Utah Court of Appeals
2020 UT App 174 (December 31, 2020)
The Utah Court of Appeals upheld the Town’s denial of a conditional use permit for a parking under the Town’s standard that the proposed use not “unreasonably interfere with the lawful use of surrounding properties.” The Court of Appeals found that the Town had not misinterpreted “lawful use” to include quiet and peaceful enjoyment of property, and in soliciting information from the public, the Town’s decision was not improperly based on public clamor where supported by other additional evidence.
Staker owned a 3 acre property near the entrance of Zions National Park, and petitioned the city of Springdale to build a parking lot, which was allowed as a conditional use in the applicable zoning district. The property is immediately adjacent to residences, but the zoning of surrounding properties included a mix of residential uses. Staker’s application found significant resistance and was denied after public hearing for reasons that it would unreasonable interfere with the lawful use of surrounding properties because of undue noise, pollution, and traffic. After local appeal affirmed the decision, Staker petitioned for review in district court, claiming that the decision was arbitrary and capricious as not supported by substantial evidence in the record, and was illegal based on an incorrect interpretation of “lawful use.”
State law requires that a conditional use be approved if reasonable conditions are proposed, or can be imposed, to mitigate the reasonably anticipated detrimental effects of the proposed use in accordance with applicable standards, but “[i]f the reasonably anticipated detrimental effects of a proposed conditional use cannot be substantially mitigated by the proposal or the imposition of reasonable conditions to achieve compliance with applicable standards, the conditional use may be denied.” A land use decision is arbitrary and capricious if not supported by substantial evidence in the record, or illegal if based on an incorrect interpretation of the law.
As to substantial evidence, the Court of Appeals found that the Town’s central concern with the application in regards to the ordinance standard that the use not “unreasonably interfere with the lawful use of surrounding properties,” was the close proximity to, and impact on, surrounding residential uses. The application included a design of the proposed lot and bird’s-eye view plainly displaying the close proximity to surrounding uses. Additionally, prior to the public hearing, a planning staff memorandum addressed the conditional use standards and indicated an impact on surrounding properties with increases in traffic, noise, and general activity on the lot. During the Planning Commission public hearing, the public expressed several concerns, and the staff memo was afterwards updated for the Town Council’s consideration with additional detail on the proposal’s impact on surrounding uses as iterated by public comments. The Court of Appeals held that while “public clamor” cannot constitute the sole basis of a land use decision, the Town’s solicitation and consideration of information from the public was not improper because it did not make consent of neighboring landowners a criterion for approval, rather, information from the public was taken together with the information from the application and planning staff findings to constitute substantial evidence in support of the Town’s conclusion.
The Court of Appeals rejected the lot owner’s argument that the meaning of “lawful use” must mean that his proposed use must somehow result in a surrounding property falling into an illegal use, as there seemed to be no circumstance in which that could be possible, rendering the Town’s standard inoperative. The Town’s appeal authority properly interpreted “lawful use” to “necessarily include the right to quietly and peaceably enjoy that property.”
Judge Jill Pohlman wrote a dissent arguing that the majority opinion improperly considered, as evidence, what was really described as merely “concerns” and “beliefs” about anticipated detrimental impacts, without any factual basis–which fails the substantial evidence standard. While no doubt a parking lot will have some impact on surrounding properties, absent some attempt to measure those impacts with factual data, it is difficult to assess whether those impacts would not just interfere with the right to quietly and peaceably enjoy property, but whether they would unreasonably interfere.