Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

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Petitioners, consisting of several citizens groups and neighborhood associations, sought a contested case hearing in the administrative law court (ALC) to challenge the propriety of state environmental authorizations issued by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) for a project relocating and expanding the passenger cruise facility at the Union Pier Terminal (the Terminal) in downtown Charleston. Petitioners contended they had standing to seek this hearing as "affected persons" under section 44-1- 60(G) of the South Carolina Code (2018). The ALC concluded Petitioners did not have standing and granted summary judgment to Respondents. The ALC terminated discovery and also sanctioned Petitioners for requesting a remand to the DHEC Board. The court of appeals affirmed. The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, concluded Petitioners did have standing, and thus reversed the grant of summary judgment and remanded the matter to the ALC for a contested case hearing. View "Preservation Society v. SCDHEC" on Justia Law

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This case concerned accreting land along the South Carolina coast that owned by the Town of Sullivan. Petitioners Nathan and Ettaleah Bluestein and Theodore and Karen Albenesius (collectively, Petitioners) bought property in the Town that abutted the accreting land. Petitioners' properties were once considered oceanfront lots only a short distance from the beach, but due to accretion, the properties were now a substantial distance away. The accreting land was subject to a 1991 deed, which set forth certain rights and responsibilities respecting the condition of the property and the Town's duties concerning upkeep of the land. Petitioners were third party beneficiaries of the 1991 deed. Petitioners argued the 1991 deed mandated the Town keep the vegetation on the land in the same condition as existed in 1991, particularly as to the height of shrubs and vegetation. Conversely, the Town contended the 1991 deed granted it unfettered discretion to allow unchecked growth of the vegetation on the accreting land. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined all parties cherrypicked language from the 1991 deed to support their respective interpretations of the deed. But contrary to the holding of the court of appeals and the trial court's findings, the Supreme Court held the deed was “far from unambiguous;” because the 1991 deed is ambiguous in terms of the Town's maintenance responsibilities, the court of appeals erred in affirming the entry of summary judgment for the Town. As a result, the matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Bluestein v. Town of Sullivans Island" on Justia Law

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The City of San Diego (the City) appealed a judgment in a lawsuit filed by Citizens for South Bay Coastal Access (Plaintiff), which challenged the City's issuance of a conditional use permit allowing it to convert a motel that it recently purchased into a transitional housing facility for homeless misdemeanor offenders. Specifically, the City contended the trial court erred by ruling that the City was required to obtain a coastal development permit for the project because the motel was located in the Coastal Overlay Zone as defined in the City's municipal code. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in concluding that a coastal development permit was required under state law regulations promulgated by the California Coastal Commission (the Commission). Because the Commission certified the City's local coastal program, those provisions applied here rather than the Commission's regulations. "Under the City's local coastal program, the project is exempt from the requirement to obtain a coastal development permit because it involves an improvement to an existing structure, and no exceptions to the existing- structure exemption are applicable." Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment. View "Citizens for South Bay Coastal Access v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The common issue from three property tax cases presented to the Colorado Supreme Court for review centered on what constituted "residential land" under 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. (2019). In Colorado, residential land was taxed as a lower rate than vacant land. The Mooks owned two parcels of land in Summit County, Colorado. One parcel contained the Mooks’ house, classified as residential land. The other parcel was undeveloped, and it was classified as vacant land (“the subject parcel”). The parties agreed that these two parcels didn't physically touch. The Homeowners’ Association (“HOA”) owned an approximately seventeen-foot-wide strip of land that completely separated the two properties (that strip provided other members of the HOA access to adjacent public land). The Mooks petitioned the Board of County Commissioners of Summit County (“BCC”) to reclassify the subject parcel from vacant land to residential land. The BCC denied their petition, and the Mooks appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals (“BAA”). The BAA upheld the BCC’s decision. Notably, the BAA determined that contiguous parcels are those that are “physically connected.” Here, the residential and subject parcels didn't physically touch, and the BAA “was not persuaded that the use of the subject lot in conjunction with the residential lot was sufficient to defeat the plain meaning of contiguity.” Thus, the BAA concluded that the two parcels aren’t contiguous, and it denied the Mooks’ appeal. Taking the three appeals together, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded: (1) only parcels of land that physically touch qualify as “contiguous parcels of land;” (2) a residential improvement isn’t needed on each contiguous and commonly owned parcel of land and a landowner can satisfy the “used as a unit” requirement by using multiple parcels of land together as a collective unit of residential property; and (3) county records dictate whether parcels are held under “common ownership.” View "Mook v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs" on Justia Law

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This case asked the Colorado Supreme Court to construe the definition of residential land in section 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. (2019). Stephen Ziegler (through the Stephen J. Ziegler Revocable Trust Dated July 17, 2008) owned four parcels of land in Park County, Colorado. One parcel was classified as “residential land” under section 39-1-102(14.4)(a) and taxed accordingly. However, the other three parcels remained “vacant land” and are thus taxed at a higher rate. Ziegler sought to reclassify those vacant parcels as residential land to receive a corresponding tax abatement. As it concluded in Mook v. Summit Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, 2020 CO 12 (2020): (1) a residential improvement isn’t needed on each contiguous and commonly owned parcel of land for that parcel to be “used as a unit;” and (2) a landowner can satisfy the “used as a unit” requirement by using multiple parcels of land together as a collective unit of residential property. The BAA here applied the same legal standards that the Court expressly disavowed in Mook. Thus, it reversed the BAA’s order and remanded for the BAA to apply the standards articulated in this case to determine whether the vacant parcels qualified as “residential land.” View "Ziegler v. Park Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs" on Justia Law

