Justia Iowa Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court affirming the Carroll County Board of Adjustment's denial of Appellants' application for a variance from Carroll County Airport Zoning Ordinance height restrictions, holding that this Court's opinion rejecting Appellants' preemption defense in a companion case, was fatal to Appellants' appeal of the zoning variance denial.Appellants built a grain leg on their farmland that violated the zoning ordinance's height restrictions. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made a no-hazard determination. The Carroll Airport Commission disagreed with the FAA's determination and filed an equitable action to have the grain leg declared a nuisance. After Appellants unsuccessfully sought a variance, the district court entered judgment for the Commission on its nuisance claim. In both the nuisance action and the zoning appeal Appellants argued that the FAA's no-hazard determination preempted local regulations as a matter of law. The district court rejected that defense in the nuisance action. The court of appeals and Supreme Court affirmed. The district court then affirmed the Board's denial of the variance, again rejecting the preemption defense. Because the nuisance case adjudicated the same federal preemption issue Appellants raised in this preceding, the Supreme Court's opinion rejecting Appellants' preemption defense in the nuisance action was fatal to Appellants' appeal of the zoning appeal. View "Danner v. Carroll County Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court in favor of the Board of Adjustment in this action brought of developers seeking the right to build apartments on adjoining properties they owned in Iowa City and remanded with directions to enter judgment in favor of the developers.After the City denied the developers’ plans, the developers brought actions against the City and its Board of Adjustment. The district court ruled against the developers, thus rejecting the developers’ argument that a 1987 court order allowed them to proceed. The Supreme Court reversed the district court’s ruling in favor of the Board, holding (1) the Board should have permitted the developers to proceed in accordance with the 1987 decree, and the developers were entitled to enforce the decree as “successors and assigns”; (2) the statute of limitations did not bar enforcement of the decree; and (3) the Board’s argument that the decree had expired by its terms because “a use [had] been developed or established” on the properties failed. View "TSB Holdings, LLC v. City of Iowa City, Iowa" on Justia Law

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The Dyersville City Council voted to rezone the area containing the Field of Dreams movie site from agricultural to commercial in order to facilitate the development of a baseball and softball complex. Community members filed writs of certiorari, arguing (1) since the city council acted in a quasi-judicial function, the city council’s act of passing the ordinances was invalid; and (2) there was sufficient opposition to the rezoning to trigger a unanimous vote of the city council contained in the city code. The district court annulled the writs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the city council acted in its proper legislative function when it rezoned the subject property, and both ordinances were validly passed; and (2) no procedural or substantive errors affected the city council’s rezoning decisions. View "Residential & Agricultural Advisory Committee, LLC v. Dyersville City Council" on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Iowa City Board of Review reclassified eighteen properties from commercial to residential for property tax purposes because the properties had recently been organized as multiple housing cooperatives. Two Iowa corporations organized the cooperatives under chapter 499A of the Iowa Code. The City of Iowa City appealed, arguing that the Board’s reclassification was improper because two natural persons, not two corporations, must organize multiple housing cooperatives under the Code. The City also argued that the organizers did not properly organize the cooperatives because each cooperative had more apartment units than members and section 499A.11 requires a one-to-one ratio. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Board and the intervening housing cooperatives. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) two Iowa corporations may organize a multiple housing cooperative under chapter 499A; and (2) the Code does not require a one-apartment-unit-per-member ownership ratio for a multiple housing cooperative to be properly organized. View "City of Iowa City v. Iowa City Bd. of Review" on Justia Law

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Dolphin Residential Cooperative, Inc. owned an apartment complex in Iowa City that consisted of twenty-two buildings comprising four hundred residential units. The Iowa City assessor classified the multiunit apartment buildings as commercial property for tax assessment purposes. Dolphin challenged this classification, arguing that because it was a multiple housing cooperative, organized under chapter 499A of the Iowa Code, the property should have been classified as residential property. The Iowa City Board of Review denied Dolphin’s request to reclassify the property, determining that because Dolphin was not properly organized under chapter 499A, Dolphin failed the organizational test for residential cooperatives adopted by the Supreme Court in Krupp Place 1 Coop, Inc. v. Board of Review. On appeal, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Dolphin, concluding that Dolphin met the organizational test set forth in Krupp and ordering the Board to reclassify the subject property as residential property for tax assessment purposes. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Dolphin was not properly established under section 499A.1(1), and therefore, the district court erred when it granted summary judgment to Dolphin and denied summary judgment to the Board. View "Dolphin Residential Coop., Inc. v. Iowa City Bd. of Review" on Justia Law

