Today’s Supreme Court Opinions 2.26.09

The Supreme Court released one opinion on land use decisons this morning, The Big Lake Association v. Saint Louis County Planning Commission.  The zoning decision under contest is a PUD approval for a resort property near the BWCA.  Saint Louis County has two categories of PUD for “resorts” which could have applied here – a commercial (the one used) which in theory applies to transient-stay and service-intensive properties; and a residential PUD which applies to properties with longer-stay housing such as cabins or timeshares, and fewer services.  The legal issue at stake before the Court was whether opponents of the plan, who now argue that the proposal should have been reviewed as a residential PUD (where it would fail as presented), sufficiently raised the issue when the County Planning Commission considered the PUD approval.  The Court of Appeals decided that they did not, and held that the issue was waived.  The Supreme Court agreed, finding that separation-of-powers principles prevent the Court from interfering in a quasi-judicial zoning decision if the matters were not raised to the deciding body.  In the recounting of the record within the opinion, it appears that no opponent took the commercial v. residential issue head-on, or even directly referenced the density standards that form the main difference between the two standards.  The Court also went on, in dicta, to decide the underlying reasonableness of the approval, though that issue was not before the court in the first place, and certainly not  after finding the issue waived.

The takeaway from this decision is that there are few “jurisdictional” mistakes a city or zoning board can make.  Opponents of a plan, if they believe the wrong standard is being applied, should be specific at every level about the “right” standard or zoning process a plan should be taking.

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