Harmon City, Inc. v. Draper City

Decision Date10 February 2000
Docket NumberNo. 981628-CA.,981628-CA.
Citation997 P.2d 321,2000 Utah Ct. App. 31
PartiesHARMON CITY, INC., a Utah corporation; and Johansen-Thackery & Company, Inc., a Utah corporation, Plaintiffs and Appellant, v. DRAPER CITY, a municipal corporation; and Does I-100, Defendants and Appellees.
CourtUtah Court of Appeals

James A. Boevers and Thomas R. Barton, Prince, Yeates & Geldzahler, Salt Lake City, for Appellant.

Jody K. Burnett, Williams & Hunt, Salt Lake City, for Appellees.

Before Judges BILLINGS, JACKSON, and ORME.



¶ 1 Harmon City, Inc. (Harmon) challenges the trial court's order granting summary judgment for Draper City (Draper). We affirm.

¶ 2 Harmon bought 10.277 acres (the property) within the Draper city limits. Harmon purchased the property to build a twenty-four hour, 71,700-square-foot grocery store, a 13,300-square-foot drug store, and a 16,500-square-foot "in-line tenant space." When Harmon bought the property, it was zoned RR-43 for residential/agricultural use. Although the property fell within an area designated for mixed use in Draper's General Plan, Harmon's project was not compatible with the RR-43 zoning classification.

¶ 3 Therefore, in November, 1997, Harmon applied to Draper asking that the property be rezoned to C-2,1 under which the property would fall within a "neighborhood commercial district."2 Harmon supplemented its application with documentation by experts in land development. Harmon submitted its application to the Draper Planning Commission, which considered Harmon's request and ultimately recommended that the city council approve it.

¶ 4 On February 3, 1998, the city council considered Harmon's application. The council heard comments from a Harmon representative, the planning commission, and interested citizens. Many of the comments were positive, however, some citizens expressed concern about having a large, twenty-four-hour grocery store in the primarily residential neighborhood because of the increased traffic and other safety concerns. After considering the planning commission's recommendation, as well as comments from the public, the city council voted to deny Harmon's requested zoning reclassification from RR-43 to C-2.

¶ 5 On March 4, 1998, Harmon filed an appeal in the district court. Both sides moved for summary judgment based on the record created before the city council. In its decision granting summary judgment for Draper, the trial court, with our emphasis, stated, "So long as it is reasonably debatable that it is in the interest of the general welfare, this Court will uphold the city's zoning decision." The court noted that it was "satisfied that there is sufficient basis in the record to support Draper City Council's denial of plaintiff's application for rezoning. Accordingly, the court cannot find that the city council's action was arbitrary, capricious, or illegal."

¶ 6 Harmon appeals, arguing that the trial court incorrectly relied on the "reasonably debatable" standard of review. Harmon argues that the trial court should have applied the "substantial evidence" standard, and that, under that standard, the court should have concluded that there was not substantial evidence to support the council's denial of the rezoning application. Harmon thus asks that we reverse the trial court's decision.


¶ 7 When reviewing a city council's decision not to change the zoning classification of property, we presume that the decision is valid and "determine only whether or not the decision is arbitrary, capricious, or illegal." Utah Code Ann. § 10-9-1001(3) (1999).3 At issue is the meaning of arbitrary and capricious in the context of Draper's decision not to change the zoning classification of the property. This is a legal issue which we review for correctness. See Springville Citizens for a Better Community v. City of Springville, 1999 UT 25, ¶ 22, 979 P.2d 332


I. The Arbitrary and Capricious Standard

¶ 8 Judicial review of land use decisions by municipalities and counties has always been limited in this state to some formulation of the arbitrary, capricious, or illegal standard.4 However, the deference that we have historically granted to land use decisions under this standard has varied depending on whether the decision-making body is acting in a legislative capacity or an administrative/adjudicative capacity.5

¶ 9 In addressing the issues presented here, it is important to recognize that the enactment and amendment of zoning ordinances is fundamentally a legislative act.6 Review of a municipality's legislative action has always been highly deferential in Utah. In Marshall v. Salt Lake City, for example, plaintiffs challenged a city's legislative enactment of a zoning ordinance dividing the city into districts and specifying permitted uses within districts. See 105 Utah 111, 141 P.2d 704, 705-06 (1943). The trial court granted judgment against the city, but the supreme court reversed, stating that it would uphold the zoning ordinance "if it could promote the general welfare; or even if it is reasonably debatable that it is in the interest of the general welfare." Id. at 709 (emphasis added).

