Court of Appeals 08.25.09

The Court publishes an opinion in an insurance dipute resulting from a City of Cyrus auto accident – a city firefighter struck another car en route to a call.  The decision is made on straight insurance law, no immunity defenses or other municipal-law quirks here.

In another case, Douglas County fails to obtain a zoning injunction preventing the vacation rental of single-family homes.  The Court engages in a plain zoning ordinance interpretation, indicating that the County has no specific ordinance or limitation on the rental of property, vacation or otherwise.  This case is an instructive example that while the zoning ordinances control “use,” the term “use” is very crude in this context – a single family house is a single family house, whether owner-occupied or rented out as a whole.  All text has to be read in concert – apparently, an earlier swing and miss at the house-rental issue led to some tweaking of the PUD section of the ordinance to include “resorts” as a conditional use.  Unfortunately, PUD is defined elsewhere in the ordinance as multiple structures on a single parcel of land – not applicable to single-family houses developed independent from one another.  Tackle problems head-on; if the publis support is not there to tackle the “problem,” then make peace with the problem. 

Continuing the bad day for local code enforcement, the City of Ramsey loses an appeal of a City Council nuisance-abatement action.  The opinion is one-sided to the extent that you know that there is more to this story, but that happens when local officials: a) bring a charge on facts that quickly turn out to be less than 100% correct; and b) layer a flawed reading of local ordinances on top of the factual mistake.  Mistakes happen.  If you’ve ever wondered why citizens grumble about local enforcement options, though, think of this case: while the Court obliterates the City’s case in about a sentence (van on a driveway = no violation), from December 2007 until last Tuesday the wrong answer ruled the day.  Mistakes linger for a long time when the only relief is the appellate courts.

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