Montgomery v. Bremer County Bd. of Sup'rs

Decision Date17 December 1980
Docket Number64614,Nos. 64613,s. 64613
Citation299 N.W.2d 687
CourtIowa Supreme Court
PartiesSam MONTGOMERY et al., Appellants, v. BREMER COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, Appellee, Frederick L. Niewohner, Intervenor. Sam MONTGOMERY et al., Appellants, v. BREMER COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, Appellee, Geo. A. Hormel & Co., Intervenor, Frederick L. Niewohner, Intervenor.

David J. Dutton and James R. Hellman of Mosier, Thomas, Beatty, Dutton, Braun & Staack, Waterloo, for appellants.

Paul W. Riffel, Bremer County Atty., for appellee.

John Fister of Beecher, Beecher, Holmes & Rathert, Waterloo, for intervenor Niewohner.

Ralph E. Laird of Laird & Laird, Waverly, for intervenor Geo. A. Hormel & Co.


McGIVERIN, Justice.

In two separate certiorari cases brought to review the defendant Bremer County Board of Supervisors' decisions to rezone two parcels of land from agricultural zone to industrial zone, the district court sustained the actions of the Board. Appeals taken by the objectors to the rezoning were consolidated. We affirm both cases.

The land had been zoned A-1 Agricultural district under the provisions of the 1975 Bremer County Zoning Ordinance. These tracts are located about two and one-half miles northwest of Waverly in Bremer County. The rezoning was prompted by Geo. A. Hormel & Co.'s proposal to erect and operate a hog-slaughtering plant on one tract and the Board's desire to attract other industry to the area. Both parcels are now surrounded by farmland. Plaintiff objectors live in the area of the land.

In one case, Frederick L. Niewohner and Robert and Carolyn Vosseller filed a rezoning petition requesting that the Bremer County Zoning Commission and Board of Supervisors rezone their eighty-acre parcel of land. The owners requested that the land be rezoned to M-Industrial district to allow for industrial development. The zoning commission, acting under section 358A.8, The Code 1979, approved the petition, and pursuant to the Ordinance and section 358A.6 the petition came before the Board for final determination. Proper notice was given and a public hearing was held on February 2, 1979. Both proponents and objectors appeared and presented their views. On February 21 the Board unanimously approved the rezoning request, and amended the Bremer County Zoning Ordinance to provide zoning classification of M-Industrial for the Niewohner-Vosseller property.

In the other case, Hormel acquired an option to purchase from Eldon and Mabel Diercks approximately 100 acres of land located immediately north of the Niewohner-Vosseller land. Hormel and the Diercks also filed a rezoning petition. The zoning commission approved the petition. After notice, a public hearing was held at which proponents and objectors presented extensive evidence. On April 13 the Board unanimously approved this rezoning request, thereby amending the Ordinance and also placing the Diercks-Hormel property in the M-Industrial zoning classification.

Plaintiffs brought separate certiorari actions in district court to review the actions of the Board in each case. Iowa R.Civ.P. 306.319. Writs were issued. Niewohner intervened on the side of the Board in the case affecting his land. Both Hormel and Niewohner intervened on the side of the Board in the case affecting the Diercks property.

The exhibits, transcripts of hearings, and other papers before the Board were certified to the district court in the returns to the writs. Iowa R.Civ.P. 313. In addition, the court received evidence under Iowa R.Civ.P. 315. After consideration of the transcripts and materials before the Board and the additional evidence, the court annulled the writs and sustained the actions of the Board in each case. Iowa R.Civ.P. 316.

Plaintiffs' separate appeals were consolidated here. Eight of the issues presented are common to both appeals. An issue of nuisance applies only to the Diercks-Hormel land.

The questions presented are:

1. What is the proper scope of review in a certiorari proceeding to challenge a board of supervisors' amendments to a zoning ordinance?

2. Were the objectors denied procedural due process in the public hearing on the rezoning request?

3. In rezoning a tract of land, is a board of supervisors required to make findings of fact to support the decision to rezone?

4. Were the rezonings invalid because the Board failed to provide the manner for changing the boundaries of the zoning districts?

5. Were the rezonings made in accordance with a comprehensive plan?

6. Did the rezoning of farmland to permit industrial uses violate the public policy of Iowa to preserve farmland?

7. Were the rezonings of the land invalid because they are spot zoning?

8. Were the decisions to rezone in these cases arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable?

9. Did the rezoning of the Diercks-Hormel farm to allow construction of a hog-slaughtering operation constitute the creation of a nuisance?