¶ 10 The court enunciated a similarly deferential meaning of "arbitrary" in Dowse v. Salt Lake City Corp., 123 Utah 107, 255 P.2d 723 (1953). In Dowse, a case factually similar to the present case, Salt Lake City had denied a landowner's petition to rezone his property from residential to commercial. See id. at 723. The landowner sued to have the city's decision reversed, but the district court dismissed the landowner's complaint. See id. at 723-24. The supreme court affirmed, noting that the city's denial of the rezone application was not arbitrary even if, as the landowner alleged, other blocks in the neighborhood were zoned commercial and the property was located in an area unsuitable for residential use. See id. at 724. "`This is essentially a legislative problem, and the determination may be attacked only if there is no reasonable basis therefor.'" Id. (emphasis added) (quoting Phi Kappa Iota Fraternity v. Salt Lake City, 116 Utah 536, 212 P.2d 177, 181 (1949) (quoting Wilkins v. City of San Bernardino, 29 Cal.2d 332, 175 P.2d 542, 549 (1946))).7 ¶ 11 In another case strikingly similar to the present one, a corporation sought to develop a shopping center on undeveloped land in Salt Lake County. See Gayland v. Salt Lake County, 11 Utah 2d 307, 358 P.2d 633, 634 (1961)

. To develop the shopping center, the corporation needed to have the property's zoning classification changed from residential to commercial. See id. Although the county's planning commission recommended that the county commission (the county's legislative body) adopt the proposed zoning classification amendment, the county commission voted to deny the corporation's application after a public hearing. See id. at 634-35. The corporation sued the county in district court seeking to have the court compel the county to adopt the corporation's application for the zoning reclassification. See id. The trial court entered judgment for the corporation and ordered the county to adopt the zoning amendment. See id. at 634.

¶ 12 The supreme court reversed, reviewing the county's decision under the arbitrary and capricious standard. On the arbitrary and capricious standard, the Gayland court said:

In zoning, as in any legislative action, the functioning authority has wide discretion. Its action is endowed with a presumption of validity; and it is the court's duty to resolve all doubts in favor thereof and not to interfere with the Commission's action unless it clearly appears to be beyond its power; or is unconstitutional for some such reason as it deprives one of property without due process of law, or capriciously and arbitrarily infringes upon his rights therein, or is unjustly discriminatory.

Id. at 636 (citations omitted; emphasis added).

¶ 13 The Gayland court applied a standard of review essentially identical to that currently provided by statute: "The courts shall: (a) presume that land use decisions and regulations are valid; and (b) determine only whether or not the decision is arbitrary, capricious, or illegal. Utah Code Ann. § 10-9-1001(3) (1999).

¶ 14 We conclude that the 1991 enactment of section 10-9-1001(3), which largely codifies the case law cited above, did not alter the deferential review of a municipality's legislative zoning classification decisions under the arbitrary and capricious standard. See, e.g., Smith Inv. Co. v. Sandy City, 958 P.2d 245, 252 (Utah Ct.App.1998)

("[I]f an ordinance 'could promote the general welfare[,] or even if it is reasonably debatable that it is in the interest of the general welfare' we will uphold it." (citations omitted)).

¶ 15 We conclude that the Utah Legislature did not adopt a one-size-fits-all standard of review for legislative and administrative/adjudicative functions when it codified the "arbitrary, capricious, or illegal" language of section 10-9-1001. The Legislature uses "arbitrary and capricious" to define both review of adjudicative actions by a board of adjustments, see Utah Code Ann. § 10-9-708(2) (1999) ("[T]he plaintiff may only allege that the board of adjustment's decision was arbitrary, capricious, or illegal."), and review of legislative actions of a municipality, see id. § 10-9-1001(3). However, the Legislature has provided for judicial review under the substantial evidence standard only for adjudicative functions. See id. § 10-9-708(6) ("The court shall affirm the decision of the board of adjustment if the decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record."). These different standards of review, both described generally as arbitrary and capricious, exactly mirror the case law prior to the 1991 statutory enactment.8

¶ 16 Harmon cites a number of cases to support its argument that we should review the Draper City Council's legislative zoning decision under the substantial evidence standard. Howeve...

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