Oakes Const. Co. v. City of Iowa City, 64373

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtUHLENHOPP; McCORMICK; The city did not have a comprehensive plan at the time involved here. Thus
Citation304 N.W.2d 797
Docket NumberNo. 64373,64373
Decision Date15 April 1981

Marion R. Neely of Neely Law Offices, Iowa City, for appellant.

John W. Hayek of Hayek, Hayek & Hayek, Iowa City, for appellee.

Considered en banc.


This appeal involves a question of the scope of the authority of a city council to approve or disapprove a subdivision plat. See §§ 409.1, 409.14, and 409.15, The Code 1981.

Section 409.1 of the Code provides:

Every proprietor of any tract or parcel of land of forty acres or less or of more than forty acres if divided into parcels any of which are less than forty acres and every proprietor of any tract or parcel of land of any size located within a city or within two miles of a city subject to the provisions of section 409.14, who shall subdivide the same into three or more parts, shall cause a registered land surveyor's plat of such subdivision, with references to known or permanent monuments, to be made by a registered land surveyor holding a certificate issued under the provisions of chapter 114, giving the bearing and distance from some corner of the subdivision to some corner of the congressional division of which it is a part, which shall accurately describe all the subdivisions thereof, numbering the same by progressive numbers, giving their dimensions by length and breadth, and the breadth and courses of all the streets and alleys established therein.

The section differed somewhat at the time of some of the events in this case, but the differences do not change the result.

Subject to a qualification in this particular case city councils act in an administrative capacity in carrying out statutes such as chapter 409 of the Code. Knutson v. State ex rel. Seberger, 239 Ind. 656, 659, 662 n.6, 157 N.E.2d 469, 471, 473 n.6 (1959). See also Board of Supervisors v. Department of Revenue, 263 N.W.2d 227, 239 (Iowa 1978). Review by the district court of a council's decision is de novo. § 409.15. On the analogy of review of decisions of zoning boards of adjustment, we hold that the district court reviews the facts anew, but if the facts found by the court leave the reasonableness of the council's decision "open to a fair difference of opinion," the court may not substitute its judgment for that of the council. Weldon v. Zoning Board, 250 N.W.2d 396, 401 (Iowa 1977). The reasonableness of the council's decision is not open to "a fair difference of opinion," of course, if the decision is contrary to a rule of law, notwithstanding that it may be within the facts.

We also hold that if a party appeals from the district court's judgment, our review, on the record from district court, is the same as that of the district court. Cf. Grandview Baptist Church v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, 301 N.W.2d 704 (Iowa 1981) (review by this court in certiorari proceedings under section 414.18 as contrasted to review in equity proceedings under section 409.15 and Iowa Rule of Appellate Procedure 4).

The qualification in this case, to which we have adverted, relates to an additional issue: the developer's claim that the city must establish a new street outside the subdivision to connect the subdivision streets to the city street system. We will subsequently consider this question.

In 1972 a church owned an 11-acre tract of land abutting Muscatine Avenue in a residential area of southeastern Iowa City, and conveyed the tract to Courtcrest, Inc. Whether that tract was itself part of an earlier division of land into parcels, within section 409.1, does not appear; the deed to Courtcrest was by metes and bounds. In 1973 Courtcrest sold and conveyed a 2.4-acre portion of the tract to a Moose Lodge. In 1977, after plaintiff Oakes Construction Company declined to purchase all of the remaining land, Courtcrest sold and conveyed a 7.1-acre portion to Oakes, leaving Courtcrest with a 1.5-acre parcel. Both conveyances by Courtcrest also were by metes and bounds; at no time did Courtcrest plat any part of the 11-acre tract.

Oakes desired to develop its portion of the land as Oakes Meadow Addition, and prepared a "preliminary plat" under the city's development code which is chapter 9.50 of its ordinances. The city's planning staff, traffic engineer, and Planning and Zoning Commission examined the plat. The subdivision would have ten single-family lots and seventeen duplex lots, for a total of forty-four units. It would also contain two streets, both with cul-de-sacs. These streets would join near the north end of the subdivision and outlet over sixty feet of right-of-way onto the junction of Meadow Street and Brookside Drive and thence into Friendship Street, which is a "collector street" for traffic. All of these streets are residential in nature. We append a rough sketch from the exhibits. We have included the dotted lines to show Oakes' subsequent offer to eliminate the cul-de-sac in proposed Carver Street and to dead-end that street at the south boundary of the subdivision.