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The City of Waterloo agreed to transfer to a residential developer property the City originally acquired for use as a road right-of-way. Taxpaying residents of the City challenged the legality of the proposed transfer, arguing that the City failed to follow statutory procedures for the sale of unused right-of-way, including compliance with certain appraisal, notice, right-of-first refusal and public bid requirements. The district court dismissed the case, concluding that the subject property was not unused right-of-way. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the property was unused right-of-way, and therefore, the City could not sell or transfer it to the developer without first following the procedure prescribed in Iowa Code 306.23. View "Hartog v. City of Waterloo" on Justia Law

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A lakefront property was zoned residential but was historically operated as a marina pursuant to special-use permits allowing nonconforming use. The Supreme Court previously held that while the use of the property as a marina was lawful under the special-use permits, the permits did not allow an expansion of use that included on-premises consumption of alcohol with live entertainment, karaoke, and full-moon parties. The owner of the property subsequently sought to operate a bar on a structure called the Fish House Lounge, which was moored to the marina's seawall but was capable of getting underway in the lake. Fish House had a liquor license from the State. The district court found the arrangement amounted to a nonconforming use of the property in violation of the City's zoning regulations and entered an injunction (1) prohibiting the use of the marina property to provide access to or parking for the bar and to provide other services for the bar; and (2) prohibiting the property owner from serving alcohol on any structure moored to the premises. The Supreme Court affirmed but directed the district court to modify its injunction to prohibit nonaccessory activities solely on the land within the geographic boundaries of the City. View "City of Okoboji v. Parks" on Justia Law

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Property owners (Owners) had a lengthy dispute with Linn County over whether houses they had built were subject to the County's zoning and subdivision ordinances. In two separate decisions, the Linn County Board of Adjustment (Board) (1) denied an agricultural exemption for a six-acre parcel that included Owners' residence, and (2) denied an agricultural exemption for a second house on a forty-three-acre parcel that Owners argued was an additional farmhouse. The district court found that substantial evidence support both decisions of the Board and denied Owners' petitioners for writ of certiorari. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that substantial evidence supported the Board's determinations that the houses at issue were not "primarily adopted, by reason of nature and area, for use for agricultural purposes." View "Lang v. Linn County Bd. of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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In this interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Court reviewed the district court's ruling consolidating condemnation appeals from proceedings by two separate condemning authorities taking property from the same parent tract of farmland. The takings were four months apart for unrelated projects. The district court consolidated the landowner's appeals, finding common question of law or fact and a lack of prejudice. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that consolidation was an abuse of discretion, as (1) fact finders must determine just compensation for different types of takings by separate condemning authorities four months apart for unrelated projects; and (2) certain evidence in each case would be inadmissible in the other, thus creating a substantial risk of prejudice and jury confusion. Remanded for separate trials. View "Johnson v. Metro. Wastewater Reclamation Auth." on Justia Law

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Members of the Old Order Groffdale Conference Mennonite Church are forbideen from driving tractors unless their wheels are equipped with steel cleats. A Mitchell County road protection ordinance forbade driving such vehicles on the highways. Matthew Zimmerman was cited for operating his tractor in violation of the ordinance. Zimmerman moved to dismiss the citation on the ground that his federal and state constitutional rights to free exercise of religion had been violated. The district court overruled Zimmerman's motion to dismiss, concluding that the ordinance (1) was both neutral and generally applicable, and (2) survived strict scrutiny. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ordinance as applied to church members violated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment where the ordinance (1) was not of general applicability because it contained exemptions that were inconsistent with its stated purpose of protecting Mitchell County's roads, and (2) did not survive strict scrutiny because it was not the least restrictive means of serving what was claimed to be a compelling governmental interest in road protection. Remanded for an order of dismissal. View "Mitchell County v. Zimmerman" on Justia Law