I. Scope of judicial review. Plaintiff neighbors have challenged the Board's amendments to the zoning ordinance by certiorari proceedings. A writ of certiorari is granted where a board, exercising judicial functions, is alleged to have exceeded its jurisdiction or acted illegally. Iowa R.Civ.P. 306. We have broadly defined "judicial functions" for certiorari purposes to include cases where, as here, the challenged action takes place after required notice and an opportunity to be heard. Curtis v. Board of Supervisors, 270 N.W.2d 447, 449 (Iowa 1978). The parties agree that certiorari is the appropriate means to review the Board's actions. See Boomhower v. Cerro Gordo County Board of Adjustment, 163 N.W.2d 75, 77 (Iowa 1968).

We next consider the proper scope of review. The court stated it would uphold the zoning ordinance amendments if their reasonableness was fairly debatable.

In a certiorari proceeding, unless modified by statute or constitutional principle, a court's scope of review is limited. A board's action must be upheld if supported by any competent and substantial evidence. Carstensen v. Board of Trustees, 253 N.W.2d 560, 562 (Iowa 1977).

This limited review has not been modified in this case by any statute or constitutional principle. We have held that the district court, in reviewing actions of a board of adjustment, must find facts anew. Weldon v. Zoning Board, 250 N.W.2d 396, 401 (Iowa 1977). This exception to the usually limited scope of review in a certiorari proceeding was required by the statutes, sections 358A.21, 414.18, The Code, governing judicial review of decisions of the board of adjustment. Weldon, 250 N.W.2d at 400. There are no similar statutes governing review of the zoning decisions of the board of supervisors.

The neighbors also say that since they claim a denial of procedural due process in the hearings before the Board, the usually limited review in certiorari proceedings should not apply. While the constitutional claim requires a court to make a de novo review of the evidence bearing on that claim, the fact that one of the claims involves a constitutional question arising out of the hearings does not require the court to find facts anew on the underlying decisions to rezone.

Zoning decisions are an exercise of the police power to promote the health, safety, order and morals of society. Anderson v. City of Cedar Rapids, 168 N.W.2d 739, 742 (Iowa 1969). In reviewing amendments to zoning ordinances, we presume they are valid and if their reasonableness is fairly debatable, we will not substitute our judgment for that of the legislative body. Jaffe v. City of Davenport, 179 N.W.2d 554, 555 (Iowa 1970).

We agree with the trial court and conclude the generally limited scope of review applicable to this case is to determine whether the decision by the Board to rezone is fairly debatable. We review the evidence and other issues in that light.

II. Procedural due process at the public hearings. Plaintiffs claim that were denied procedural due process at the hearings before the Board on each petition for rezoning. They do not claim lack of proper notice of the hearings. Plaintiffs assert: (1) the Board was not an impartial decisionmaker; (2) the Board did not allow the objectors to question the applicants or members of the Board; (3) the Board questioned the validity of some of plaintiffs' evidence; and (4) in the Diercks-Hormel case, the Board conducted an outside investigation of Hormel operations and considered evidence not presented at the hearing.

Based on the transcripts, exhibits and papers certified by the defendant Board, and the evidence presented at the district court hearings, the court concluded the Board based its decisions solely on evidence presented at the Board hearings and that the individual members of the Board approached the hearings with an open mind. Before the Board hearings, two of the supervisors along with several other Bremer County citizens viewed the Hormel plant at Ottumwa at the invitation of Hormel. Also all three supervisors visited the Hormel plant at Fort Dodge at the request of plaintiff objectors. At the court hearing, one supervisor testified that he and the other board members were not biased by those visits before the Board hearing. From our de novo review of the record bearing on this claim, we agree with these conclusions of the district court. Therefore, we need not decide whether the Board could have properly based its decision on information gathered outside of the hearing on the amendment to the zoning ordinance.

Sections 358A.6, The Code 1979, provides in part that a zoning ordinance cannot be established or amended by a board of supervisors "until after a public hearing in relation thereto, at which parties in interest and citizens shall have an opportunity to be heard." The parties' basic disagreement is over the type of hearing required. The neighbors say that procedural due process and section 358A.6 entitle them to a formal,...

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