Minnesota Court of Appeals
Gurtek v. Chisago County
1988 WL 81554 (Minn.App., 1988) (unpublished)
Appellants sought review of a denial of a special-use permit to build a large campground adjacent to a bald eagle nesting site. They contended that the denial by the county board was arbitrary and capricious. The court held that the denial was reasonable where the county proffered two legally valid reasons for denying the permit: the danger to the sensitive nesting eagle population and the detrimental effect the increased human activity would have on the unspoiled nature of the property. For further discussion on the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, see Detailed Discussion of Eagle Act.
delivered the opinion of the court.
Opinion of the Court:
Appellants Richard and Donna Gurtek applied to the Chisago Lakes Township Board for a special-use permit to construct and operate a 100-site campground on a 25-acre tract of land on Sunrise Lake. The township board recommended approval if Gurteks obtained consent of a majority of the landowners on the lake. The Chisago County Planning Commission, following a public hearing, recommended denial of Gurteks' application; the Chisago County Board agreed with the planning commission's recommendation and denied the application.
Gurteks brought an action in district court for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, alleging the county board's denial was unreasonable. The county moved for summary judgment, which was granted based on the record. Gurteks appealed to this court, alleging the district court erred in granting summary judgment.
The county board denied Gurteks' special-use permit for four reasons:
1) The property contains a very unique ecosystem, including a nesting site for a threatened species, the bald eagle, which is being protected by management plans of the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
2) The proposed site consists of fragile soil and woodland conditions (i.e. a ferny undergrowth and very little grass cover to prevent soil erosion) that would not withstand very great foot or vehicular traffic.
3) The impact of the increased human population density engendered by 100 campsites would be detrimental to the environment, and the only inland bald eagle nesting site in Chisago County.
4) The agricultural zoning district and the undeveloped nature of Sunrise Lake render it unsuitable for heavy density development, in particular commercial forms of development with a potential for a great influx of people to the site.
In reviewing a decision of a county zoning board, a district court must follow a two-step procedure. The first step is to consider "the nature, fairness and adequacy of the proceeding at the local level and the adequacy of the factual and decisional record of the local proceeding." Swanson v. City of Bloomington, 421 N.W.2d 307, 312-313 (Minn.1988). The record will likely be clear and complete in a case where the board has made formal findings contemporaneously with its decision and there is a verbatim transcript of the proceedings. Id. at 313.
If one of the parties contends the record is inadequate, the district court should receive additional evidence only on substantive issues raised and decided by the board if the court determines the additional evidence is material and there was a good reason for failing to produce it at the hearing before the board. Id.
We agree with the trial court's determination that the record was adequate for review. The record consisted of a verbatim transcript of the public hearing before the planning commission, a transcript of the planning commissioner's discussion on the application of the documentary evidence before the commission, and the minutes of the county board meeting, including the board's reasons for denial. Although there may be minor deficiencies in identifying speakers or background sounds, the record, on the whole, is clear and complete. Similarly, the proceeding was properly conducted and adequate. We also note that the additional evidence offered by Gurteks in the district court relates to concerns raised at the public hearing, but Gurteks do not explain why they failed to produce the evidence at that time.
The second step in reviewing a decision of a zoning board is to determine whether the board's decision was unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious, with review focused on the legal sufficiency of and factual basis for the reasons given. Swanson, 421 N.W.2d at 314.
The district court reviewed in detail each of the reasons supporting the county board's denial. We agree with its evaluation that the county's findings on damage to the eagle nesting site, erosion and the detrimental effect on the unspoiled, undeveloped nature of the lake are sufficiently supported by the evidence. The threat of damage to the environment is a legally sufficient reason for denial of a special use permit. Barton Contracting Co., Inc. v. City of Afton, 268 N.W.2d 712, 718 (Minn.1978).
The county has stated at least two legally sufficient reasons for the denial. These reasons have a factual basis in the record. The decision is not arbitrary, unreasonable or capricious.
FN* Acting as judge of the Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. 6, § 2.
Gurtek v. Chisago County