the five feet allowed by Cassville zoning regulations?

In most challenges to the right of a party to appeal a board of adjustment’s decision, Missouri courts have been reluctant to give that right to just anyone who claims to be aggrieved. In other cases, neighbors who did not protest the decision at the board of adjustment hearing have been denied the right to appeal, as has a St. Louis alderwoman.

Regardless of the issue of whether the Cassville board of aldermen had the right to appeal the decision, the aldermen apparently wanted to hold the board of adjustment to compliance with the standards of the Cassville ordinances pertaining to variances.

Variances for structures and uses

Variances from strict application of zoning codes are allowed when the board of adjustment (or another board having such powers) has determined that the criteria for granting variances have been met. Cassville’s ordinances required that all five criteria contained in the ordinance be met, all highly subjective except that the hardship alleged to exist must not have been created by the owner or applicant and that the condition for which the variance is required must be unique to the property.

The Court of Appeals judges agreed with the Cassville aldermen’s contention that nothing about the Shaffer property was unique and that the alleged hardship–which was that visitors might have to walk to his door in the rain–was trivial.

 

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If the plat complies with the regulations, approval is mandatory


Real estate developers (remember them?) sometimes feel as though they’ve been pulled through a knothole backwards by the time they get a proposed subdivision plat to the stage at which it can be submitted to the local government for approval. According to several Missouri appellate opinions, if a proposed plat complies with the subdivision regulations, the local government has no choice but to approve it.

But reality is different, as shown by Alexander & Lindsey v. Platte County, an opinion issued last week by the Court of Appeals for the Western District of Missouri. The court reversed the trial court’s refusal to order that the Platte County Commission approve Alexander & Lindsey’s preliminary subdivision plat. But the appellate court noted that the county government would have additional opportunities to coerce Alexander & Lindsey into making more concessions if it attempted to go beyond the preliminary plat to the submittal of a final plat.

“Preliminary plats” are not mentioned in Missouri’s statutes that authorize counties to adopt and administer subdivision regulations. But the two-stage plat approval process is valuable for developers and planning and zoning boards. The preliminary plat approval process is often the means of obtaining approval for an entire project to be constructed in phases. Once the preliminary plat is approved, the developer can proceed with some confidence that final plats of each phase of the project will be approved when submitted. The preliminary plat approval process, sometimes done in conjunction with a rezoning application, introduces the proposed project to the public and the scrutiny of neighbors and a variety of government agencies.

During the preliminary plat approval process, the developer learns that the subdivision regulations, as written, do not represent the full scope of requirements. Often the government’s preferences for stormwater control, traffic signals, intersection improvements and other expensive issues are not expressed in the regulations. The preliminary plat application doesn’t seem to move forward, until the developer has agreed to install infrastructure that is beyond the requirements of the regulations.

When Alexander & Lindsey submitted a preliminary plat for a commercial subdivision with five lots ranging in size from 2 to 4.6 acres. Alexander & Lindsey completed a traffic study and a drainage study, which were approved by the county’s engineer and the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT).  The Platte County planning and zoning director found that it complied with the county regulations and recommended that the P&Z board approve it.

When the preliminary plat hearing took place before the P&Z board, several persons expressed concerns. Expressing “concerns” are a common manner of objecting to a project for reasons that are not based on regulations. A public water supply district represented that it could supply drinking water, but not in adequate volume or pressure for fire-suppression. An alderman from the nearby town of Weston was concerned that the project’s building setback line was only 75 feet, rather than 100 feet, as required by Weston’s ordinance; Weston had previously rejected the developer’s annexation petition. MODOT’s engineer stated that MODOT regulations did not require the elimination of a driveway, as suggested by a P&Z board member.

Even though the proposed preliminary plat fully complied with all regulations, the P&Z board voted it down. The developer appealed to the Platte County Commission, which was not bound to follow the P&Z board’s recommendation. The Commission upheld the P&Z board’s denial, citing four reasons:

  • lack of specification of proposed uses
  • lack of water for fire suppression and lack of sewer facilities
  • potential impact of possible sewer lagoons on neighboring properties and the public
  • potential for traffic hazards from the existence two driveways

The appellate court noted that these four objections were outside the scope of the county’s subdivision regulations. Therefore, the county’s refusal to deny the preliminary plat was arbitrary, and the trial court was instructed to order the Commission to approve the preliminary plat.

“I can’t make your loan; my zoning’s wrong.”


The idea of traditional zoning is to segregate land uses. For example, zoning should protect the value of ownership of retail or residential real estate from the effects of a tannery locating next door. In a sense, zoning is a mechanism for separating land uses that could be considered nuisances to neighbors.

But in practice, zoning can have the effect of regulating economic activity that has nothing to do with land use. A zoning dispute over a consumer loan office illustrates how zoning applications provide an opportunity to allow the public and the zoning board to get into such non-land-use issues as the size of a loan, the time allowed for repayment, or whether the collateral for the loan is a car or a post-dated check or something else.

In an August 25, 2009 opinion from the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Titlemax v. City of Bridgeton, the court Read the rest of this entry

Important legal terms: “I grandmawed it! Ain’t I grandfathered?”


By Harry Styron

As the Ozarks becomes suburban, there are many clashes between the old economy and ways of life and the new, expressed in colorful language. A couple of familiar terms are sometimes used in ways that sound funny, especially used as verbs.

Grandfathering
“Grandfathering” as a legal term is not peculiar to the Ozarks and seems to mean here what it means anywhere. It is the concept by which something that has been done in the past is lawful for that reason, regardless of any new laws.

The historical origin of the term is ugly: Read the rest of this entry

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