The planning staff was concerned that the single exit onto Meadow-Brookside would not constitute a sufficient means of ingress and egress, and also that Meadow-Brookside-Friendship would be inadequate to handle the added load of traffic. The following testimony is illustrative of substantial evidence in the record to this effect.

Donald Schmeiser, an urban planner, testified:

Q. Would you tell the Court what your concerns were about traffic and access to the subdivision and insofar as you felt the subdivision to be deficient in those regards, how you felt it to be deficient? And to answer that question, you may want to refer to Defendant's Exhibits A and B. A. Okay. Friendship Street currently is a 25-foot width, what we call an under-width street in terms of both its function and classification. You might term Friendship Street a collector street on the basis it does collect a considerable amount of traffic from that particular neighborhood, and with parking on both sides you virtually end up with one lane of traffic on Friendship Street. Well, with this proposed subdivision, accessing out to Friendship Street, it does certainly exacerbate the traffic problem on Friendship Street. The other concerns I had, of course, on any development with this many dwelling units and this particular subdivision is one means of access. And I think in a subdivision this large, there certainly should be two means of access. And if I might give an example.

Q. Sure. A. In terms of safety, I think, if we could say, for example, that response time to a fire in a residence in that particular area is extremely important in terms of two or three minutes in terms of the damage to that residence; then I think it's extremely important in terms of the access to that subdivision. The City presently has a fire station located south on First Avenue, on lower Muscatine Road. And if the alternatives were to obtain access to this subdivision via First Avenue to Muscatine Avenue via Carver Street connection to this development versus an access from First Avenue to Friendship Street again, which is certainly congested, to Meadow Street, and then into the subdivision, I think we're talking I think most would agree that certainly the number of minutes of response time to a fire in that particular subdivision can be extremely critical in terms of the damage to a residence which is on fire. I think the same thing is true with emergency situations, with heart attack victims or any other type of emergency or safety situation. There's also the possibility that with one means of access at any one time, that access could be, let's say, barred from access, both in terms of getting out of the subdivision or getting in. We've seen many of that much of that happen in terms of the snow removal problems that we've had over the past winter. And I think for those reasons and by the fact that there is no north-south continuity between Southlawn Drive and First Avenue, which is almost a half a mile in distance, that there does need to be some north-south continuity, both to the area and for better access to this particular subdivision.

Douglas Boothroy, another planner, testified:

Q. Now, Mr. Boothroy, what kind of street is Friendship in terms of its size and design; do you know? A. It's 25 feet wide back to back, for 25 feet wide paving. It serves as a collector street for this neighborhood that's bounded by Court. Excuse me. It's bounded by Court Street, First Avenue, Muscatine and what some day will be Scott Boulevard.

Q. All right. How is the traffic what are the traffic loads on Friendship at the present time in terms of, you know, whether it's below capacity, at capacity, above capacity? Just how heavily traveled a street is Friendship and do you have any concerns about that? A. I talked to Jim Brachtel (traffic engineer) about it, and he said that at peak times there was congestion at the intersection of Friendship and First Avenue; that it would make sense for another alternative to relieve some of this traffic flow at that point, and the additional loading of this subdivision would cause some additional problems at that intersection.

Q. Now, what about Brookside Drive, what kind of street is Brookside Drive? A. It's also 25 feet wide.

Q. And is it a typical is it a residential street, Mr. Boothroy? A. It is a residential street, but it does provide a certain amount of circulation for this part of the neighborhood to get either to Friendship Street or out to the south on Southlawn. So it's it's more than just a short local street, yes.

Q. Okay. But it is developed as a residential street; that is to say, there are houses on either side? A. They're all residential streets, yes.

Q. Okay. So that for someone to get in or out of that subdivision as proposed, the person would have to...

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