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Junaid Lateef appealed a judgment entered in favor of the City of Madera (city) and the Madera City Council (city council) (collectively, respondents), which denied his petition for administrative mandamus and requests for declaratory and injunctive relief. At issue was the meaning of Madera Municipal Code section 10-3.1310(E), which set forth the minimum number of council votes required to overturn the Madera Planning Commission’s (commission) denial of an application for a conditional use permit: “A five-sevenths vote of the whole of the Council shall be required to grant, in whole or in part, any appealed application denied by the Commission.” Lateef appealed the denial of his application to the seven-member city council, which voted four-to-one to grant his appeal; however, one councilmember recused himself and another council seat was vacant. The city council denied Lateef’s appeal, ruling that he needed five votes (five-sevenths times the total membership of the council) to prevail. Arguing to the Court of Appeal, Lateef contended the city council was required to grant his appeal because the ordinance requires a five-sevenths vote of those councilmembers present and voting, and he received five-sevenths of the five votes that were cast, namely four votes. He also contended he was denied a fair trial because the recused councilmember and vacant seat were included as councilmembers when determining the number of votes needed to grant his appeal. Finding no merit to Lateef’s contentions, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Lateef v. City of Madera" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Court of Appeal was whether Riverside County, California could impose a tax on possessory interests in federally owned land set aside for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians or its members. In 1971, Court held that it could, holding in part that federal law did not preempt the tax. The tax was also upheld that year by the Ninth Circuit. Since then, the United States Supreme Court articulated a new preemption framework in considering whether states may tax Indian interests, and the Department of the Interior promulgated new Indian leasing regulations, the preamble of which stated that state taxation was precluded. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal concluded, as it did in 1971, this possessory interest tax was valid. View "Herpel v. County of Riverside" on Justia Law

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The application called for a “tennis cabaña” with a guest room and bathroom, next to a tennis court on a 2.38-acre residential property. Neighbors objected that the cabaña was inconsistent with the neighborhood; was too close to an adjacent home: was an illegal second unit; violated a landscape condition imposed when the tennis court was approved; was too large, too close to neighboring residences; was inconsistent with the general plan and municipal code; that the hearing notices violated the Brown Act; and that the applicants had an unfair advantage because their architect was a Planning Commission member. The applicants cut the size to 1,100 square feet and increased the distance from the cabaña to a neighboring project, and improved landscaping. The Commission approved the project subject to conditions, including a landscape agreement and the prohibition on use as a secondary dwelling unit. The City Council denied an appeal. While approval was pending, the applicants’ attorney threatened to sue if the city denied the project; the Council discussed the threat of litigation during closed sessions. That a threat of litigation had been made was not noted in the agenda for any of the public meetings. Plaintiffs did not learn about the litigation threat or the discussions until after the project had been approved. The court of appeal affirmed. While the city improperly considered the application in closed sessions in violation of Gov. Code 54950 (Brown Act), there was no prejudice. View "Fowler v. City of Lafayette" on Justia Law

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Appellants Baldwin & Sons, Inc.; Baldwin & Sons, LLC; Sunranch Capital Partners, LLC; USA Portola Properties, LLC; Sunrise Pacific Construction; USA Portola East, LLC; USA Portola West, LLC; and SRC-PH Investments, LLC, all appealed an order compelling compliance with administrative subpoenas issued by the State Water Resources Control Board. Appellants were involved (or believed to be involved) in the construction of a large-scale development in the Portola Hills Community in Lake Forest, California. The State Board initiated an investigation into alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act and California's Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act occurring during construction activities. In connection with its investigation, the State Board issued subpoenas seeking Appellants' financial records. When Appellants refused to produce the requested financial records, the State Board sought a court order compelling compliance with the subpoenas. With the exception of tax returns, the trial court concluded that the information sought was relevant to the State Board's investigation and subject to disclosure pursuant to the investigative subpoenas. Appellants argued on appeal: (1) their financial records were not reasonably relevant to the State Board's investigation; (2) compelling production of their financial records violated their right to privacy; and (3) the protective order did not adequately protect against disclosure of their private financial information to third parties. The Court of Appeal rejected these claims and affirmed the challenged order compelling production of the Appellants' financial records subject to a protective order. View "State Water Resources Control Bd. v. Baldwin & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

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City of Atlanta (“the City”) and the Atlanta Independent School System (“APS”) were involved in a dispute over the City’s annexing property in Fulton County, while it expressly prohibiting the co-expansion of APS’s territory. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the City’s application for interlocutory appeal challenging the trial court’s denial of its motion to dismiss. The Court concluded this matter did not amount to an actual, justiciable controversy; consequently, it vacated the trial court’s order and remanded for this case to be dismissed by the trial court. “These parties have appeared before this Court numerous times, and the instant dispute is part of a larger, ongoing disagreement between the City and APS. … Mere disagreement about the ‘abstract meaning or validity of a statute [or ordinance]’ does not constitute an actual controversy within the meaning of the Declaratory Judgment Act. … APS has failed to establish the existence of an actual controversy, for purposes of declaratory relief, because it has failed to demonstrate that a ruling in its favor would have any immediate legal consequence.” View "City of Atlanta v. Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys." on Justia Law